NEWS RELEASE: AMBALA-UMA, April 30, 2014
President Benigno Aquino III should look at his erstwhile 6,000-hectare backyard Hacienda Luisita before defending his human rights record.
The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) led by Commissioner Atty. Norberto dela Cruz and Region III Director Atty. Jasmin Navarro Regino confirmed various reports of grave rights violations in Hacienda Luisita during its field investigation held yesterday, April 29.
CHR’s confirmation quickly bellies claims made by President Aquino before a media conference with US President Barack Obama, that the Aquino government tolerates criticism and is not stifling dissent.
The regional CHR branch, the government’s official human rights desk headed in the national level by a known Aquino ally, Etta Rosales, was purportedly prompted to investigate rights violations in Hacienda Luisita only after receiving alerts from concerned international human rights organizations based in Canada.
Local peasant leader Florida Sibayan said that ordinary farmers, individual members of the farmworkers’ alliance AMBALA and their supporters have been targets of relentless violent attacks by the Cojuangco-Aquino family in its aggressive bid to retain control of Hacienda Luisita. Local CHR officials were able to monitor renewed rights violations against Luisita farmers in as early as September last year, when Anakpawis Partylist Rep. Fernando Hicap was unlawfully nabbed by Tarlac police along with Sibayan and nine (9) other delegates to a fact-finding mission. The CHR, however, never conducted any ground investigation until yesterday.
The frail 58-year old Sibayan, who is a survivor of the 2004 Hacienda Luisita massacre, said that since the Supreme Court (SC) ruled to distribute Luisita to farmworkers in 2011, she has been mauled by authorities at least thrice and unlawfully detained twice; her family’s farm hut, crops, and livestock literally ran over by Cojuangco bulldozers. Sibayan continues to face threats and fabricated harassment suits for questioning the government’s “hoax land distribution scheme” implemented by the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR).
CHR’s investigation revealed that Sibayan is but one of hundreds of other victims of the recent spate of terror wrought by the Cojuangco-Aquino family in Hacienda Luisita. CHR officials were told that perpetrators violate farmers’ rights with impunity due to the collusion of government agencies such as the DAR and the local PNP.
Reacting to reports of the DAR’s failure to issue a cease and desist order (CDO) against Cojuangco firm TADECO to curb the violent eviction of farmers beginning December 2013, CHR Commissioner Atty. dela Cruz admitted that “four months have gone and human rights have been already violated, late na nga (it is already late).” The Commissioner refers to Director III Atty. Regino’s promise to send a letter to the DAR to push the latter to issue the CDO petitioned by AMBALA since December 26, 2013.
Several DAR officials including Tarlac Provincial Agrarian Reform Office (PARO) Chief Ileona Pangilinan have washed their hands of any responsibility concerning farmers’ grievances and the worsening rights situation in Hacienda Luisita, prompting hundreds of Luisita farmers to storm the DAR compound last Thursday, April 24, the second anniversary of the SC’s Luisita ruling.
DAR Secretary Virgilio de los Reyes, meanwhile, has consistently snubbed the farmworkers’ requests for a dialogue.
Instead of addressing urgent issues concerning land distribution, Delos Reyes and his Undersecretary Anthony Parungao, have instigated further violence against farmers through a media word war with AMBALA, in effect giving the green light to minions of the Cojuangco-Aquino family to continue violent attacks against farmworkers and individuals associated with AMBALA.
Officials of the CHR Region III promised to closely monitor future incidents and all active trumped-up charges filed against farmworkers in Hacienda Luisita. The most recent incident involved the incredulous filing of physical injury charges against the very farmer-victims of a “Martilyo-Gang”-type attack instigated by thugs hired by the Cojuangco-Aquinos last March 28 in Barangay Cutcut. #