By all indications, it was the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) secretary himself, Virgilio de los Reyes, who instigated the latest violent attack against Hacienda Luisita farm workers. On March 28, thugs hired by Cojuangco-Aquino firm Tarlac Development Corporation (TADECO) attacked Barangay Cutcut farmers with hammers and shovels. The brutal attack was supported by soldiers, a fully-armed SWAT team and the Tarlac police who arrested three farmers, ransacked and burned the headquarters of the Alyansa ng mga Manggagawang Bukid sa Asyenda Luisita (AMBALA) and conducted warrantless raids in the community.
Secretary delos Reyes’ consistent defense of landlord interests in Hacienda Luisita has emboldened hirelings of the Cojuangco-Aquino family to assault defiant Luisita farmers. The DAR and the various other involved state authorities should be held accountable for criminal acts against farmworker-beneficiaries.
A day before the attack, delos Reyes was quoted in a media interview as saying that disputed lands in Barangays Cutcut and Balete are still property of TADECO and have not yet been issued any Notice of land reform Coverage (NOC) by his office. He further stated that bulldozing of lands and putting up of concrete walls by TADECO cannot be considered as illegal acts of land conversion.
Delos Reyes’s outrageous and incredulous statements expose not only his incompetence and indifference but, more seriously, his criminal culpability for the countless violations against the rights and livelihood of Luisita farmers. Contrary to Delos Reyes’s irresponsible claims, so-called “TADECO areas” in Barangays Cutcut & Balete with a total of 358 hectares have already been issued NOCs by the DAR. The notices were published by The Philippine Star on December 17, 2013. TADECO started bulldozing crops in Barangay Balete on that same day.
As early as December 26, 2013, AMBALA filed a Cease and Desist (CDO) petition with DAR to stop TADECO eviction and bulldozing activities. To follow up on this urgent petition, AMBALA leaders engaged DAR officials in personal dialogues on January 21 in Quezon City, and March 24 in Tarlac City. But until now, the DAR has yet to act on the CDO petition. By mimicking President BS Aquino’s “Noynoying” expertise – doing absolutely nothing – the DAR is practically allowing TADECO to trample upon farmers’ rights with impunity. On February 8, President BS Aquino’s birthday, TADECO proceeded to burn farmers’ huts in Barangay Balete.
AMBALA asserts that around a thousand hectares of prime lands were cunningly excluded by the DAR and the Cojuangco-Aquinos from land distribution, but is covered by the 2012 decision of the Supreme Court to distribute all agricultural lands in Hacienda Luisita to farmworkers. In Barangay Mapalacsiao and in other areas like Central, Lourdes, and Parang, 214 hectares are fenced off and bulldozed by another Cojuangco entity, the sugar mill Central Azucarera de Tarlac, where Presidential sister Kris Aquino sits as board member.
Secretary de los Reyes acts like the spokesperson of the Cojuangco-Aquino family by saying that these agricultural lands are supposedly classified as residential. But the Cojuangco-Aquino family never applied for land reform exemptions with the DAR, other than a 500-hectare area now fenced by RCBC and Luisita Realty. Even this 500-hectare area is subject to an earlier AMBALA petition for the revocation of the 1995 conversion order issued by the DAR. After almost two decades, the said area did not undergo any kind of development and remains agricultural.
Meanwhile, arrested farmers Ofelia Hernandez, Marcelino Lugay, and Romeo Corpuz join hundreds of other farmers who face trumped-up criminal charges filed by TADECO and the Tarlac PNP to justify illegal arrests and to prop up the Cojuangco-Aquinos’ landgrab spree in Hacienda Luisita. Hernandez and Lugay were subsequently released on March 31, after the local prosecutor junked the physical assault charges brought against them by TADECO security guards. Corpuz, however, remains confined at the Tarlac Provincial Hospital due to heart failure triggered by the unlawful arrest. Corpuz also sustained fractures on his left hand.
Residents of Block 6, Barangay Cutcut are now under threat of demolition and eviction from their homelots. TADECO personnel reportedly threatened residents that they must vacate their homes or face violent reprisal. TADECO filed unlawful detainer or ejectment charges against 81 farmers in Cutcut. The Notice of Coverage issued by the DAR on the hundreds of hectares of land in barangays Balete and Cutcut is just a scrap of paper. It does not prevent landlords with the aid of private and government security forces from illegally evicting farm workers who have been tilling the lands since 2005.
The escalating violence in Hacienda Luisita today proves once more the monumental failure of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program. ##
AMBALA-UMA, April 2, 2014
REFERENCE: Gi Estrada, 09166114181