“We were practically arrested by the Cojuangco-Aquino family to hide the anomalous and violent implementation of a flawed land distribution scheme.” – Ericsson Acosta, poet, ex-political detainee, and a member of the fact-finding team
By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
TARLAC CITY – The arrest of Anakpawis Rep. Fernando Hicap, along with 10 other farm workers of Hacienda Luisita and their supporters is illegal, according to lawyer Jobert Pahilga.
“Their arrest, which was obviously ordered by the Cojuangco-Aquino owned Tarlac Development Company (Tadeco) and Hacienda Luisita Inc, has no basis in fact and in law. The charges hurled against them – Illegal Assembly, Malicious Mischief, Illegal Trespass, and Direct Assault – are also absurd, ridiculous, and are but tools for harassment and oppression to thump legitimate dissent in Hacienda Luisita and the farce agrarian reform implemented therein,” Pahilga said in a statement.
On Sept. 17, 11 members of the fact finding mission, which was organized to investigate the land claims of Tadeco in Hacienda Luisita and the intensified militarization in the area, were arrested at around 11:40 a.m. in the village of Balete.
According to members of the team, they have already finished interviewing members of the military and police and were walking away from them when a black SUV arrived. One of the four men in civilian clothes that alighted from the vehicle, believed to be the commanding officer of the police unit, gave the signal to arrest the members of the team.
“They ran after us. One of the police placed his arms on my shoulder while I was walking. I resisted and other members of the team helped me,” Joseph Canlas of Alyansa ng mga Magbubukid sa Gitnang Luson (AMGL), told Bulatlat.com.
The scuffle, which led to the arrest of 11 members of the team, lasted for about 30 minutes, Canlas added.Those arrested are Rep. Hicap, Sr. Pat Fox, former political prisoner Ericson Acosta, Kerima Tariman, Florida Sibayan, Luz Versola, Danilo Ramos, Rene Blasan, Ronald Matthew Gustillos, Angelina Nunag and Karl Mae San Juan.
“It seems they were really after peasant leaders because they did not bother to get hold of others,” he said.
Other members of the fact-finding mission team who were deployed in other villages of Hacienda Luisita gathered in front of the Tarlac City police station to demand for the release of their colleagues. Former Anakpawis Rep. Rafael Mariano and Tarlac City Councilor Emy Ladera-Facunla, sister of the late Abelardo Ladera who was gunned down for his support for the cause of Hacienda Luisita farm workers, arrived at the police station to negotiate for the release of the Hacienda Luisita 11, as they are collectively called.
Former political prisoner Acosta, in a text message to the Free Ericson Acosta Campaign, said “I lost my slippers during the violent arrest and we were only read the Miranda rights at the police headquarters where we are currently detained.”
“We were practically arrested by the Cojuangco-Aquino family to hide the anomalous and violent implementation of a flawed land distribution scheme,” Acosta added.
The Supreme Court ordered the distribution of thousands of hectares of land controlled by the Cojuangco-Aquinos for more than 50 years. The Department of Agrarian Reform, mandated to implement the order, conducted the raffle system in the past months as a means to distribute the land. The Alyansa ng Magbubukid sa Asyenda Luisita has been opposing the method, saying it is one of the tactics used by the Cojuangco-Aquinos to regain control of the land.
Late in the afternoon, members of the fact-finding team were informed that Hicap and Fox would not be charged. But Hicap insisted he is not leaving the nine remaining members of the team.
Zen Soriano of Amihan, a member of the fact-finding mission, said during the protest action outside Tarlac City police station that the police who arrested them showed no respect to women. Police, she said, punched some of the women and grabbed their breasts.
A police in civilian clothes, wearing yellow shirt, she added, was so angry during the scuffle he wanted to pull out his gun and point it at the members of fact finding mission who were resisting the unjust arrest.
The arrested members of the fact-finding mission were brought to Camp Gen. Francisco Macabulos at around 6:00 p.m. They were told that their charges will be reduced to three: direct assault, malicious mischief and robbery, which, according to initial reports, was because a police lost his cellphone during the scuffle.
They were also told by the police that they have not been “arrested” but “under custodial investigation.”
As of this writing, no formal charges have been filed against Hacienda Luisita 11. Supporters, on the other hand, are conducting a vigil in front of Camp Macabulos.
