Driven out of their ancestral lands, violently dispersed in the cities

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Before the brutal incident at the US Embassy yesterday, the Lakbayan contingent were hosed down with water cannons at the AFP headquarters on October 18. Photo by Efren Ricalde

Driven out of their ancestral lands, violently dispersed in the cities
State forces must pay for atrocities vs national minorities

The Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA), a national federation of agricultural workers, condemns the brutal dispersal of protesters composed of national minorities participating in the Lakbayan ng Pambansang Minorya caravan.

UMA Secretary General Danilo Ramos said that for two consecutive days, protests against militarization of peasant and indigenous peoples’ communities were met with brutal force by the same institutions perpetuating violence in the countryside.

On October 18,  Lakbayan delegates were hosed down with water cannons while protesting in front of the AFP Headquarters in Cubao, Quezon City. Yesterday, protesters were shot with teargas, mauled, and deliberately rammed and run over by a police vehicle in a demonstration in front of the US Embassy in Manila. According to a report, 42 protesters were arrested and more than 50 were injured, including minors, women and the elderly.

“The lumad, Moro and other national minority groups journeyed hundreds of kilometers from their mountain communities to the miserable evacuation centers in urban centers in their respective provinces. Now they are here in Manila for authorities and the general public to be aware of their plight.”

“They were violently driven out of their ancestral lands by police and military forces to make way for large-scale foreign mining and giant agricultural plantations. Here in the city, the same state institutions responsible for the bloodshed and violence in their communities want to silence them yet again,” said Ramos.

Ramos emphasized that national minority groups and their aspirations for self-determination have been brutally supressed throughout our history due to colonizaton and imperialist plunder.

“The human rights of the Filipino people will never be respected as long as the ranks of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Phillipine National Police (PNP) have butchers and mercenaries beholden to US imperialist interests,” said Ramos.

UMA said that PNP Col. Marcelino Pedrozo, commanding officer of the dispersal force and PO3 Franklin Kho, who was identified to have commandeered the errant police vehicle, must immediately be sacked. “Pedrozo acts like a modern-day Buencamino or Paterno – a traitor who is more concerned that we Filipinos might ‘lose face to the US government,’ because we dare speak against this foreign power,” said Ramos.

The Lakbayan contingent, composed of the newly-formed alliance Sandugo and militant people’s organizations, were in fact demonstrating in front of the US Embassy to support President Duterte’s call for an independent foreign policy. They also support Duterte’s stance to end  US military basing and joint military exercises in Mindanao and the rest of the country.

Florida Sibayan, leader of Hacienda Luisita farmworkers alliance AMBALA, said that the military and police hierarchy – including AFP Chief of Staff Ricardo Visayas – are heartless butchers. AMBALA was among those who welcomed and accompanied the contingent of Igorot and Aeta delegates from Northern and Central Luzon to Manila last week.

“We express our indignation over these brutal attacks,” said Sibayan, who held AFP Chief Visaya to account for the violent dispersal at Camp Aguinaldo. Visaya was ground commander during the Hacienda Luisita massacre, another violent dispersal involving peasants.

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Luisita farmers were among those who welcomed the Lakbayan ng Pambansang Minorya protest-caravan contingent at UP Diliman, October 13.

Plantations encroaching on ancestral domain

Most of the victims are Lumad, or indigenous peoples groups from Mindanao. There are already about 500,000 hectares of land covered with agricultural plantation crops primarily for export market in the island, which is equivalent to 12% of Mindanao’s agricultural land.

According to data gathered by UMA, land areas covered by agri-plantations in Mindanao have increased by a total of 79% from 2004 – 2014.  Agri-plantation companies, industry groups and the Philippine government are directed toward aggressively expanding agricultural plantations in Mindanao in the coming years. For palm oil alone, the road map of the Philippines targets to expand another 300,000 hectares by 2023.

Other lumads are forced to lease out their land to said corporations for as low as P166 a month for a 25 year lease. Others are forced to become agricultural workers where minimum wages are hardly followed and benefits are not provided.  Most lands which used to be planted to food crops are converted to crops for export which threatens the food security and food sovereignty of the Filipino people.

The state through the military and other security forces have been violating rights of the Moro and indigenous peoples through continued harassment, vilification and even killings to protect the interests of these foreign corporate plantations.

