July 27 this year is set to be President Aquino’s fifth State of the Nation Address, in which he will exhaustively outline his government’s achievements the past year. For the farmers in Hacienda Luisita, that day marks more than half a decade of Aquino’s negligence on genuine land reform in the Philippines.
Such is the sentiment of yesterday’s speakers at State of Luisita, a press conference and solidarity program organized by Luisita Watch held at the College of Mass Communication in U.P. Diliman.
Alyansa ng mga Manggagawang-Bukid sa Asyenda Luisita (AMBALA) Secretary General Renato Mendoza described the Aquino administration – with regards to his handling of the Luisita issue – as full of panloloko, pandarahas, at pangangamkam (deception, violence, and landgrabbing).
Renato Mendoza of the Alyansa ng mga Manggagawang-Bukid sa Asyenda Luisita or AMBALA
Ranmil Echanis, Secretary General of Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA), gave a quick chronology of the legal measures put forth by the Aquino administration to maintain ownership and control of Hacienda Luisita, despite the latter declaring that he has divested his shares of the estate.
It can be recalled that in April 2012, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the farmers of Hacienda Luisita, as the order for total land distribution and the repeal of the Stock Distribution Option were ruled final and executory. However, news of bogus land distribution schemes have been reported. According to Echanis, the manner in which the Supreme Court decision was carried out is tarnished with much controversy, among which are:
- Lot allocation to farmer-beneficiaries by picking their names from a lottery drum or tambiolo, supplementing the so-called “aryendo scheme” of the Cojuagco-Aquinos to reconcentrate land back to them;
- Exclusion of names of farmworkers in the Department of Agrarian Reform’s final master list of the beneficiaries, as well as the insertion of unqualified names;
- The forced signing of Application to Purchase and Farmers Undertaking (APFU) notes at gunpoint, requiring the farmer-beneficiaries to pay for the distributed land through a three-year amortization scheme.
- The exclusion of agricultural land from distribution through landgrabbing and land use conversion by the Tarlac Development Corporation (TADECO), Luisita Realty Corporation (LRC), Central Azucarera de Tarlac (CAT), and other corporations the Cojuangco-Aquinos share ownership and control of;
- The deceit and coercion of beneficiaries through false statements and excessive use of state armed forces
Renato Mendoza, himself a farmer in Hacienda Luisita, experienced harassment in the hands of Tarlac Development Corporation (TADECO) security personnel. “Naranasan ko pong makulong ng higit na tatlong buwan sa BJMP Tarlac, na-bulldozer ang sakahan, napukpok ng martilyo ng mga tauhan ng Cojuangco-Aquino” [I’ve experienced being incarcerated for more than three months at BJMP Tarlac, my crops being bulldozed, being beaten with a hammer by Cojuangco-Aquino personnel], Mendoza shares, referring to a series of violent attacks by TADECO early last year, amid heavy police and military presence.
As of late, a solar power Public-Private Partnership (PPP) is on the works in the disputed 500-hectare land encompassing Barangays Balete and Cutcut. The PPP is being undertaken between the Department of Energy and PetroGreen, a firm owned by the Yuchengco family. The Yuchengcos own RCBC, Hacienda Luisita, Incorporated’s (HLI) successor-in-interest in the said property, after their acquisition of the agricultural land.
The alleged sale of the Central Azucarera de Tarlac (CAT) sugar mill to businessman Martin Lorenzo in 2014 is seen by AMBALA and UMA as a passageway to the “unhampered entry of ‘development projects’,” as it is a push to further evade land distribution.
The plight of the farmers in Hacienda Luisita, Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) Secretary General Antonio Flores says, is also the plight of the peasantry throughout the country.
Farmers in Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao also face the threat of land use conversion, landgrabbing by local and foreign agricultural investors, and militarization, all of which entail eviction from their property. Several reports have surfaced of peasant and Lumad leaders being charged with trumped-up cases before being killed by extrajudicial means.
Flores said that the Cojuangco-Aquinos use legal and political maneuverings to maintain ownership and control of Hacienda Luisita. “Walang pagtingin si Noynoy Aquino na ang Hacienda Luisita ay ipapamahagi sa magsasaka at manggagawang-bukid. Malinaw sa atin ‘yan” [Noynoy Aquino does not see Hacienda Luisita being distributed to the farmers and farmworkers. That is clear to us.], he added.
Students, churchpeople, artists, professionals, and media workers took part in the press conference and solidarity program
“Wala po kaming maaasahan sa gubyerno ni Noynoy Aquino. Naranasan na po namin na noong 2004, noong si Noynoy Aquino ay kongresista sa 2nd District ng Tarlac…isa siya sa nag-utos na imasaker ang mamamayan ng Hacienda Luisita” [We cannot expect anything from the Aquino government. When he was congressman of the 2nd district of Tarlac in 2004…he was one of those who ordered the massacre of Hacienda Luisita residents], Mendoza asserts as he recalls the tragic dispersal of the farmers and farmworkers’ strike in CAT more than a decade before. The incident is now widely known as the Hacienda Luisita Massacre.
However, as Mendoza adds, the farmers’ struggle for the genuine distribution of land is very much alive, as evidenced in the bungkalan, or their practice of collective farming in shared hectares of land. The bungkalan, according to Mendoza, is the strongest assertion of their right to the hacienda.
Organized struggle, however, is seen as the primary tool in their fight. Mendoza notes that the farmers continue to take in members Alyansa ng mga Manggagawang-Bukid sa Asyenda Luisita (AMBALA), which serve as a watchdog and action arm in Luisita-related matters.
Despite having only several months left in office, Flores nevertheless sees the need to depose the Aquino government. “Kailangang sumanib ang mga magsasaka sa mga manggagawang-bukid sa Hacienda Luisita sa kilusang pagpapatalsik kay Noynoy Aquino, ang punong pampulitikal na katawan ng mga Cojuangco-Aquino at ng uring panginoong maylupa at burgesyang komprador” [The farmers and farmworkers of Hacienda Luisita need to link arms in the movement to oust Noynoy Aquino, the main agent of the Cojuangco-Aquinos, as of the big landlords and bourgeoisie compradors], resolves Flores. “Sa pamamagitan nito, mag-aalab at sisiklab ang militanteng tradisyong pakikibaka ng mga mamamayan sa Hacienda Luisita…higit nating palakasin ang pagkakaisa sa malawak na alyansa ng mga magsasaka, manggagawang-bukid, at mamamayan ng hacienda patungo sa muling paglulunsad ng makatuwiran at makatarungang welgang bayan sa Hacienda Luisita, para wakasan ang kontrol ng mga Cojuangco-Aquino sa lupa at kamtin ang inaasam-asam na tunay na reporma sa lupa” [Through this, the militant tradition of the people of Hacienda Luisita will flare up…let us further strengthen the unity of the wide alliance of farmers, farmworkers, and people of Hacienda Luisita in order to put an end to the Cojuangco-Aquinos’ control of the land, and bring about genuine land reform], Flores adds.