The Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA) slammed President BS Aquino and the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) for aggravating the swindle of supposed farmworker-beneficiaries in Hacienda Luisita through another round of sham land distribution a few months before the 2016 National Elections.
“After President BS Aquino’s dismal failure to fulfill his campaign promise to finally distribute land and dispense justice to Luisita farmers, the DAR and this heartless haciendero president can only attempt a last ditch effort to earn ‘land reform pogi points’ from the public through this deceptive and misleading announcement,” said Ranmil Echanis, UMA Secretary General.
UMA is referring to the DAR’s announcement and list of potential beneficiaries posted last December 29 in barangays of Hacienda Luisita for contested agricultural areas claimed by Cojuangco-Aquino firm Tarlac Development Corporation (TADECO) located in Barangays Balete (258 hectares) and Cutcut II (100 hectares) in Hacienda Luisita.
The DAR announcement came two years after it issued a belated Notice of land reform coverage (NOC) for the 358-hectare property on December 17, 2013. The controversial Hacienda Luisita sugar estate has a total land area of 6,453 hectares.
“If BS Aquino is trying to prettify Luisita for the 2016 Elections, he is only fooling himself. Aquino seems to be creating more reason and solid basis for the people to put him in jail after his term ends this year,” said Echanis.
UMA and the Luisita Watch network can cite a long list of crimes committed by Aquino against Hacienda Luisita farmers starting from the Hacienda Luisita massacre in 2004 to various forms of human rights violations, corruption, swindle, and landgrabbing especially under his presidency. Aquino’s controversial and patently illegal Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) was used to grant P471.5 million in compensation to Presidential kin for lands that are now back to their effective control.
The Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) said that a “pabaon” or another tranche of millions of pesos in public funds will be granted to the Aquino-Cojuangcos for this 358-hectare Luisita property.
Luisita farmers are also protesting the construction of the Tarlac Solar Power Project (TSPP), another anomalous public-private partnership (PPP) project worth Php 3.6 billion sanctioned by BS Aquino, adjacent to the contested TADECO property in Barangay Balete. In fact, electrical posts are already erected right inside the said contested area in barangay Balete.
UMA reminded Aquino and his alter-egos at the DAR and the Department of Justice (DOJ), that farmers have already filed hundreds of criminal complaints against the Aquino-Cojuangcos who committed grave atrocities against farmers in 2013 and 2014 just to maintain control of these contested agricultural areas in Hacienda Luisita.
Hundreds of farmers were forcibly evicted from their farmlots, a number assaulted and seriously injured by goons and wrongfully arrested and detained by police. Farmers’ crops and huts were either bulldozed or burned to the ground, with remaining produce, farm tools and animals looted before the areas were fenced off from its tillers. Even Anakpawis Party-list Rep. Fernando Hicap who is immune from arrest, was among those manhandled and detained by police in Hacienda Luisita for trying to uncover anomalies through a fact-finding mission in 2013.
The farmers’ complaints have been gathering dust at the DOJ.
“The DAR, whose officials are complicit in the monumental swindle of supposed land reform beneficiaries, would be rubbing salt on the farmers’ open wounds if this haciendero government would subject them to another round of the tambiolo land reform farce just to settle the claims of more than 1,700 individuals – most of them probably dummies of the Cojuangcos who are trying to earn a slot in this 358-hectare area,” Echanis added.
The Supreme Court ordered total land distribution in Hacienda Luisita through a landmark decision promulgated on April 24, 2012. Hacienda Luisita farmers and UMA’s local affiliate in Tarlac, the Alyansa ng mga Manggagawang Bukid sa Asyenda Luisita (AMBALA) have consistently criticized the Aquino administration for its bogus land distribution scheme, done through raffling off of farmlots to beneficiaries via tambiolo (lottery drum) and heavy deployment of armed state forces to coerce and intimidate farmers.
This sham process has led to dislocation and confusion among farmers which aided the swift reconcentration of land back to the control of landlords through illicit lease arrangements and sale of farmlots.
UMA says that TADECO, the original Cojuangco-Aquino firm which acquired Hacienda Luisita in 1957, should not have been able to maintain hundreds of hectares of agricultural land after Luisita was put under the stock distribution option (SDO) land reform scheme in 1989.
The 358-hectare TADECO area that the DAR is now offering farmers through a carrot-and-stick approach should have been distributed along with the rest of agricultural lands that the Cojuangco-Aquinos should have returned to the farmers in 1989, if not for the oppressive SDO scheme.
The DAR deliberately excluded from lot allocation choice agricultural land under various corporate avatars of the Aquino-Cojuangcos including TADECO, making the total land area smaller and each individual parcel allocated to farmers equal to only 6,600 square meters. UMA and AMBALA contend that aside from the 4,099 hectares supposedly allocated to beneficiaries but are now largely reconcentrated back to landlord control, more than a thousand hectares of agricultural land are still under Aquino-Cojuangco ownership.
Hacienda Luisita farmers have been clamoring for free land distribution and have embarked on a groundbreaking land cultivation campaign since 2005, during the height of the Hacienda Luisita strike. UMA supports the enactment of House Bill 252 or the Genuine Agrarian Reform Bill (GARB), filed by Anakpawis Partylist and co-authored by Rep. Neri Colmenares in Congress.