In the President’s State of the Nation Address (SONA) last year, President BS Aquino made special mention of his family’s controversial sugar estate, Hacienda Luisita with promises of land distribution and social justice.
Days before this year’s SONA, however, farmers in Hacienda Luisita continue to struggle with landlessness with the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) – the main agency tasked to undertake land distribution – contemptuously taking the lead in evicting tillers and destroying their crops using government equipment and resources.
Since June 25, aggressive moves by the DAR to impose its anomalous land distribution scheme with the assistance of local village officials in Hacienda Luisita, such as Chairmen Rael Gatus of Barangay Mapalacsiao and Edison Diaz of Barangay Lourdes (Texas), have resulted in the destruction of a farmhut and around 50 hectares of productive palay and organic food crop farms cultivated under the Alyansa ng mga Manggagawang Bukid sa Asyenda Luisita’s (AMBALA) bungkalan. Fully-armed Tarlac police personnel also assisted in the forcible eviction of farmers.
Three separate incidents on June 25, July 3 and July 8 were captured in videos by concerned Luisita residents and were posted on social media. No notice was ever made by DAR before it ordered the destruction of the crops and the eviction of the farmers.
Gatus, meanwhile, has set a deadline for the destruction of another cooperative farm hut in Sitio Maligaya, Mapalacsiao, a day before President BS Aquino’s SONA. Farmers received the threat through a questionable eviction notice signed by the said barangay official.
“Government personnel and officials involved in these acts should be slapped not only with administrative cases – they are also criminally liable for the destruction of food and farmlands that we have worked on and fought so hard for,” said Florida Sibayan, AMBALA Chairperson.
The land cultivation campaign bungkalan started in 2005, during the height of the Hacienda Luisita Strike. The DAR insists that the acts are legal since they are only “installing farm worker beneficiaries.” According to AMBALA, the DAR’s actions are actually meant to discourage farmers from planting palay and food crops and pave the way for the replanting of Cojuangco-Aquino sugarcane through the illicit aryendo (lease) system brokered by yellow agents such as ex-LTO Chief and Presidential “Kabarilan” Virgie Torres.
The Supreme Court (SC) under Chief Justice Renato Corona ordered land distribution in Hacienda Luisita in 2012. A motion filed earlier this year by AMBALA to cite the DAR in contempt for its sham land distribution scheme is still pending before the SC.
“This reign of terror in Hacienda Luisita complements the Pork Barrel King’s use of the illegal Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) to retaliate and impeach Corona for the landmark SC decision, and to immediately pay Presidential kin overpriced compensation for land that they will never let go of,” said Sibayan. “Impunity is the only thing that the DAP has accelerated and stimulated, especially here in Hacienda Luisita.”
Luisita farmers will join people’s protests during the President BS Aquino’s SONA on July 28.