Reference: Edith David, AMBALA Barangay Mapalacsiao
INCIDENTS IN BARANGAY MAPALACSIAO, HACIENDA LUISITA
VIOLATION: Destruction of Crops
DATE OF INCIDENT: JUNE 25, 2014
1. Alyansa ng mga Manggagawang-Bukid sa Asyenda Luisita (AMBALA)-Barangay Mapalacsiao Chapter
2. Charlito “Tatang Gerry” Catalan, 68 years old and family
1. Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) Provincial Agrarian Reform Officers (PARO) identified as Atty. Narciso, Beth Ocampo & Oca Atillo.
2. A certain Sheriff Alfredo de Mesa
3. Around 12 uniformed & fully-armed elements of the Tarlac Philippine National Police (PNP)
4. Barangay Lourdes (Texas) Barangay Captain Edison Diaz and barangay watchmen (tanod)
Around 7:00 a.m. of Wednesday, June 25, 2014, persons aboard vehicles with plate numbers SHS 947 (Patrol) and PTA 748 (Gray Mitsubishi) arrived at the local headquarters or “kubol” (hut) of the Alyansa ng mga Manggagawang-Bukid sa Asyenda Luisita (AMBALA) in Silangan Street, Barangay Mapalacsiao, Hacienda Luisita.
Among them were local DAR officials led by an Atty. Narciso with Beth Ocampo and Oca Atillo; a Sheriff Alfredo de Mesa; the village chief (barangay captain) of another Luisita barangay, Lourdes (more popularly known as “Texas”), Edison Diaz, his village watchmen (tanod) and some locals; and around 12 fully-armed elements of the Tarlac City police. These officials demanded that AMBALA abandon the area because the lots were already allocated to other farmworker-beneficiaries (FWBs), particularly residents of another barangay, Lourdes, via the DAR’s tambiolo (lottery drum) raffle draws last year.
AMBALA members negotiated and asked the officials to honor a previous agreement forged last May 16 between AMBALA and local barangay officials in Hacienda Luisita, Diaz included, to settle disputes among residents and FWBs peacefully, particularly taking into consideration the rights of farmers with existing crops and those who have spent years of toil to develop farmlots for food production. Local AMBALA members asked the DAR officials not to destroy crops.
The local AMBALA headquarters in Mapalacsiao is adjacent to several hectares of rice and vegetable pilot farms employing collective and organic farming practices. With years of training from organic farming experts and practical applications since their bungkalan or land cultivation program commenced in 2005, local AMBALA members in Mapalacsiao have already set up successful models such as a local nursery for vegetables and fruit trees and regular production of compost and other organic fertilizers servicing farmers not only in Mapalacsiao but all other Luisita villages where hundreds of AMBALA members actively engage in the bungkalan.
The farmworkers also showed the DAR officials some documents prohibiting the destruction of crops. But after an hour of discussion, at around 8:00 am, a red big tractor owned by the DAR, manned by Brgy. Capt. Diaz himself, proceeded to destroy AMBALA’s crops. Fully-armed police stood by to serve as security while the group destroyed the crops.
Among those destroyed were:
– Around half a hectare of sweet potato (camote) scheduled for harvest on July 15
– Two fields of string beans (sitaw) with trellises
– Three fields of cassava (kamoteng kahoy)
– Three fields of eggplant (talong) with abundant fruits
The group threatened to return on Sunday, June 29, to destroy the rest of AMBALA’s crops.
By 11:00 am, the group proceeded to the nearby farmlot of Charlito “Tatang Gerry” Catalan, a 68-year old farmer and long-time Hacienda Luisita farmworker and resident.
The group told Tatang Gerry the same argument demanding him to abandon the area because the lots have already been raffled out to other FWBs. But Tatang Gerry and his family have already invested years of toil into the farm, which now has diverse crops and its own fish pond.
The discussion ended with both parties agreeing that crops must not be destroyed. But only a few moments after Tatang Gerry turned his back, the group began destroying all of the crops now using two big tractors, the red one and another colored blue, both owned by the DAR. The police once again served as the group’s security detail.
