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.