“We urge the people to learn more about the issues faced by national minority groups, who are mostly also peasants and agricultural workers who feed our nation,” said Ramos.

The 3,000-strong contingent of the Lakbayan ng Pambansang Minorya is hosted by the University of the Philippines in Diliman where their “kampuhan” or camp-out is open to visitors for interaction and cultural exchange.

“Farmers are not criminals, release the Manapla 12!”

The Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura condemns the unlawful arrest of twelve (12) farmers affiliated with the National Federation of Sugar Workers (NFSW) in Manapla town, Negros Occidental.

“Farmers – especially supposed beneficiaries of government land reform – should not be treated like criminals,” said Ramos. “It is a shame that farmers are still harassed and targetted because of their affiliation with militant or Left-leaning organizations, even when the Duterte government is currently engaged in peace talks with Communists,” said Ramos.

The farmers were arrested by local police in their homes on October 7, coinciding with the second round of Peace Talks between the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) and the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) held from October 6-9 in Oslo, Norway.

The farmers, now collectively called the “Manapla 12,” are currently detained at the Manapla PNP Station are all members of Sitio Magsico, Pinanongnan United People Association (SAMPUPA – NFSW), and were charged by despotic land claimant Gemma Dequito with several trumped-up cases at the municipal and regional trial courts.

UMA Secretary General Danilo “Ka Daning” Ramos said that Dequito’s complaints were earlier certified as agrarian in nature by no less than Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) Secretary Rafael Mariano, during a dialogue with Negros Occidental farmers last September. Provincial Agrarian Reform Officer (PARO) Teresita Mabunay issued a certificate that the accused and several others are land reform beneficiaries in the disputed land. Despite the DAR certification, the judge still issued warrants of arrest.

“The cases should have been referred to the DAR Adjudication Board (DARAB) for proper resolution,” added Ramos. The farmers were charged with three (3) counts of alleged theft; two (2) counts of qualified theft; grave oral defamation; unlawful detainer; contempt of court; and recovery of possession by Gemma Dequito, who claims to be the heir of the late Virgilio Gaylan, who used to own the disputed land.

Those arrested are Jerry Elarde, Manuel Batislaon, Rolando Palomo, Wooden Celes, Jr Dequito, Lavinia Belandres, Lydia Belandres, Girlie Esmedia, Marlyn Jordan, Nelly Gaylan, Verginsita Dosa, and Rodolfo Belandres. SAMPUPA has embarked on land cultivation for food crops in around 52 hectares since 2013, around the time when the DAR declared the area for land distribution.

Three of those arrested, namely Lydia Belandres, Nelly Gaylan, and Rodolfo Belandres, are senior citizens aged 67 to 72 years old. “It is inhumane to keep these elderly farmers in jail. They simply exercised their right to till,” added Ramos.

Farmers and land reform advocates comprise the majority of 400 plus political prisoners in the country. Even Ramos and many other farmers and leaders across the country are only out on bail and still charged with various trumped-up charges filed by despotic landlords such as the Cojuangco-Aquinos in Hacienda Luisita.

“Peace advocates must work for the release of all political prisoners and the junking of all trumped-up charges against farmers,” said Ramos. “There can be no peace without justice,” he added.

UMA also asked DAR Secretary Rafael Mariano to once again intercede to ensure the release of the Manapla 12, and prevent the arrest and detention of other farmers charged by Dequito.

Jubilant farmers welcome “Ka Paeng” in Luisita

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“TUNAY NA REPORMA SA LUPA, IPAGLABAN!” Dept. of Agrarian Reform (DAR) Sec. Rafael “Ka Paeng” Mariano with farmworkers in  Barangay Bantog, Hacienda Luisita

OCTOBER 1, 2016 —   In a moving testimony, Bernardina Bais recounted one misfortune after another since Hacienda Luisita was subjected to so-called “land distribution” under former President BS Aquino. A video of a distraught “Apong Dina” recently went viral online – she was crying her heart out as local policemen assisted in another attempt to drive them away from the land they have been tilling for more than a decade.

