While Philippine President BS Aquino is rubbing elbows with other hypocritical world leaders who are similarly posturing to mitigate effects of climate change at the 21st Conference of Parties (COP 21) Climate Talks in Paris, France – trouble over a purported ‘environment-friendly’ government project is brewing in his own backyard, Hacienda Luisita.
The Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA), a national federation of agricultural workers, slammed Aquino for renewed state violence and militarization in Hacienda Luisita, particularly in barangays Balete, Lourdes (Texas) and Central where the Tarlac Solar Power Project (TSPP), a public-private partnership (PPP) deal sanctioned by BS Aquino between the Department of Energy and PetroSolar, is now reportedly under construction.
The Hacienda Luisita sugar estate is the site of a massacre of farmworkers in 2004. At least seven protesters were killed and a hundred others were wounded when military and police opened fire at thousands of sugar workers manning a picket line. In 2012, the Supreme Court ruled to revoke the stock distribution land reform plan in Luisita, subjecting all agricultural areas in the estate for distribution to farmworkers.
“The whole world is aware of BS Aquino’s atrocious track record with Supertyphoon Yolanda (Haiyan) victims – he is the last person to champion climate justice. Now Aquino is hiding behind climate issues to justify the disposal of government resources for renewed landgrabbing in Luisita,” said Ranmil Echanis, UMA Secretary General.
“The TSPP in Luisita is never about renewable energy, reducing carbon emissions, or any other environmental issue that world leaders are supposedly debating about in Paris. The solar power project in Luisita is basically about landgrabbing, swindling and forcibly evicting farmworkers from this promised land,” he said.
UMA stressed that Aquino and his family’s business partners are engaged in this sophisticated landgrabbing effort only for ‘climate profits’ at the expense of the farmworkers. A German company, Conergy, is also a partner in the said PPP project. Corrupt landlords like the Aquino-Cojuangcos can easily brush off the farmers’ legitimate demands for land and justice to accommodate foreign investors who are ready to bankroll these so-called ‘green’ projects, according to UMA.
A similar solar project this time backed by a French company is in fact contested by farmworkers also affiliated with UMA and the National Federation of Sugar Workers (NFSW) in Victorias City, Negros Occidental.
In Hacienda Luisita, farmworkers from UMA’s local affiliate, Alyansa ng mga Manggagawang Bukid sa Asyenda Luisita (AMBALA) reported that last November 26 and 28, two truckloads of heavily-armed soldiers together with two mobile cars full of police elements escorted linesmen and laborers of PetroSolar subcontractors at Barangay Balete to set up electrical posts within a disputed agricultural area claimed by Cojuangco-Aquino firm TADECO.
The TSPP is to be constructed within another disputed area, a 500-hectare property claimed by RCBC, a sister company of PetroSolar and PetroGreen. Protests by AMBALA members managed to temporarily halt construction.
AMBALA Chairperson Florida Sibayan was reportedly hurt in an earlier altercation with goons allegedly in the payroll of the TSPP project.
Farmers who have cultivated the said areas since 2005 have been displaced by orchestrated violent attacks by police, security guards and goons from 2011-2014. The Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) issued a Notice of Land Reform Coverage (NOC) for TADECO lands in 2013 which only emboldened the Cojuangco-Aquinos to commit more atrocities.
UMA likewise scored the DAR for allowing TSPP construction despite its recognition of agrarian disputes existing in the area. Defiant farmers and their advocates, including Anakpawis Partylist Rep. Fernando Hicap were among those nabbed by police, while most were charged by TADECO with various trumped-up harassment suits. Most of these charges were later reverted to DAR and duly categorized as agrarian in nature.
Meanwhile, AMBALA, through its counsels from the Sentro para sa Tunay na Repormang Agraryo (SENTRA), still has a pending petition to revoke the DAR conversion order, issued way back in 1996, for the RCBC area.
“The DAR has the authority to stop TADECO, RCBC and PetroSolar from setting-up structures in disputed agricultural areas or agrarian reform areas supposedly covered by their notices and categorizations. This agency, however, has only been effective as a despicable adjunct of BS Aquino’s haciendero presidency.”