This is our response to Manila Times Chairman Emeritus Dr. Dante Ang’s article – “Is DAR Secretary Mariano undermining Duterte?” which appeared on the front page of The Manila Times on August 21, 2016.
Hacienda Luisita farmworkers indeed restless
Allow us to humbly emphasize to Manila Times Chairman Emeritus Dr. Dante Ang that he got it horribly wrong when he wrote that Hacienda Luisita farmworker beneficiaries (FWBs) are getting restless – only because they would want to go ahead with so-called “industrial development” of a 500-hectare disputed area within the controversial sugar estate.
Dr. Ang is indeed correct in describing Hacienda Luisita farmworkers as “restless.” But this restlessness – more of dread and disgust – is directed and due mainly to the systemic violence, deception and landgrabbing inflicted upon them by one Cojuangco-Aquino cacique president after another.
In so many words, the new Secretary of the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR), Rafael “Ka Paeng” Mariano was unfairly painted by Dr. Ang as a mere troublemaker who is deliberately undermining President Duterte’s vision, just to supposedly further the Left’s agenda. Duterte even describes himself as a “Leftist” – why then should there be reason for alarm? For Luisita farmworkers, Ka Paeng who has been marching among their ranks for decades, embodies their aspirations for genuine land reform and social justice. The Ka Paeng of the peasant movement, even now that he is at the DAR’s helm, never fails to stress the weight of the people’s movement and collective struggle which Luisita farmworkers have been waging for so long despite all odds.
Let us stop spreading worn out, malicious intrigues against Leftists in the Duterte administration. Let us instead focus on the real monsters.
Under the rule of the haciendero heir BS Aquino and his minions within his erstwhile yellow enclaves at the DAR, the Tarlac courts, government units, and police and military establishment – the 2012 landmark Supreme Court decision for total land distribution in Hacienda Luisita has atrociously come to this:
Aquino implemented “tambiolo land reform” or land reform by draw lots that resulted in massive dislocation, confusion, and conflict among beneficiaries and residents. This scheme only enabled the reconcentration of land back to the Cojuangco-Aquinos through their dummy financiers called “aryendadors” who promoted the illicit lease and sale of farmlots. In short, the so-called “land distribution” accomplished by Aquino was nothing but a complete sham.
The yellow DAR deliberately excluded more than a thousand hectares of land for distribution. These areas are still under the effective control of different corporate avatars of the Cojuangco-Aquinos such as the Tarlac Development Corporation (TADECO), Luisita Realty Corporation, Luista Land, Central Azucarera de Tarlac and other firms. This is contrary to the DAR’s own land reform mandate and the Supreme Court order for the DAR to subject all other agricultural lands in Luisita for distribution.
Under the yellow DAR, several trumped-up criminal cases were filed against leaders and members of the Alyansa ng mga Manggagawang Bukid sa Asyenda Luisita (AMBALA*) to intimidate and harass the organized ranks of farmworkers and their supporters. Justice remains elusive to victims of the Hacienda Luisita massacre and the spate of extrajudicial killings in Luisita since 2004, even as fresh human rights violations are being committed such as bulldozing of crops, burning of homes, mauling and illegal arrests.
Militarization persists inside Hacienda Luisita. The company headquarters of the 31st IB 3rd Mechanized Battalion is located right in the middle of the TADECO disputed area in Barangay Balete. Paramilitary CAFGU detachments are found in almost all barangays of Hacienda Luisita.
To seek land distribution of 500 hectares of idle, but prime agricultural land is but just, especially now that whole farming communities were displaced by Aquino’s tambiolo land reform. AMBALA in fact seeks to nullify the whole sham land reform process instituted by BS Aquino and correct all the injustices against farmworkers.
AMBALA sought to revoke the conversion order issued by DAR covering 500 hectares of land under the Hacienda Luisita, Inc. (HLI) in January 2012, before the SC released its final and executory decision. The area is now controlled by RCBC, the Luisita Industrial Park, Co, and Luisita Land.
Up to now, the Cojuangcos have not paid the FWBs its debt of P1.33 billion or the farmworkers’ share from the sale of HLI assets, including the 500-hectare area under dispute. The previous DAR maneuvered to ensure that the Cojuangco-Aquinos had a say in the auditing process, effectively causing its delay. Other than this, there is a need to investigate the anomalous construction of a solar power plant in the disputed area. The plant is a public-private partnership project approved by BS Aquino with PetroGreen, a sister company of RCBC. Such project was never the purpose of land conversion when HLI’s request was granted by DAR way back in 1996.
The previous DAR’s own deliberate sluggishness made the petition for revocation “dormant.” The petition was never acted upon even as violence, outright bribery and evil maneuvers were being unleashed by RCBC and the Cojuangcos against farmworkers through “Oplan April Spring.” Disinformation and intrigue – branding the farmworkers as mere “anti-development troublemakers” and projecting the landlords and landgrabbers as virtuous, benevolent saviors – characterize this dirty ploy. The evil “April Spring” attack against farmworkers only steeled AMBALA’s organized ranks to carry on with the struggle.
To describe Hacienda Luisita farmworkers – or principled peasant leaders such as Ka Paeng – as anti-development or anti-industrialization is to expose our ignorance, the prejudice and contempt many of us have against the peasantry’s just struggle for genuine land reform. Progress and development must spring from genuine land reform and national industrialization – not from violent evictions, landgrabbing, exploitation and oppression long practiced by oligarchs such as the Cojuangco-Aquinos.
Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA)
*AMBALA is UMA’s local affiliate in Hacienda Luisita, Tarlac.