WATCH THE REPORTS:
The continuing agrarian unrest in Hacienda Luisita, marked by a recent series of violent attacks against supposed farmworker-beneficiaries, has attracted the attention of international media groups, including Qatar-based English language news and current affairs channel Al Jazeera and the Asian Catholic news source UCAN News of Hong Kong.
Hacienda Luisita is a 6,453-hectare sugar estate in Tarlac province, Central Luzon, controlled by the family of Philippine President Benigno S. Cojuangco Aquino III since 1958. Two years ago, the Supreme Court issued a final and executory ruling to distribute the estate to farmworkers.
This historically dispute-ridden sugar estate gained worldwide attention in 2004, when state forces opened fire on protesting sugar workers, killing 7 and wounding hundreds of others in a bloody incident now known as the Hacienda Luisita Massacre.
In its April 12 broadcast, Al Jazeera‘s report “Philippine farmers fight for land rights” featured an interview with Florida Sibayan, chairperson of the Alyansa ng mga Manggagawang Bukid sa Asyenda Luisita (Luisita Farmworkers Alliance) or AMBALA. “They (the Cojuangco-Aquinos) continue to harrass and displace us, but land is important to us, it’s our life, and so we will fight for it, even if more of us would die in the process,” Sibayan told Al Jazeera. Sibayan is a survivor of the Hacienda Luisita massacre.
After the SC decision on Luisita, Sibayan, other AMBALA leaders and ordinary tillers, have become targets of relentless attacks by Cojuangco-Aquino firm Tarlac Development Corporation (TADECO), the local police force in Tarlac and even the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) itself.
In a span of less than a year, or since the DAR’s lot allocation activities in Luisita commenced July last year, the frail 58-year-old Sibayan has been mauled by armed men at least twice; and arbitrarily detained twice. She receives verbal threats from Cojuangco hirelings almost everyday. Sibayan and more than a hundred farmers and their supporters are also respondents to a number of harassment suits, owing to an unwritten government policy of criminalizing agrarian cases and political dissent.
The Al Jazeera report showed Sibayan in front of barbed wires and a portion of a concrete fence that runs to several hundreds of meters, looking over the dusty expanse where her family’s crops once thrived. Last February 8, President Aquino’s birthday, TADECO guards literally bulldozed their way into Sibayan’s rice and vegetable plots. Fully armed, the said guards also burned Sibayan’s hut and several other farm homes in the area.
Al Jazeera ended the report with a scathing commentary on the Aquino administration: “Justice is just too slow. No matter the promises, the struggle against the landowners represent the darker side of President Aquino’s legacy.” A live follow-up interface completed the segment’s broadcast which drew in comments from Danilo Reyes of the Asian Human Rights Commission who was asked why there has been no accountability for the deaths of farmers in Hacienda Luisita.
“Impunity or the lack of investigation, prosecution and punishment of any of the security forces in the Philippines is deeply rooted. None of those involved in the massacre has been prosecuted. In fact, after the 2004 incident, six or seven more human rights and political activists have been killed,” Reyes told Al Jazeera.
Meanwhile, a video report released by UCAN News was filmed during a fact-finding and solidarity mission in Barangay Cutcut II, Hacienda Luisita last April 5. The mission documented most recent incidents of arbitrary arrests and violence against farmers.
AMBALA leaders suffered hammer blows from hired thugs, their local headquarters ransacked and dismantled with the support of the police. UCAN News was able to capture armed personnel manning an outpost and checkpoint barring farmers from entering their farmlots and tending to their crops. The April 5 mission was led by AMBALA and the Unyon ng Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA), with support from Catholic aid agency Caritas Manila and Anakpawis Partylist.
The escalating tension in Hacienda Luisita has largely been a very sensitive national issue which is being closely monitored by daring alternative and social media groups such as Bulatlat.com and the Luisita Watch, a network of agrarian reform advocates supporting the farmworkers’ fight for genuine land reform and justice. ###