“In a desperate move to maintain its illegal and contested ownership of the more than 6000-hectare Hacienda Luisita, the Cojuanco-Aquino family mobilizes the repressive forces of the police and military to terrorize and inflict violence on land reform advocates and famers,” Free Ericson Acosta Campaign said in a statement.
Pahilga, in a statement, said the fact-finding mission cannot be considered as an illegal assembly because no armed person was included in the team.
“The meeting is not for the purpose of committing any of the crimes punishable under the Revised Penal Code; the audience is not incited to the commission of the crime of treason, rebellion or insurrection, sedition or assault upon a person in authority or his agents, and the meeting is not held for propaganda purposes against the Government or any of its duly constituted authorities in order to destabilize the Government; or to undermine its authority; or for the purposes of supporting any plot or conspiracy to accomplish any of the acts which constitute rebellion or insurrection, or sedition,” he said.
Pahilga emphasized that the team was in the area to determine the effect of the “Tambiolo” land reform, where the Department of Agrarian Reform used the system of drawing lots to assign farm workers beneficiaries to their land parcel.
He also said that malicious mischief and illegal trespass could not be filed against the Hacienda Luisita 11.
“Malicious Mischief or Illegal Trespass is committed by a person who is not the owner of the property that was destroyed or trespassed. In the case of the fact-finding mission, the owners of the land – the FBs [farm worker beneficiaries] who are members of Ambala – were there present with Rep. Hicap. As owners of the land, they could not be charged with Malicious Mischief and/or Illegal Trespass,” Pahilga said.
He added that direct assault was “merely concocted this case to justify the detention of those they have illegally arrested. But, it is clear that there can be no Direct Assault as the police were not performing official functions when they went to Barangay Balete and arrested the members of the Fact Finding Team. The persons they have arrested were not committing and did not commit any crime that would warrant their arrest.”
Pahilga said that it is the police, in fact, who committed the assault against the members of the fact finding mission. He said that the arrest of Rep. Hicap violated Section 11 of Article VI of the 1987 Constitution that read: “A Senator or Member of the House of Representatives shall, in all offenses punishable by not more than six years imprisonment, be privileged from arrest while the Congress is in session.”
Pahilga said Alyansa ng Magbubukid sa Asyenda Luisita and members of the fact finding mission will file charges against the police and officials of Tadeco for the arrest.
“The illegal arrest and detention of Ka Pando and 10 other land reform advocates show that Hacienda Luisita is under a state of terror,” Antonio Flores, secretary general of KilusangMagbubukidngPilipinas said, “Even persons who supposedly enjoys parliamentary immunity was not spared. Imagine the life of an ordinary Hacienda Luisita farm worker at the hands of the President’s family.”
“And this state of terror is continuously being used as a major component of the Cojuangco-Aquinos and the Department of Agrarian Reform’s campaign of deception and denial of Hacienda Luisita farm workers’ rights to the lands,” Flores said.
Support for Hacienda Luisita 11
Hicap’s colleagues in the Makabayan bloc of the House of Representatives, meanwhile,called on the police to immediately release the Hacienda Luisita 11.
“Rep. Hicap and his group are just exercising their right to assembly, so why did the police arrest them? Did they not even know that he is an incumbent congressman and is just administering the interest of his constituents? It seems that the police and the army does not have any intelligence or is deliberately disrespecting Cong. Hicap. Arresting a member of Congress while Congress is in session over the budget is an act of harassment. They intend to prohibit Rep. Hicap from actively participating in the budget deliberations in violation of his duty under the Constitution to scrutinize the budget of Pres. Aquino,” Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares said.
Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate said Hicap and the farm workers of Hacienda Luisita and their supporters were confirming the accusations of fraud and harassment in the area during the drawing of assigned farm lots to the beneficiaries, which was reportedly done under the heavy presence of police and the military.
Colmenares warned that Bayan Muna will move for a zero budget for the Philippine National Police and the Armed Forces of the Philippines if they will not release Hacienda Luisita 11.
ACT Teachers Rep. Antonio Tinio said Pres. Aquino does not want the ongoing rights abuses in Hacienda Luisita to be exposed. “Why is the genuine representative of farmers deprived of his liberty while ‘pork’ plunderers continue to roam free? We demand his immediate release along with his companions.”