DAR destroying strong farmer’s organization in Hacienda Luisita

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A local farmworkers’ alliance based in Hacienda Luisita scored the Department of Agrarian Reform’s (DAR) insincere pronouncements encouraging agrarian reform beneficiaries (ARBs) to form strong farmer’s organizations for supposed rural development.

The Alyansa ng Manggagawang Bukid sa Asyenda Luisita (AMBALA) called DAR Secretary Virgilio de los Reyes “a hypocrite.” AMBALA is one of the main petitioners favored by the historic 2012 Supreme Court decision for total land distribution in Hacienda Luisita.

“The DAR’s implementation of sham land distribution in Hacienda Luisita is designed to systematically destroy AMBALA and the unity of farmworkers,” said Florida Sibayan, AMBALA chairperson.

The DAR allocated farmlots to ARBs via a “tambiolo” or raffle draw causing chaos, confusion, and disunity among ARBs and long-time tillers. Conflicts now arise between ARBs allocated farmlots that tillers have already cultivated since the commencement of the bungkalan, a land cultivation campaign complementary to the Hacienda Luisita people’s strike (welgang bayan) ten years ago. The tambiolo system also became DAR’s justification to evict farmers and directly aid goons and state forces in the destruction and bulldozing of some 2,000 hectares of productive farmlands cultivated mostly by AMBALA members since 2005.

The DAR also deliberately excluded more than a thousand hectares for land distribution, including 358 hectares of lands in barangays Balete and Cutcut cultivated by around 150 farmer-families also since 2005. DAR has been undermining the farmers’ strong opposition against landgrabbing by Cojuangco-Aquino firms such as the Luisita Realty Corporation (LRC), Central Azucarera de Tarlac (CAT) and the Tarlac Development Corporation (TADECO).

The DAR itself endorsed TADECO’s forceful eviction of ARBs in the two above-mentioned barangays. The destruction of ready-to-harvest crops, arson, looting, attempted murder, illegal arrest and detention, and other numerous atrocities against the farmers were enforced by Cojuangco-Aquino goons with help from the police and the military.

Finally, the DAR itself filed harassment suits against AMBALA members in different barangays. Instead of helping farmers charged by the Cojuangco-Aquinos with numerous fabricated complaints before municipal trial courts, the DAR itself ironically filed more charges against farmers in these regular courts.

“Ideally, even under the patently anti-farmer Comprehensive Agrarian Reform (CARP) law, farmers embroiled in agrarian disputes must be safeguarded against criminalization. Agrarian cases must be heard by DAR as a quasi-judicial entity. Local DAR officials in cahoots with police officials in Tarlac have aggravated the plight of beleaguered farmers by ordering their arrest and detention, shaming them in press releases and ironically filing complaints of violation of the CARP law,” said Ranmil Echanis of the Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA), a national federation of agricultural workers. AMBALA is UMA’s local affiliate in Tarlac.

Regular courts in Tarlac are still hearing criminal charges filed against farmers and their supporters, including a direct assault case filed by police against nine members of a fact-finding mission in September 2013; a trespassing charge filed by TADECO against Tarlac City Councilor Emily Ladera-Facunla, sister of slain Councilor Abel Ladera. Ladera-Facunla tried to intervene and stop police and goons destroy farmers’ crops during the Christmas season of 2013. A physical injuries case was also filed by Cojuangco-Aquino goons against three farmers who suffered near-fatal injuries during an attack by the same goons in March 2014; and the CARP violation case filed by a DAR employee against five farmers in Barangay Mapalacsiao, arrested by no less than the Tarlac police chief in April 2014.

Before the last case was filed, the DAR itself through Atty. Jose Eduardo Narciso ordered the eviction of farmers and bulldozing of crops cultivated by AMBALA members in the same barangay. Five separate incidents of destruction of crops aided by DAR officials in barangays Mapalacsiao and Asturias were reported from June 25 – August 6, 2014.

Hundreds of other Hacienda Luisita farmers who were recently charged either by the Cojuangco-Aquinos or the local police have had the charges dismissed or reverted to the DAR due to the agrarian nature of the complaints, due mainly to the legal defense provided by activist lawyers. The harassment suits coincided with the DAR’s forced implementation of land distribution in Hacienda Luisita. Farmers have filed hundreds of counter-charges before the Department of Justice (DOJ) in three separate batches from January to October 2014, but government has yet to act on the farmers’ legitimate complaints.

Echanis added that “The DAR is actually urging farmers to join phony organizations established and led by trusted Cojuangco-Aquino henchmen like Arsing Valentino, who now heads a local ARB organization though the DAR’s blessings. These fake farmers’ groups are used to siphon land reform projects and funds to bureaucratic corruption and to protect landlord and interests in Hacienda Luisita and elsewhere.”

“AMBALA continues to strengthen itself to thwart the DAR’s moves to destroy it. The attempt by the Cojuangco-Aquinos and their minions is ultimately a futile exercise. The haciendero president Aquino is stoking heightened agrarian unrest with unbridled impunity and repression,” said Echanis.

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