Farm workers of Hacienda Luisita today joined other peasants in a two-day fasting for land, justice and peace coinciding with Pope Francis’ visit to the Philippines. The farmers will begin fasting at the Liwasang Bonifacio Kampuhan, before a scheduled Pagsambang Bayan (People’s Mass) at the same venue at 10 am.
“We hope to reach the Pope’s attention so that he could give his support to the peasant struggle for genuine land reform,” said Rudy Corpuz of the Alyansa ng mga Manggagawang Bukid sa Asyenda Luisita (AMBALA). The Roman Catholic Church espouses land reform in its Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church.
In No. 300 of the said Compendium, it states, In some countries a redistribution of land as part of sound policies of agrarian reform is indispensable, in order to overcome the obstacles that an unproductive system of latifundium (hacienda) — condemned by the Church’s social doctrine — places on the path of genuine economic development.
Despite a 2012 Supreme Court ruling for total land distribution, farmers claim that Hacienda Luisita is still controlled by President Aquino’s family. Tillers have been cultivating farm lots in Luisita after the Hacienda Luisita sugar workers’ strike in 2005, but the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) awarded these to other farmers via a lottery drum (tambiolo) raffle in 2013, thus causing conflict among the “farmworker-beneficiaries.”
Also, more than a thousand hectares of agricultural land in Luisita were deliberately excluded from this distribution process and fenced off from farmers through outright deception, intimidation and violence. The Cojuangco-Aquino family utilized the DAR itself in the bulldozing of crops and eviction of farmers with the assistance of the police, military and the private security personnel and goons.
“We have lost our faith in authorities,” said Florida Sibayan, AMBALA Chairperson. Sibayan is a survivor of the 2004 Hacienda Luisita massacre. Under Aquino, the Luisita massacre case was denied due process twice. All the perpetrators were cleared of charges in 2010 and the victims’ plea to reopen investigation was denied in October 2014.
Other than those from Hacienda Luisita, those who joined the fast included farmers led by the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) from the Yulo King Ranch in Palawan, Tungkong Mangga in San Jose Del Monte Bulacan and Hacienda Dolores in Pampanga. Farmers in these three areas which comprise more than 40,000 hectares experience outright landgrabbing either by the state or private entities close to top government officials.
At the Pagsambang Bayan ecumenical service, Luisita farmers will present their produce of organically-grown red rice as offertory. The red rice from their bungkalan land cultivation campaign is a strong symbol of their defiance against land grabbing and the sugarcane monocrop system in Luisita.
The peasants’ fast and Pagsambang Bayan are part of activities of the People’s Committee to Welcome the Pope (People’s Welcome). This network is composed of poor and oppressed sectors of Philippine society including local and migrant workers, the urban poor, indigenous peoples and human rights defenders.
Sibayan: “We fervently hope that the Pope express his solidarity with us in our struggle for genuine land reform and social justice. Pope Francis, Pope of the Poor, stand with us for land, justice and peace!”