“Why can’t the DAR allow us to continue cultivating the land we have occupied since 2005?”
By RONALYN V. OLEA
MANILA – At 74, Benjamin Duque still works on the farm. For nine years, he and his seven children have been planting palay (unhusked rice) on a two-hectare land in Cutcut village inside Hacienda Luisita.
On May 25, at around 5 a.m., Duque’s colleagues discovered that his hut was burned down. Duque lives one kilometer away from his farm.
“My hut had been there for nine years, since I started joining the tillage campaign in 2005,” Duque told Bulatlat.com in an interview, referring to the campaign initiated by members of the Alyansa ng Magbubukid sa Asyenda Luisita (Ambala). After the November 16, 2004 massacre that claimed the lives of seven farmworkers, Ambala called on farmworkers to defy the Cojuangco-Aquinos and go into farming. Under the stock distribution option (SDO) implemented in Hacienda Luisita, farmworker-beneficiaries were prohibited from planting crops other than sugarcane. The SDO was in effect from 1989 until the Supreme Court nullified it in its April 24, 2012 decision.
A day before the incident, a financier named Dominador Quiani told Duque that he has leased the land being tilled by the latter. The financier claimed he paid three farmer-beneficiaries the amount of P12,000 each for one-year lease of Duque’s two-hectare farm.
“What the DAR [Department of Agrarian Reform] did was wrong. It caused division among the farmer-beneficiaries,” Duque, who himself is a beneficiary, said. “Why can’t the DAR allow us to continue cultivating the land we have occupied since 2005?”
In its final decision, the Supreme Court mandated the DAR to implement the distribution of all agricultural lands in Hacienda Luisita. The DAR resorted to a raffle system as a way to distribute land to farmer-beneficiaries. The DAR assigned lots to farmers, which are far from their homes and farm lots. Hacienda Luisita covers ten villages in three municipalities.
Renato Mendoza, a leader of Ambala, said it is the Cojuangco-Aquinos who benefit from the discord among the farmer-beneficiaries.
Duque said nobody witnessed the incident but he deemed it was done in complicity with the security guards hired by the Cojuangco-Aquinos. He said his hut is near a security outpost set up by the Tarlac Development Corporation (Tadeco), a firm owned by the Cojuangco-Aquinos, in Cutcut village.
Florida Sibayan, Ambala chairwoman, said they went to the Provincial Agrarian Reform Office (Paro) in Tarlac City. “We are asking the Paro to let our colleagues stay on their respective farm lots,” Sibayan said.
Paro chief Ileona Pangilinan insisted that the DAR lot allocation should prevail, Sibayan said.
Meanwhile, more charges have been filed against Hacienda Luisita farmers.
After being released from prison, Vicente Sambu was charged with trespassing.
Sambu was arrested on May 16 for charges of direct assault. He was released yesterday after posting bail of P3,500.
At least 51 Ambala members have been charged with trespassing by Tadeco in relation to the Dec. 21, 2013 incident.
That day, security guards of Tadeco, accompanied by the local police, destroyed the crops of farmers in Balete village.
Tarlac City Councilor Emily Ladera-Facunla who tried to intervene was also charged with trespassing.
Hundreds of farmer-beneficiaries have been slapped with criminal charges such as malicious mischief, grave coercion, physical injury, among others, for fighting for their right to land.
Tadeco and other corporations owned by the Cojuangco-Aquinos have been claiming ownership of thousands of hectares of land in Hacienda Luisita after the high court issued its final ruling.