(This is a rejoinder issued by the Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura to recent news reports on the rampant sale and lease of farmlots allocated to land reform beneficiaries in Hacienda Luisita)
Land reform in Hacienda Luisita is a big sham — a monumental failure – courtesy of shameless deception, violence, and renewed landgrabbing perpetrated by the Cojuangco-Aquino family and by the government itself led by BS Aquino. Since last year, Aquino and his kin have been using government resources to sabotage the Supreme Court-mandated land distribution in Luisita, as consistently exposed by the Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA) and the Alyansa ng mga Manggagawang Bukid sa Asyenda Luisita (AMBALA).
The Cojuangco-Aquino family patriarch, Jose “Peping” Cojuangco, Jr. stubbornly preaches the public yet again with the worn-out landlord excuse that awarding farmlots to Luisita farmworkers is impractical – that sugar workers have neither the capacity nor interest in land cultivation. Peping makes it appear that Luisita “beneficiaries” are ultimately to blame for the reported sale and leasing of farmlots allocated through the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP), while washing his hands of any responsibility for the utter failure of the patently bogus land reform scheme he helped craft in his days as a legislator.
Peping chairs all Cojuangco firms related to the sugar plantation like the Hacienda Luisita Inc. (HLI), Tarlac Development Corp. (TADECO), among others. Peping has a direct hand in all violent attempts to dismantle the bungkalan or land cultivation areas of the farm workers established since the height of the People’s Strike in 2005. The Cojuangco-Aquino family and the sugar mill, Central Azucarera de Tarlac is the actual beneficiary of the rampant lease of and sale of farmlots allocated by the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) to Luisita farmworker-beneficiaries. Cojuangco-Aquino financier-agents and dummies, such as P-Noy’s “Kabarilan” ex-LTO Chief Virginia Torres are behind these illicit and coercive transactions.
As early as 2008, Peping made steps to sabotage the farmers’ land cultivation initiative and established the Luisita Estate Management (LEM) group of financier-dummies or “yellow agents” to either assert the Cojuangco’s claim over agricultural land or broker lease agreements with farmers. By that time, the bungkalan reached a peak of around 2,000 hectares planted to food crops in 2005.
Without any government support for farmers engaged in food crop production, farmers became victims of usurers and unscrupulous traders. A few bad harvests and coercion by the “yellow agents” compelled most farmers to fall for the grossly unfair tag of Php 2,000 to 7,000 for a year’s rental of their productive farmlots. Cojuangco agents offered to lease or rent lands through the assistance of local barangay officials. Large tracts of lands that had been occupied by the farm workers were replanted to sugar cane.
The DAR did the coup de grace in attempts to completely destroy the bungkalan last year, when the DAR allocated farmlots through the “tambiolo” or raffle system. DAR officials admit that their main aim is to get rid of the remaining bungkalan areas by excluding these areas from distribution. Vast ricefields and foodcrop plantations in the 358-hectare TADECO area in barangays Balete and Cutcut were bulldozed by known Cojuangco goons with the help of police and military, while the DAR assisted in destruction of crops in Mapalacsiao and Asturias as reprisal for fighting for land rights – to practically discourage farmers in engaging in food production and to maintain Cojuangco sugarcane production or pave the way for conversion of agricultural land for industrial and commercial purposes.
Even with a Notice of land reform Coverage (NOC), Peping and TADECO ordered the illegal and forceful eviction of the farmers with the destruction of ready to harvest crops and burning of huts, and assault on farm workers. Despite these illegal acts, BS Aquino’s alter egos in the DAR defended the Cojuangcos by shamelessly stating that this murderous landlord family still has rights to protect their so-called “private property.”
The DAR is quick to call special hearings to defend the Cojuangcos, even ordering farmers through AMBALA to prove why such property should be up for land distribution. AMBALA denounces this absurd order from DAR – it is precisely this agency’s mandate to ensure that farmers will benefit from land reform, especially after the DAR itself had already issued a Notice of Coverage for the contested property.The DAR yet again proves that it can never side with farmers and can only be effective as a notorious milking-cow agency and pork clearing house for corrupt landlord politicians.
Despotic landlords such as Peping are loud in denouncing the failure of the land reform and blaming farmers for it, only because they would like the public to believe that the demand for land distribution is a fatal mistake and that the so-called “beneficiaries” were better off when they were still slaving as farmworkers receiving a measly P 9.50 every payday. AMBALA and the bungkalan continue to struggle against all odds posed by BS Aquino and his kin. Let the farmers carry on with the bungkalan without the threats of predatory financier-agents, bulldozers, and militarization and the people of Hacienda Luisita will gladly show us how to free the nation from hunger.