Farmworkers dared President Benigno Aquino III today to immediately order the filing of appropriate charges against ex-LTO Chief Virginia Torres, instead of functioning like an unabashed apologist for his embattled Kabarilan.
Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA) Deputy Secretary General Ranmil Echanis criticized Aquino for issuing statements echoing Torres’s sentiments and propping her “pitiful predicament” as she came under fire for alleged sugar smuggling and influence-peddling at the Bureau of Customs (BOC).
Aquino was quoted in news reports as saying that Torres “is considering suing her detractors” because “accusations against her were too much for her to take.”
“Why is Aquino now acting as Virgie Torres’s spokesperson and legal adviser? When Aquino says that the supposed ‘wrongdoers’ must be punished, is the haciendero president referring to the persons besmirching his loyal Kabarilan’s reputation?” Echanis asked.
“We support the calls to dig deeper into this sugar smuggling issue. Malacanang and Aquino have so far engaged only in cover-ups and damage control. The thousands of affected sugar workers and supposed land reform beneficiaries in Hacienda Luisita want to see firm action and decisiveness from government in handling influential persons like Torres,” said Echanis.
According to reports from UMA’s local affliate, the Alyansa ng mga Manggagawang Bukid sa Asyenda Luisita or AMBALA, Torres has effective control over at least 200 hectares in Barangay Mapalacsiao alone, land supposedly distributed to farmworker-beneficiaries in Hacienda Luisita.
Torres has ostensibly utilized armed goons and local police in destroying farmers’ rice and vegetable plots to ensure continued planting of cane sugar for the Aquino-Cojuangcos’s Hacienda Luisita, Inc. (HLI) and Central Azucarera de Tarlac (CAT). The Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) is also complicit in fresh human rights violations against supposed beneficiaries in Hacienda Luisita.
Victims of violent eviction in Hacienda Luisita have already filed complaints against Torres before the Department of Justice (DOJ) last year. Hundreds of other complaints were also filed against Aquino’s relatives led by Presidential sister Ma. Elena “Ballsy” Aquino-Cruz by farmers supported by AMBALA and their legal counsel Atty. Jobert Pahilga of the Sentro para sa Tunay na Repormang Agraryo (SENTRA).
Among the farmers’ complaints against Torres, her hired goons and conniving local police officers are related to at least four (4) separate bulldozing incidents in Sityo Maligaya, Barangay Mapalacsiao, Hacienda Luisita. Some incidents were caught on camera and uploaded by witnesses and the Luisita Watch network on social media.
One video emphasizes the role of local DAR officials in facilitating the destruction of farmers’ crops.
“Kung wala talagang kinalaman si Aquino sa mga transaksyon ni Virgie Torres, dapat noon pa ay gumulong na ang mga kaso laban sa mga kamag-anak at kabarilan nya na bumibiktima sa mga magsasaka (If indeed Aquino is not linked to Virgie Torres’s transactions, then the cases against his relatives and shooting buddies committing atrocities against farmers should have immediately prospered)” according to Rudy Corpuz, AMBALA vice-chairperson.
Complaints of malicious mischief, grave threats and grave coercion against Torres, et al were filed in October 2014 at the DOJ with docket number XVI-INV-14J-00352.
Despite several attempts by AMBALA and UMA to follow-up on the farmworkers’ complaints, the DOJ has yet to act or conduct any serious investigation.