TARLAC CITY—Hacienda Luisita farmers and agrarian-reform beneficiaries will take back what is rightfully and legally theirs—portions of lands fenced off by the estate management and a big commercial bank in Barangay Balete here.
The action, supported by various organizations, marks the fifth year of the final and executory Supreme Court (SC) order that revoked the stock distribution option (SDO) in Luisita and mandated the distribution of the 6,453 hectares of the sugar estate.
Hacienda Luisita was among the haciendas and big landholdings exempted from actual land distribution under the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program of the late President Corazon Cojuangco-Aquino.
The farmworkers will assert and attempt to break the 1-kilometer fortified barrier put up by the bank and launch a bungkalan, or collective cultivation, as an assertion of their claim to the lands.
“We are taking back what is ours. We are taking back control of the lands that the Cojuangco-Aquinos have illegally usurped for more than half a century,” said Renato Mendoza, secretary-general of the Alyansa ng Magbubukid sa Asyenda Luisita.
The occupation assertion is part of the series of actions of farmers and land-reform advocates to challenge the continued resistance of the Cojuangco-Aquinos against actual land distribution in Hacienda Luisita.
The bank, as ordered by the family of former President Benigno S. Aquino III, has posted a big signage outside the property dismissing the Department of Agrarian Reform order canceling the illegal land-use conversion of a portion of the Luisita lands.
“Assertion of our right to the land is the way to proceed with actual land distribution and farmers’ installation on the farmlands,” Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas Chairman Joseph Canlas said.
On March 24, 2016, the DAR issued an administrative order partially revoking the conversion of 384 hectares of land that was illegally converted and sold by the Luisita Land Corp. to the bank in 2004, a few days after the Hacienda Luisita massacre that killed seven farmers.
“Despite having an agrarian-reform secretary from the peasant sector and the government’s firmed-up position supporting free land distribution in the peace negotiations [with communist rebels], landlords like the Cojuangco-Aquinos, would do everything in their power and influence to block genuine land reform. Farmers can only rely on our collective strength and the support of progressive sectors advocating genuine agrarian reform, rural and national industrialization,” Canlas said.
The #OccupyLuisita activity is part of a series of land occupation and land-cultivation activities nationwide in the escalating agrarian struggles asserting genuine land reform.
It is supported by militant organizations, led by the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas, Unyon ng Manggagawa sa Agrikultura and Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan).
Kin of massacre victims demand justice
THE Mothers and Relatives against Tyranny and Repression (Martyr), a group of relatives of the victims of the Hacienda Luisita massacre in 2004 and other killings, has asked the Duterte administration to give them land and justice.
Gathering in Tarlac City on April 21, Martyr officers said the meeting was held three days before the fifth anniversary of the SC decision ordering total land distribution in Hacienda Luisita.
On April 24, 2012, the SC ruled in favor of farmers under the principle of “land to tillers”, and dismissed as illegal the SDO hatched by the Cojuangco-Aquino family member and their lawyers.
The Hacienda Luisita massacre left seven farmers dead and hundreds wounded.
Survivors and relatives of the victims filed a case against the Cojuangco-Aquino family members, including then-Laban Rep. Benigno Aquino III of Tarlac, some officials of the Department of Labor and Employment and several members of the National Police and the Armed Forces.
The accused policemen and soldiers were never charged for the carnage but were meted out minor administrative sanctions.
Aquino, who was earlier cleared, practically “killed” the massacre case during his watch as president.
The Ombudsman dropped charges against police and military personnel in 2010, while an appeal by the victims’ families was junked in 2014.
Emy Ladera-Facunla, acting spokesman for Martyr, lamented that justice remains elusive after more than 12 years.
“No one was punished. More injustice was shouldered by farm workers and the families of the victims with maneuvers of the Cojuangco-Aquinos to circumvent the SC decision,” she said.
Facunla is the sister of Abel Ladera, a Tarlac City councilor who was vocal against injustices perpetrated by the Cojuangco-Aquinos.
He was shot and killed by still- unidentified assailants in 2005.
“Our resolve to launch the bungkalan, or land-cultivation initiatives, in Hacienda Luisita is part of our quest for justice,” said Facunla, who noted that the Cojuangco-Aquinos are still in direct control of more than a thousand hectares of land in Hacienda Luisita, aside from the more than 4,000 hectares supposedly allocated to land-reform beneficiaries.