Her husband, Gerry Catalan, was among those unlawfully arrested, detained and charged by DAR personnel in 2014. Their crops were repeatedly destroyed by Cojuangco-Aquino goons since then. “In the latest incident, our hut was partially demolished, and our crops were sprayed with herbicide. But we refused to give up,” Apong Dina said.

During that time, “turn-over ceremonies” were ongoing at the DAR compound in Quezon City.

“Goons attacked our bungkalan (land cultivation) areas on Ka Paeng’s very first day as Secretary just to show us that they’re still ‘the boss.’ Pero matagal nang nawala ang takot sa amin (but they can no longer taunt us),” recalled Florida Sibayan, chairperson of the Alyansa ng mga Manggagawang-Bukid sa Asyenda Luisita (AMBALA).

The new DAR Secretary, Rafael Mariano, immediately issued Memorandum No. 1 which in effect stopped the eviction of long-time tillers and destruction of their crops in disputed areas.

“Now we have a DAR Secretary from our own ranks – Ka Paeng knows how hard it is to toil in the fields,” Apong Dina said, referring to militant peasant leader Rafael Mariano, who is now at the helm of the DAR. “After Ka Paeng issued that memo, we started planting again. Now we are about to harvest palay,” said Apong Dina.

Sibayan agrees: “We are glad to have a Ka Paeng (at the DAR), but we know our struggle is not yet over,” she said.

Thousands of jubilant farmworkers prepared a warm welcome for Mariano, who returned to Hacienda Luisita today to personally talk with farmers regarding their current situation. Mariano’s visit is highly anticipated by the community since his team is expected to inspect the status of land reform areas – including still disputed landholdings owned by Cojuangco-Aquino affiliate companies in different Luisita barangays. These firms include the Luisita Land, Corp. (formerly Luisita Realty Corporation), Central Azucarera de Tarlac (CAT) and the controversial RCBC property.

Meanwhile, Mariano’s pro-peasant moves as DAR chief were lauded by Sibayan and farmworkers’ under AMBALA and the national agriworkers center, Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA).

“We have seen significant changes within Ka Paeng’s first 100 days at the DAR,” said Sibayan.

As peasant leader, Mariano fiercely criticized bogus land reform schemes pushed by the Cojuangco-Aquino family, such as Cory’s stock distribution option (SDO) and the “tambiolo land reform” implemented by former President BS Aquino through the previous DAR administration.

UMA Secretary General Danilo Ramos said that Luisita farmworkers are counting on Ka Paeng to conduct an exhaustive and truthful inventory of allocated lands to determine the actual status of beneficiaries in Luisita. “The aryendo system was unleashed by the Cojuangco-Aquinos in Luisita to dismantle the bungkalan areas and reconcentrate farmlots back to the landlords. Many beneficiaries fell victim to rampant leaseback and sale of farmlots brokered by Cojuangco dummies”

“Ka Paeng must go after these land reform saboteurs, especially since some of the brokers of this illicit leaseback scheme are reported to be lurking within the local DAR offices or have availed of government funds and projects because of their links to former President Aquino,” said Ramos.

Ramos also said that Luisita farmers should not let their guard down “even if we have staunch supporters like Ka Paeng in the Duterte administration.” Mariano recently junked a plea from Cojuangco-Aquino firm TADECO, upholding an earlier DAR decision to cover some 358 hectares of prime agricultural lots for land reform.

Luisita farmers continue to campaign for the enactment of  a new land reform law to effect their demand for free and distribution – a demand that can never be granted under onerous amortization requisites stipulated in the bogus CARP. Mariano, who authored the earlier version of the bill as Anakpawis representative, continues to be one with farmers in pushing for the Genuine Agrarian Reform Bill (GARB), now filed as House Bill 555.

UMA also stressed that agriworkers in Luisita and the rest of the country strongly support the second round of peace talks between the Duterte administration and the National Democratic Front (NDF) scheduled next week. The negotiations will tackle socio-economic reforms including land reform.

“Now that peace talks are ongoing between the government and the NDF, paramilitary detachments and army headquarters in Hacienda Luisita must immediately be dismantled. We call for the immediate pull-out of these troops for our farmers to finally till their land in peace,” said Ramos.

Farmworkers and the whole community are also preparing for the commemoration of the 12th anniversary of the Hacienda Luisita massacre on November 16.