#DearPopeFrancis: “Aquino is the country’s biggest disaster”


Haiyan survivors light candles for Pope Francis’s safe journey to ground zero. Photo from People Surge.

Luisita farmers thank Pope Francis for speaking for the poor and oppressed. “The Holy Pontiff echoed our yearning for ‘a society of authentic justice, solidarity and peace.’”

“The problems we deal with in Hacienda Luisita – landgrabbing, bulldozing of crops, and brutal repression – are caused by oppression and injustice,” said Florida Sibayan of the Alyansa ng mga Manggagawang Bukid sa Asyenda Luisita (AMBALA), an affiliate of Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA), a national federation of agricultural workers.

“The Pope gave us more courage to point out the ‘glaring, scandalous inequality’ between the thousands of farmworkers deprived of land and justice, and this pompous President’s landlord family,” said Sibayan.

Hacienda Luisita is a 6,453-hectare sugar plantation – the size of the cities of Manila and Makati combined. Despite a 2012 Supreme Court decision for total land distribution, farmers describe Aquino’s implementation of land reform as “a monumental sham,” while violent eviction, unlawful arrests and threats against farmers continue, ten years after the Hacienda Luisita massacre.

Luisita farmers likewise find solidarity with Yolanda (Haiyan) victims as they express hopes that Pope Francis sees the real situation in areas heavily-devastated by the supertyphoon in 2013 when the pontiff visits Leyte today.

“Peasants like us are the ones severely hit by disasters like Yolanda,” Luisita farmers and Haiyan survivors under the alliance People Surge are part of the People’s Committee to Welcome the Pope or People’s Welcome, a network composed of sectors from the poor and the oppressed.

Luisita farmers echo the Yolanda survivors earlier lament that “government’s highly militarized security plan for the Pope’s visit is deterring (the Pope’s) intention, creating a rough divide between the Pope and the survivors and the poor that the Holy Father sought out in the first place.”

“Yolanda survivors, especially the lowly farmers and fisherfolk have long been oppressed and abandoned by the government. After Yolanda and other such natural calamities, we are well aware that our plight is further aggravated by the greed and corruption of men in power,” said Sibayan.

In Hacienda Luisita, farmers who suffered crop losses from Typhoon Santi (Nari) which ravaged Central Luzon a month before Yolanda, were further displaced by eviction, bulldozing of crops, and burning of homes perpetrated by President Aquino’s family with the help of state institutions.

“Aquino is the country’s biggest disaster. His posturing for a ‘straight path’ of leadership is dispelled by the dismal state of calamity survivors who are not only neglected and robbed of billions in relief and rehabilitation funds and donations. We are most vulnerable to the man-made ruin caused by state and corporate land grabbing,” says Sibayan.

Ranmil Echanis, UMA deputy secretary general says that the Aquino government has been pandering to neoliberal economic policies which wrongfully excuse militarization, economic and human rights violations, dislocation of peasant and indigenous peoples’ communities and environmental plunder.

“We understand that the Pope seeks to address pressing structural concerns which affect the lives of ordinary folk,” says Echanis, referring to the Pope’s Malacanang speech to “(ensure) social justice and respect for human dignity (and) enjoin on all peoples the duty to hear the voice of the poor.”

“It bids us break the bonds of injustice and oppression which give rise to glaring, and indeed scandalous, social inequalities. Reforming the social structures which perpetuate poverty and the exclusion of the poor first requires a conversion of mind and heart,” Pope Francis’s Manila speech resonates with the pontiff’s social movements address in October 2014:

“An economic system centred on the god of money needs to plunder nature to sustain the frenetic rhythm of consumption that is inherent to it…The monopolising of lands, deforestation, the appropriation of water, inadequate agro-toxics are some of the evils that tear man from the land of his birth. Climate change, the loss of biodiversity and deforestation are already showing their devastating effects in the great cataclysms we witness.”

Yolanda (international name: Haiyan) is the strongest typhoon to make landfall in history. Pope Francis is also reported to issue a rare encyclical on climate change after his Philippine visit.

Reference: Gi Estrada, UMA media officer, 09166114181


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