SONA 2014 & Hacienda Luisita: What happened to BS Aquino’s promises?

A new video by the Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA), Tudla and the Luisita Watch network narrates the saga of farmworkers and reports on the current state of land reform and human rights in Hacienda Luisita. The 13-minute video primer can be accessed via Youtube: —————————————————————————————————————–

statementIn 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. “Kung may isa man pong paksang paboritong ikabit sa pangalan ko, ito ay ang Hacienda Luisita,” Aquino said, while claiming that land distribution was underway, not only within his family’s long-disputed estate but in all other landholdings covered by the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP).

Days before this year’s  SONA, however, farmers in Hacienda Luisita continue to struggle with landlessness. Today, more than a hundred farmers have been evicted or are currently under threat of eviction from foodcrop farms they have been tilling for nearly a decade. In fact, whole communities are under constant threat of being wiped-out to make may for grand plans to convert the estate into a commercial hub, while the Cojuangco-Aquinos continue to control the sugar plantation and mill. (Read more: “2 years after landmark SC ruling, Hacienda Luisita land distribution a monumental failure”)

During the 2013 SONA, Aquino played his usual blame game and attributed land reform backlogs to the previous administration’s “defective land records system.” But Aquino, who was already President two years before the SC proclaimed its landmark decision on Hacienda Luisita, cannot invoke blamelessness. He not only failed to push his relatives to withdraw their opposition to the just prospect of land distribution – he directly used power and influence to ensure his family’s hold on Hacienda Luisita.

The current fiasco over bribery and landlord compensation culled from Aquino’s patently anomalous and unconstitutional Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) says it all.

Out of the 6,453-hectare estate, only 4,915 were declared agricultural in use under the Hacienda Luisita, Inc. (HLI) Stock Distribution Option (SDO) scheme which the SC revoked in 2012. Upon election, Aquino proudly proclaimed that he has divested all shares in the family sugar business that he directly managed – but played dumb as to the existence of more than a thousand hectares of Luisita agricultural land that the first Cojuangco-Aquino President, his mother, Cory, “hid” from CARP in 1989.

If Aquino really wanted to prove “good faith,” he could have easily pointed these areas out without reference to the “defective records system,” and could immediately order distribution of more than a thousand hectares of Luisita land, even before the SC decrees the same for the rest of the 4,915 under HLI.

These “hidden” agricultural lands have actually “resurfaced” around the same period as last year’s SONA – and have since been fenced and heavily-guarded by armed private personnel, police and military units beholden to yellow corporations like TADECO, Luisita Realty Corporation (LRC) and the Central Azucarera de Tarlac (CAT). In December 2013, the DAR did issue a belated notice of land reform coverage (NOC) for some 358 hectares in two Luisita villages, but this NOC did not stop the Cojuangco-Aquino family from evicting farmers, bulldozing ready-to-harvest palay, and slapping trumped-up charges against hundreds of tillers. A full company of the 3rd Mechanized Battalion is even stationed within a 250-hectare area claimed by TADECO.

In the 2013 SONA, Aquino also promised that his administration can definitely accomplish the issuance of NOCs for ALL CARP-covered landholdings all over the country by this year. However, no other NOCs have so far been issued even for landholdings under Cojuangco firms in Luisita. The sugar mill CAT, where Presidential sister Kris Aquino sits as a director, is actively contesting coverage of hundreds of hectares claimed by farmworkers.   Today, thousands of the so-called “beneficiaries” have been dislocated, or are under threat of wholesale disqualification. The DAR’s chaotic lot allocation process cunningly complemented the rampant aryendo (lease) system and buy-back offers unleashed by yellow financier-agents.

Unknown to the public – principally to most of the 52 survivors and relatives of victims who filed the complaints – criminal charges against perpetrators of the 2004 Hacienda Luisita massacre were dismissed in 2010, during the very first year of BS Aquino’s term as President. Today, more human rights violations are piling up in Hacienda Luisita. A farmer leader was murdered last November.  Burning of farmhuts and homes, destruction of crops, and looting of farm animals and tools have become common occurrence.  Farmers are mauled, serioulsy injured, nabbed and detained in series of incidents involving private security men, police and the military.  

Even the DAR has been directly involved in evicting tillers and destroying crops using government equipment and resources. Incidents last June 25, July 3 and 8 have resulted in the destruction of a farmhut and around 50 hectares of productive palay and organic food crop farms cultivated under the AMBALA’s bungkalan. Another questionable eviction notice was issued farmers only last week, stating that a cooperative farm hut will be destroyed by the DAR today, July 27, a Sunday – a day before the President’s SONA.

With the reign of terror and impunity perpetually hanging over Hacienda Luisita, farm workers can only pin their hopes in the campaign to oust this corrupt and despotic landlord president. ###


Graphic by AMGL


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