MANILA, Philippines - The military yesterday opposed calls by farmers’ groups to pull out soldiers from Hacienda Luisita, saying the presence of troops in the estate would ensure immediate response to security concerns.
Maj. Enrico Ileto, spokesman of the Army’s 7th Infantry Division, said barangay officials support the presence of soldiers in the sprawling agricultural estate.
“Our presence in that area is a testament of our commitment to protect the rights of the people,” Ileto said in a text message.
“We owe it to the people. An evidence to that is the support which was put in an affidavit by 10 barangay chiefs supporting the presence of your soldiers for community-based peace and development efforts,” he added.
Ileto said the affidavit was signed last Jan. 21 by the heads of barangays covered by Hacienda Luisita. These barangays are under the municipalities of Concepcion and La Paz and Tarlac City.
“We believe that such favorable feeling toward the military as expressed and duly attested by all elected representatives of the barangays in Hacienda Luisita are the true sentiments of the people in the area,” he said.
The affidavit reportedly states that the barangay chiefs “support the military in its efforts to address insurgency and recognizes its support to the local governments’ effort of timely delivery of basic services.”
It also backed the implementation of developmental programs intended “to improve the quality of life of the people.”
Ileto said the barangay chiefs believe that the presence of soldiers in the area is needed “to maintain peace” and “to monitor and immediately respond to security, disaster and developmental concerns.”
“The affidavit also stated that the presence of the military neither institutes fear nor creates anxiety among the barangay chiefs and their constituents,” he added.
On Saturday, three farmers’ groups started a signature campaign demanding the pullout of soldiers from Hacienda Luisita.
The Alyansa ng Manggagawang Bukid sa Asyenda Luisita (Ambala), the Luisita Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura and the Luisita Peasants and People’s Alliance alleged that soldiers have used barangay halls as their bases.
“We are demanding the pullout of the military as they threaten us, farm workers, who are asserting our rights to the land. They have no business in Hacienda Luisita as everybody knows that this is an agrarian issue already decided upon by the Supreme Court,” Ambala chairman Felix Nacpil Jr. said.
Last November, the Supreme Court favored the distribution of Hacienda lands that used to be controlled by the Cojuangco-led Hacienda Luisita Inc. The firm has asked the court to reconsider its ruling.
The farmers’ groups said soldiers have “militarized” the barangays of Balete, Mapalacsiao, Lourdes, Cutcut, and Asturias in Tarlac City; Motrico and Bantog, and Bayan in La Paz; and Mabilog, Pando, and Parang in Concepcion.
Ileto, however, denied the allegation, saying military procedures prohibit them from using barangay halls as bases.
The farmers maintained that they are the “legitimate owners” of 4,915 hectares of Hacienda Luisita. – With Ric Sapnu - By Alexis Romero