DESTRUCTION OF CROPS, STATE OF LAND REFORM
IN HACIENDA LUISITA, STILL UNDERREPORTED
On March 20-21, 2016, the Alyansa ng mga Manggagawang-Bukid sa Asyenda Luisita (AMBALA), sent out several urgent alerts via text and social media updating the public on atrocities against farmers in Barangay Mapalacsiao, Tarlac City in Hacienda Luisita. More than 20 hectares of collective farms called “bungkalan” areas were destroyed using eight (8) tractors manned by goons allegedly hired by known Cojuangco-Aquino farm administrators. The areas are mostly planted to monggo (mung bean) and other vegetables and fruit trees.
The following alleged perpetrators were identified by AMBALA: Arsenio “Arsing” Valentino, a former Hacienda Luisita Inc. (HLI) administrator and now a president of a local Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries Organization (ARBO) guided by the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR); and Buena Timbol, a trusted aide of the Cojuangco-Aquinos handling affairs of the Luisita Estate Management (LEM) group and Tarlac Development Corporation (TADECO). Even without a court order, the perpetrators enjoyed active assistance from the Tarlac police and local government officials identified as Edison Diaz, barangay chairman of nearby village Lourdes (formerly Texas) and Rael Gatus, chairman of Barangay Mapalacsiao. According to farmers, they are being evicted from areas targeted for the Cojuangco-Aquinos’ aryendo or leaseback scheme and other “development projects.” AMBALA’s bungkalan areas are being dismantled to replant sugarcane or for land use conversion.
Alternative media group Southern Tagalog Exposure released on its Facebook page, exclusive photos and interviews with AMBALA leaders regarding the incidents. We also monitored news coverage only from online outfits Bulatlat.com and Interaksyon.com while the Malaysia-based SAYS.com posted a story on the struggle of Luisita farmers. We did not monitor any report on the incidents from local or national newspapers, radio and television stations. Please inform us if we have missed your media outfit’s coverage of this particular issue.
Among the victims, farmer Charlito “Tatang Gerry” Catalan and his family have experienced several attacks since 2014. On April 3, 2014, Tatang Gerry was among AMBALA members unlawfully arrested by a team of fully-armed police led by no less than the local Tarlac police chief Felix Verbo. The farmers were charged with violation of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law (RA 6657), an absurd complaint which was later junked. On June 25, 2014, while AMBALA members walked from Tarlac to Manila for a nationwide peasant protest, the ricefields, vegetable plots and fruit trees within the farm of Tatang Gerry and AMBALA’s kubol (headquarters) in Mapalacsiao were destroyed with assistance from local DAR officials.
According to AMBALA Chairperson Florida Sibayan, Tatang Gerry and other farmers received threats that their farms and homes will be completely demolished, if they do not voluntarily leave by April 2. During the Holy Week, the Luisita Watch network reposted in social media, stories of earlier atrocities in Hacienda Luisita which occured from 2013-2014 as reported by Rappler.com, Bulatlat.com and Catholic media outfit UCAN News. These reports show that the recent incidents are part of continuing attacks against Luisita farmworkers. These attacks undermine land reform yet again in this controversial sugar estate controlled by no less than the family of Philippine President Benigno Simeon Cojuangco Aquino.
The Supreme Court mandated total land distribution in Hacienda Luisita on April 24, 2012, but farmers now experience serious displacement and human rights violations four years after this supposed favorable ruling. Today, incidentally, is adapted by peasant groups all over the world as “International Day of the Landless.” We urge our friends in the media to continue to shed light on the long-standing issues of land reform and social justice in Hacienda Luisita. For references, please contact FLORIDA SIBAYAN, AMBALA Chairperson at 09100357963.
See UMA’s earlier post here.
About #TiempoMuerto. The Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura or UMA’s #TiempoMuerto project monitors sugar workers’ issues and media reporting on hunger and poverty during the dreaded tiempo muerto or dead season. UMA has established media monitors in major sugar-producing areas such as Northern and Central Luzon, Southern Tagalog, Negros Island and the Visayas and Northern Mindanao.
Tiempos muertos refers to the off-milling season when sugar production temporarily grinds to a halt and sugar workers are left without any stable source of income. We urge our friends in the media to shed light on issues behind hunger and poverty in the country’s sugarcane areas and amplify the voices of our oppressed sugar workers. This project is supported by the World Association for Christian Communication (WACC).