The Cojuanco clan was reportedly paid P471.5 million ($10.477 million) as compensation for turning over the land of Hacienda Luisita to the farmworker beneficiaries. But how come the Tarlac Development Corporation, owned by the clan, are now claiming choice parts of the land, and Aquino’s friends such as Virgie Torres are brandishing land lease agreements to kick out farmers from the land they have been tilling?
By RONALYN V. OLEA
MANILA –Conchita Ocampo, 64, has been tilling a four-hectare land in Mapalacsiao village, Tarlac City inside Hacienda Luisita since 2005. She grows palay and vegetables.
Recently, a certain Edna Torres told Ocampo to vacate her farm claiming that it has been leased to them by farmworker-beneficiaries. Edna even told her that the copies of certificates of land ownership award (CLOA) of farmworker-beneficiaries for the said land are already in their possession. Edna’s husband, according to Ocampo, is a brother of the husband of Virgie Torres, former Land Transportation Office (LTO) chief. Virgie retired in October 2013 after videos of her playing in a casino went viral.
Ocampo said the Torreses offered farmers P7,000 ($155) as payment for one-year rent of the land. The land, she was told, will be planted with sugarcane.
“I would not give up my land. It is only the Cojuangcos who would be happy to transform the hacienda into a sugarcane plantation once again,” Ocampo told Bulatlat.com in Filipino. She joined fellow farmers in a protest action in front of the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) office in Quezon City, Feb. 5.
Land allocation questionable
Ocampo said personnel from the DAR were aware of the lease agreements.
“They [DAR personnel] went to us and told us that the land we till belongs to other farmers,” Ocampo said, adding that those farmers had agreed to lease their land to the Torreses.
“When I asked them why they allowed it, DAR personnel replied that it is up to the farmers to lease the land,” she said.
Francisco Dizon, a leader of Alyansa ng mga Manggagawang Bukid sa Asyenda Luisita (Ambala), said the DAR personnel facilitated negotiations with “financiers” or those leasing land for sugarcane. During the land allocation distribution in Mapalacsiao village, Dizon said farmers who signed the application to purchase and farmers’ undertaking (Afpu) were told to talk to financiers, who were there at the time.
Dizon said the land allocation was premeditated. His mother has been assigned a lot in Motrico, La Paz, Tarlac while he was assigned a lot in Parang, Concepcion. The family lives in Mapalacsiao, Tarlac City. Hacienda Luisita covers ten villages spanning three towns.
He noted that those who are not critical of the Cojuangco-Aquinos have been assigned to strategic areas such as in Balete and Cutcut villages while members of Ambala have been thrown to the farthest villages. Ambala has a tillage campaign in Balete and Cutcut. The Tarlac Development Corporation (Tadeco), owned by the Cojuangco-Aquinos, has been claiming at least 400 hectares of agricultural land in the villages of Balete, Cutcut and Central.
According to Unyon ng Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (Uma), the scheme of enticing farmers into lease agreements or “ayendo” system is being implemented by the ‘dummies of Cojuangco-Aquinos such as Virgie Torres.’ “The Cojuangco-Aquinos have turned to the ‘aryendo’ system to maintain control of the land,” Uma said in a statement.
Dizon said the financiers would offer a huge amount to entice the farmers to enter into such agreements. Dizon said Virgie Torres initially offered to pay P75,000 ($1,666) in ten years and then it became P7,000 ($155) per year.
“Virgie Torres could not possibly make these transactions without the knowledge of the Cojuangco-Aquinos,” Dizon said.
In its 2012-2013 crop year annual report, Hacienda Luisita Incorporated’s sister company, the Central Azucarera de Tarlac (CAT) admitted that there are existing sugarcane planters or financiers operating in tracts of lands as vast as 500-700 hectares. Torres is reportedly leasing around 200 hectares in Barangay Mapalacsiao alone.
“…What we see now is the aggressive re-concentration through violent land grabbing, and the illicit and coercive ‘aryendo’ or lease system facilitated by the likes of Casino Queen Virgie Torres and other corrupt business partners of the Cojuangcos,” Florida Sibayan, acting chairwoman of Ambala, said.
Ocampo, Dizon, Sibayan are among those who did not sign the application to purchase and farmers undertaking.
On Feb. 4, the DAR published an announcement in the Philippine Daily Inquirer calling on 270 farmworker-beneficiaries to go the provincial office of DAR and sign their Afpu until Feb. 15.
Christopher Garcia, Ambala spokesman, said they will go to DAR provincial office that day not to sign Afpu but to hold a protest action.
“Signing that document would pave the way for Cojuangco-Aquinos to take back our land,” Garcia said. “If we fail to pay the amortization or make the land productive, as stated in the Afpu, it would be easy for the government to evict us from our land.”