Supposed land reform beneficiaries are yet again beleaguered by a shooting incident involving minions of despotic landlords. This time, banana workers in Madaum, Tagum City affiliated with the Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA) were reportedly shot at, at least 31 times, by fully-armed and masked security guards of Lapanday Foods Corporation (LFC).
Banana workers belonging to the Madaum Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries, Inc. and the Unyon Sa Mga Mag-Uuma Alang Sa Tinood Nga Repormang Agraryo (Farmers’ Union For Genuine Agrarian Reform) stormed the gates of LFC in Madaum, Tagum City, yesterday to reclaim their land.
An alternative media group, Kilab Multimedia based in Davao City, reported that various banana plantations failed to deliver wages and benefits to the worker-beneficiaries engaged in onerous and oppressive agribusiness venture arrangements (AVAs). Kilab shot exclusive footage and photos of the incident.
UMA said that the incident in Tagum City comes after thugs connected to the Cojuangco-Aquinos forcibly evicted tillers and caused tension to rise between farmworker-beneficiaries in Hacienda Luisita, Tarlac a few days ago.
Incidentally, both Lapanday and the Central Azucarera de Tarlac (CAT) sugar mill in Hacienda Luisita are now connected to the Lorenzo landlord family. Siblings Regina and Martin Lorenzo are top executives of Lapanday and CAT respectively.
According to Danilo Ramos, brutal suppression of the rights of agricultural workers is rampant in the countryside, especially since state forces are also practically deployed to serve the interests of landlords.
“The AFP has been ignoring and violating its own unilateral ceasefire declaration. The continued presence of armed state troops embolden the thugs and security personnel of landlords to do their usual business of harassing defiant farmers,” said Ramos.
In Hacienda Luisita, local officials like barangay captain Edison Diaz of Lourdes violate laws with impunity because he has the support of the Cojuangco-Aquinos, the local police, and even hold-over DAR Regional and Provincial officials Arnel Dizon and Ileona Pangilinan.
“The presence of military and paramilitary detachments and headquarters around these plantations and haciendas ensure the continued reign of terror of these landlords and their minions,” added Ramos. This includes outright political repression and militarization when farmworkers assert their right to organize, strike, or reclaim back their lands through the bungkalan or land cultivation areas.
The National Federation of Sugar Workers or NFSW, whose members are now in Manila with contingents from different Visayan regions to protest against militarization, say that army detachments also occupy Hacienda Ilimnan, and many other such contested landholdings in Negros Occidental.
“There are also numerous cases of agricultural workers being charged with trumped-up cases. All these are part of the military’s counter-insurgency program called Oplan Bayanihan, which armed troops are still actively pursuing despite the peace talks,”
A number of agricultural workers including UMA organizer and national staff member Felicidad Caparal remain detained as political prisoners. President Duterte’s recent announcement of using them as “bargaining chips” in the peace negotiations with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) is unjust and cruel.
“They should not have been arrested and imprisoned in the first place. They are people, not mere playing cards.” said Ramos.