TARLAC CITY – The Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA), a national federation of agricultural workers, denounced the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) and its Provincial Agrarian Reform Office (PARO) in Tarlac today for resurrecting trumped-up criminal charges against Hacienda Luisita farmers and their supporters.
According to UMA acting Chairperson John Milton Lozande, fabricated charges of trespassing, physical injuries and direct assault against persons in authority, related to violent incidents perpetrated by the Cojuangco-Aquino family against Hacienda Luisita farmer-beneficiaries in 2013 and 2014, were referred back by PARO Chief Ileona Pangilinan to Branch I of the Municipal Trial Court (MTC) this city because their agency claimed that the cases were not agrarian in nature or did not involve an agrarian dispute.
“Right when the public is clamoring for Aquino to prove that nobody is above the law – especially not his Kabarilan Virgie Torres who is embroiled in sugar smuggling and accused of atrocities against Luisita farmer-beneficiaries – we find this revival of absurd charges against farmers and their staunchest supporters all the more scandalous and highly questionable,” said Lozande.
Charged for direct assault are Florida Sibayan, chairperson of UMA’s local affiliate, Alyansa ng mga Manggagawang Bukid sa Asyenda Luisita (AMBALA), two other Luisita farmers, and six members of the congressional staff and volunteers of Anakpawis Partylist Rep. Fernando Hicap, who recently exposed Presidential Kabarilan (shooting buddy) Virgie Torres’s role as a dummy of the Cojuangco-Aquinos in Hacienda Luisita.
Hicap was among those manhandled and arrested by police officers led by then Tarlac City Chief P/Supt. Bayani Razalan while in a legitimate fact-finding mission to uncover anomalies in Hacienda Luisita land distribution in September 2013. Razalan particularly ordered the arrest of Hicap, not sparing farmers and other mission delegates, an Australian nun, and Hicap’s staff members and driver, who all tried to explain to police officers that the solon is immune from arrest.
After the apparent police debacle, Hicap was told that he was “merely invited to the police station,” but the others were still charged with direct assault and malicious mischief by Cojuangco-Aquino firm Tarlac Development Corporation (TADECO), to justify the unlawful arrest and detention of the fact-finding mission delegates.
While the direct assault charges were anomalously referred back to the MTC, the other rap for malicious mischief related to the same incident was already certified by the DAR office as agrarian in nature last year.
This is also the case with the trespassing complaint leveled against Tarlac City Councilor Emily Ladera-Facunla, who was also charged by TADECO. In December 2013, Facunla acted in her capacity as a government official to prevent violence and intervened between farmers and armed TADECO goons and the police.
Facunla tried to reason that the contested area is already covered by a Notice of land reform coverage (NOC) from the DAR, but failed to convince police officers to maintain the status quo. The armed men continued to attack the farmers and bulldozed several farmlots, crops and huts within a 260-hectare contested area claimed by the Cojuangco-Aquinos. Five farmers were mauled and arrested by police in the clash. The five were detained and charged with several criminal complaints all of which were either dismissed for lack of evidence or referred to the DAR because the cases clearly constituted an agrarian dispute.
Facunla is the sister of slain Tarlac City Councilor Abelardo Ladera, who was killed ten years ago because of his staunch support for Hacienda Luisita sugar workers who were then still on strike.
Other than these, another case was not declared by DAR as an agrarian dispute. Said Lozande: “The revival of physical assault charges against Luisita farmers Romeo Corpuz, Ofelia Hernandez and Marcelino Lugay are outrageous. The three farmers suffered serious injuries in the hands of Cojuangco-Aquino goons in March 2014, but they are now the ones vilified and humiliated by the very government agency created to provide social justice to our farmers.”
According to documentation by Luisita Watch, the victims were assaulted by thugs using hammers and other heavy tools they also used to fence off 100 hectares of agricultural land in Barangay Cutcut. Other victims also suffered serious head injuries while Corpuz stayed under hospital arrest for days because of irreversible damage to his hands and a critical heart condition. The AMBALA kubol or local headquarters was also ransacked, dismantled and burned by the thugs with the complicity of police and army officers who assisted the terror operation.
In three separate troopings to the Department of Justice (DOJ) in Manila last year, counter-charges against Virgie Torres, TADECO, police and even the DAR officials involved in these atrocities were filed by farmers through their counsel, Atty. Jobert Pahilga of the Sentro para sa Tunay na Repormang Agraryo or SENTRA.
UMA lamented that the farmers’ complaints are just gathering dust at the DOJ.
“Tinatakot nila kami dahil may bago na namang pagkakaperahang proyektong solar power plant si Aquino dito sa Hacienda Luisita,” said Sibayan who said that the charges are also meant to harass and intimidate the farmers due to a multi-billion Public Partnership Project (PPP) that the Office of the President and the Department of Energy is set to implement with the Yuchengcos, through a contract with Petrogreen and the RCBC, which controls a fenced agricultural area in Barangays Balete and Lourdes contested by AMBALA.
“Impunity and criminalization of agrarian disputes in Hacienda Luisita show the public how unjust and immoral Aquino’s Daang Matuwid is. The people will not have more of this after 2016,” said Lozande.