ANGELES CITY ,Philippines – Three groups of farmers started yesterday a signature campaign demanding that President Aquino, the commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), immediately pull out soldiers from Hacienda Luisita, in which his family has a “vested interest.”
The Alyansa ng Manggagawang Bukid sa Asyenda Luisita (Ambala) the Luisita Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (Uma) and the Luisita Peasants and People’s Alliance (LUPPA) said soldiers have remained in several barangays within the hacienda, using the barangay halls as their base.
They identified the “militarized” barangays as Balete, Mapalacsiao, Lourdes, Cutcut, Asturias within Tarlac City; Motrico and Bantog, Bayan in La Paz and Mabilog, Pando, and Parang in Concepcion.
“We are demanding the pullout of the military as they threaten us farm workers who are asserting our rights to land. Also, they have no business in Hacienda Luisita, as everybody knows that this is an agrarian issue already decided upon by the Supreme Court,” Ambala chairperson Felix Nacpil Jr. said.
The Supreme Court, in a unanimous decision on Nov. 22, 2011, favored the distribution of hacienda lands that used to be controlled by the Cojuangco-controlled Hacienda Luisita Inc. The firm has a pending petition for reconsideration.
The farmers said they are the “legitimate owners” of Hacienda Luisita’s 4,915 hectares and accused the Cojuangco-Aquinos of continuing to “employ schemes, threatening them with violence and deceiving farmworkers just to keep their control over the hacienda.”
The farmers said former President Corazon Aquino “thwarted the distribution” of the hacienda by “enacting the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law or Republic Act 6657, provisioning the Stock Distribution Option (SDO) that was implemented by the Cojuangco-Aquinos.”
The SDO, they said, caused poverty and misery among farm workers and “became the very basis” of the strike that led to the Hacienda Luisita massacre on Nov. 16, 2004, in which seven farm workers were killed.
The three farmers’ groups also appointed from among themselves members of a fact-finding group to gather data about human rights abuses committed by the military in the hacienda.
AMGL chairperson Joseph Canlas said the alleged militarization of the hacienda, even during the Arroyo administration, has claimed the lives of several persons: Marcelino Beltran, chairperson of Alyansa ng mga Magbubukid sa Tarlak (AMT) and vice-chairperson of AMGL; Tarlac City councilor Abel Ladera; Philippine Independent Church Bishop Alberto Ramento and priest William Tadeña; United Luisita Workers Union leader Tirso Cruz and Bayan Muna leader Victor Concepcion. - By Ding Cervantes