#OccupyLuisita |  Farmers have all the right to occupy Luisita

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The Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA) reiterates that government must now immediately address the just demand of Luisita farmers for free land distribution, since land reform in this controversial sugar estate has been overdue for more than half a century.

Barangay Balete, where yesterday’s “Occupy Luisita” took place, is one of first settlements in the area, cultivated by farmers way before the Cojuangcos acquired the estate in 1957. It is named thus because the very first residents felled huge balete trees to build their community. It is but just for them to tear down the walls built by the landlords – the Cojuangco-Aquinos and their business partners, the Yuchengcos of RCBC and Lorenzos of Lapanday. These walls prevent farmers from tilling the land that is morally, historically and legally theirs.   

Despite the 2012 Supreme Court decision for total land distribution, the landlords with the backing of the previous administration of BS Aquino and his alter egos at the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR), transformed Barangay Balete into a virtual garrison. Balete became literally surrounded by concrete walls, barbed wire fences, elevated outposts guarded by armed security, a police detachment, and headquarters of a mechanized battalion where bulldozers and army tanks are occasionally parked.  

Residents of Balete and other barangays or villages in Hacienda Luisita are in constant threat of dislocation – the landlords have been planning to completely wipe-out the farming community to make way for ‘development plans’ that would further their business interests.

Out of the total 6,453-hectare estate, the SC explicitly ruled to distribute 4,335 out of the original 4,915 hectares incorporated in the Hacienda Luisita, Inc. (HLI) stock distribution option (SDO) scheme, since 500 hectares were approved by the DAR for land conversion, and 80.5 hectares were utilized in the construction of the Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway (SCTEX). The Cojuangco-Aquino family sold these land assets and therefore owe their “stockholders,” the farmworkers, Php 1.33 Billion, according to the SC ruling.

There is no record proving that HLI has already paid farmworkers Php 30 million as their share of the sale. The audit of the assets is currently being undertaken by accounting firms which the SC chose from nominees of the Cojuangco-Aquinos and pro-Cojuangco supervisors like the renegade Noel Mallari, much to the chagrin of farmworkers.   

The SC indeed ruled that commercial bank RCBC is but an “innocent purchaser” which acquired 184 hectares of land in Hacienda Luisita on November 25, 2004 – and not in 1996, as reported. Note that the date is only a few days after the gruesome Hacienda Luisita massacre. What occurred way back in 1996, is the DAR’s  issuance of a land conversion order for 500 hectares of HLI property. In 2012, farmworkers under the Alyansa ng mga Manggagawang-Bukid sa Asyenda Luisita (AMBALA) challenged the RCBC and HLI’s other succesors-in-interest with a petition to revoke the said conversion order.  

 More than two decades after, the firms have failed to usher in any development in the area. The only form of employment that they have since provided only pits residents against each other. Desperate farmworkers are hired to build the walls that bar their fellow farmers from tilling the land. Luisita farmers are no strangers to years of violent eviction and confrontation perpetrated by landlords.    

However, the new DAR administration, under Sec. Rafael Mariano recently issued a partial revocation of the conversion of 384 out of 500 hectares of RCBC and areas under the Luisita Land Corporation (formerly Luisita Realty Corporation) removing all legal impediments for farmers to take back what is rightfully theirs. The pro-Cojuangcos like Noel Mallari contend that the payment of Php 1.33 B  to farmworkers would mean that the area will no longer be covered by land reform. But Luisita farmworkers are now legally entitled both to the proceeds of the land sale – and to the land itself – because RCBC and LLC have failed to develop the area under the terms of the 1996 conversion order.  

The outright opposition of despotic landlords like the Cojuangcos and their partners, who are behind heavy militarization, killings and terror in the area, has always been the biggest hindrance to genuine land reform in Luisita and all other haciendas and big landholdings across the country.  
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