“We call on the DOJ [Department of Justice] to make good their promise of creating a special panel to look into rights violations against farmers in Hacienda Luisita. With the fragile situation in Luisita, this DOJ panel must start its work now.” — Ambala
By RONALYN V. OLEA
MANILA — On Dec. 21, 2013, Jose Baldiviano, a caddie at the Luisita Golf Course, went to the farm in Balete village to check on his son. He heard that a commotion was taking place due to bulldozing activities of the Tarlac Developmen Corporation (Tadeco), a company owned by the clan of President Benign Aquino III.
When he arrived at the farm, a man in plain clothes suddenly punched him. Then policemen handcuffed him.
“Four policemen kicked me repeatedly. After that, they forced me inside a black van…” Baldiviano said in Filipino in an affidavit.
Baldiviano and seven other farmers were arrested by the Tarlac police that day. Three of them were immediately released but five, including Baldiviano, were detained for two days at the Camp Macabulos for charges of physical injury. The complaint was eventually reverted to preliminary investigation by the prosecutor for lack of probable cause.
A month later, Baldiviano and four other farmers — Vicente Sambu, Ronald Sakay, Rod Acosta and Mamerto Mandigma — were charged with “direct assault to persons of authority.”
The five farmers were expecting the City Prosecutor’s Office to junk the physical injury charge after they submitted their counter-affidavits, January 27. But the farmers were told instead that charges of direct assault were also filed against them.
The farmworkers alliance Alyansa ng Manggagawang Bukid sa Asyenda Luisita (Ambala) maintained that the five were the ones who were in fact mauled and arrested last December 21. No less than Tarlac Philippine National Police’s highest officials, Provincial Director Alex Sintin and Tarlac City Chief of Police Bayani Razalan, personally held ground command to facilitate the destruction of farmers’ crops and the demolition of farm huts, the group added.
“Farmers in Hacienda Lusita have to deal with a lot of threats and intimidation because of the Cojuangco-Aquinos’s efforts to regain control of the land,” Florida Sibayan, acting chairwoman of Ambala, said.
Tadeco is claiming ownership over at least 461 hectares of land in Balete, Cutcut and Central villages.
Sibayan called on the Department of Justice (DOJ) to act on their complaint against Tadeco, security guards and police. On January 16, more than 30 farmers filed charges of grave threat, coercion, damage to property, physical injury, illegal arrest and detention and other violations against the corporation and the police.
“We call on the DOJ to make good their promise of creating a special panel to look into rights violations against farmers in Hacienda Luisita. With the fragile situation in Luisita, this DOJ panel must start its work now,” said Sibayan. Justice Undersecretary Francisco Baraan III promised to form a special panel in a dialogue with the farmers last January 16.
Since December, Tadeco has ordered the continuous bulldozing of farmers’ crops in Balete village. Great Star Security Head Mauro dela Cruz warned that farmers who remain tending to their crops inside the contested property recently fenced off by Tadeco must leave by end of January or face violent reprisal from the Cojuangcos. As of press time, farmers are standing their ground.
“The said property is subject to a notice of land reform coverage and must be distributed to farmers,” Ambala said, referring to a recent notice of coverage published by the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) via Philippine Star on Dec. 12, 2013.
Earlier, Tadeco also filed unlawful detainer or ejectment charges against 102 farmers in Balete and Cutcut villages. Other criminal charges such as malicious mischief, direct assault and physical injuries have been filed against farmers and their supporters.
“The Cojuangco-Aquino family currently employs aggressive measures against farmers in its dogged refusal to abide by the 2012 Supreme Court (SC) decision to distribute Hacienda Luisita to farmworkers,” Ambala said. The group, through its counsel Sentro para sa Repormang Agraryo (Sentra) recently filed a motion to cite the DAR in contempt for undermining the SC decision on Luisita.