Luisita Farmworkers to Pope Francis: “Fight with us!”

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Luisita farmers write postcards to Pope Francis: “Land and justice! Fight with us, Pope of the Poor!”

December 27, 2014, Balete, Tarlac City  — In a Christmas party held today in Hacienda Luisita, farmworkers said that they are looking forward to Pope Francis’ visit in January next year. Fr. Jess Dumawal, MSC who led the celebration said that the Pope is a champion of the poor and in particular to the Catholic Church’s teaching that “agrarian reform is, moreover, a political necessity, a moral obligation”.

The Pope’s address to Popular Movements made in the Vatican City on October 29, 2014 resonates in Hacienda Luisita.  Violent incidents against farmworkers have been ongoing since 2013, coinciding with the commencement of government’s “land distribution” activities in Luisita. Victims point to President Aquino’s kin, their goons and minions in the police and the military as the perpetrators. Luisita farmers are not alien to the Pope’s own words, “Cruel are the images of forced displacements, of bulldozers pulling down small houses, images so like those of war.”

The party held in Barangay Balete was organized for the children of farmworkers and members of the Alyansa ng Manggagawang Bukid sa Asyenda Luisita (AMBALA), an affiliate of the national federation, Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA).

Church people have been assisting Luisita farmers in providing seeds and teaching non-conventional but scientific farming techniques such as organic farming and production of organic fertilizers and pest control.  They have been witnesses to the effects of the sham land reform in Hacienda Luisita.  Crops in AMBALA’s model farm in Barangay Mapalacsiao were destroyed on orders of officials from the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR), the local government and police last June. With the continued support from church people, farmers were able to recover from the losses and start over.

The Department of Agrarian Reform Adjudication Board (DARAB) in Tarlac recently sent summons to at least 8 farmers in Mapalacsiao for allegedly unlawfully occupying and possessing the landholdings. The tillers have been cultivating the said farmlots since 2005 but the DAR awarded these to other farmers via a lottery drum (tambiolo) raffle last year, thus causing conflict among the “farmworker-beneficiaries.”

AMBALA Chairperson Florida Sibayan, a survivor of the 2004 Hacienda Luisita massacre,  said that they no longer trust the DAR, the courts or the police in Tarlac  — they no longer expect these authorities to help them seek justice.

Farmworkers have now found strength in Pope Francis’ words: “I accompany you with my heart on this journey. Let us say together from our heart: no family without a dwelling, no rural workers without land, no worker without rights, no person without the dignity that work gives.”

“We have been fighting for land and justice for decades. Fight with us, Pope of the Poor!” Sibayan urged Pope Francis.

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