Among those destroyed were:
– 12 cavans (around 600 kilos) of palay seeds scheduled for planting in July
– Fertilizers and herbicides
– Around half a hectare of squash (kalabasa) with abundant fruits, edible tops and flowers
– 25 beds of mushrooms (active)
– Three fields of string beans (sitaw) with trellises
– Three fields of sweet potato (camote) earning a minimum of Php 500 a day from camote tops
AMBALA condemned the attacks in a statement saying that the “The DAR is only posturing that it wants to install legitimate beneficiaries, but it only seeks to evict farmers engaged in palay and vegetable production to make way for the Cojuangcos’ sugarcane aryendo.”
Under the aryendo or lease system, Cojuangco financier agents offer a measly Php 7,000 a year lease to cash-strapped FWBs using documents from the DAR such as the Lot Allocation Certificate (LAC) and Certificate of Land Ownership Award (CLOA) as a sort of collateral. Lots are reconcentrated back to Cojuangco-Aquino control to sustain the sugarcane needs of the Central Azucarera de Tarlac sugar mill, even before actual physical land distribution can occur.
“The DAR only seeks to discredit the hard toil of farmworkers engaged in bungkalan, and ultimately protect the Cojuangco-Aquinos and their exploitative aryendo system,” according to AMBALA Chairperson Florida Sibayan.
Local barangay officials broker these agreements between Cojuangco dummies and FWBs and receive cuts. This explains the role of the likes of Barangay Captains Edison Diaz of Lourdes and Rael Gatus of Mapalacsiao, who have been actively involved in recent disputes – not to mediate but to aggressively impose the chaotic and divisive DAR scheme. Like DAR officials, they also posture to speak in behalf of “disgruntled FWBs,” but their actions actually favor interests of the sugarcane planters and the Cojuangco-Aquino family.
In Barangay Mapalacsiao alone, ex-LTO Chief Virginia Torres, a known ally and “Kabarilan” (shooting buddy) of President BS Aquino, has covered around 200 hectares for sugarcane, victimizing hundreds of FWBs through the aryendo system. Arsenio Valentino – former Hacienda Luisita, Inc. (HLI) supervisor-turned- Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries Organization head – meanwhile, has control of hundreds of hectares of DAR-allocated lots in Barangays Lourdes, Bantog and Asturias.
The attacks in Barangay Mapalacsiao is the latest in a series of systematic assaults against organized farmworkers (AMBALA) and their bungkalan, since the DAR commenced what farmers call “sham land distribution” in Hacienda Luisita. AMBALA believes that the group took the opportunity to destroy crops in Mapalacsiao while most AMBALA members and leaders are involved in the Luzon-wide Peasant Lakbayan (People’s March) which will culminate on June 30, the expiration of the widely-criticized Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) of the government.
Since November 2013, bungkalan pilot farms and farmers’ crops were bulldozed by the Cojuangco-owned Tarlac Development Corporation (TADECO) in Barangay Balete after the DAR excluded 358 hectares for land distribution and belatedly issued a notice of land coverage on the same day of TADECO’s violent eviction of farmers. In Barangay Cutcut, around 100 hectares (out of the total 358 hectares claimed by TADECO) of ricefields and vegetable plantations were fenced by TADECO after violent assaults and failed murder attempts against AMBALA leaders in March. State forces such as the Tarlac PNP and military elements were employed to ensure the eviction of farmers. Trumped-up charges serving as “harassment suits” were filed against hundreds of farmers, AMBALA leaders and supporters.
Tatang Gerry Catalan himself is a direct victim of harassment by the DAR. He was previously arrested by fully-armed police elements along with 4 other farmers in April, based on a flimsy complaint by DAR-hired personnel who accused the farmers of impeding her work. After the unlawful arrest, the DAR National Office issued press statements threatening imprisonment to anyone opposed to DAR’s land distribution scheme in Hacienda Luisita. Catalan and four other Mapalacsiao farmers are currently facing charges of violation of R.A. 6657 (CARP).