The international group called for a joint inquiry by Senate and the House of Representatives on the reported abuses in Hacienda Luisita.
By RONALYN V. OLEA
MANILA – Catholic nun Helen Frawley was shocked at what she calls brutality in Hacienda Luisita, a sugar estate controlled by the clan of President Benigno Aquino III for more than five decades.
In an interview with Bulatlat.com, the 71-year-old nun from Australia related how the security guards of the Cojuangco-Aquinos destroyed the crops of a peasant family that were supposed to be harvested in three days.
Shaking her head, Frawley said, “They could have destroyed it much earlier but they let the family pour in money and hard work before they destroyed it. That really shocked me. There was no humanity.”
Frawley participated in a solidarity mission held October 16 to 19 in Hacienda Luisita in Tarlac and Mascap, Rodriguez, Rizal. She and six other foreign visitors interviewed the farmers in different villages of Hacienda Luisita.
Since December 2013, the security forces of the Cojuangco-Aquino clan have razed to the ground a total of 53 hectares of farm lots. The bulldozing activities and fencing of agricultural lands have not stopped to this day.
Land distribution discriminatory
Another member of the fact-finding mission, Kate Lappin, regional coordinator of the Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development (APLWD), said in a press conference, Oct. 20, that the lottery process of land distribution had a discriminatory and perverse effect on peasant women. She said women were allocated small parcels of land several kilometers away from their husbands or other family members. The method of land distribution did not consider the fact that agricultural work is done collectively by the peasant families.
The Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR), mandated by the Supreme Court to implement its decision ordering the distribution of land to the farmers, used the lottery system of distribution.
Frawley could not also find any logic in the DAR’s method of land distribution. She could not understand why the farmers who have tilled the land for ten years are now being evicted and assigned to lots far away from their farm lots and homes.
Women’s rights violated
The forced eviction of peasant families has an impact on the rights of women, according to Sarah Marland of the Women Human Rights Defenders International Coalition (WHRDIC).
Marland, who also participated in the mission, said that farmers whose crops and homes were destroyed could no longer eat three times a day or send their children to school. These, she said, are violations of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (Cedaw) signed by the Philippine government.
Marland said women who defend their right to land and livelihood are being arrested, detained and charged with trumped-up criminal cases.
Lappin said the women in Hacienda Luisita put their lives at risk, even lying down in front of bulldozers to defend their rights to land and livelihood.
“What we’ve seen is development injustice,” Lappin said.
No access to justice
Lappin observed that there is impunity in human rights violations and that the farmers have no access to justice. She noted the collaboration of police and military with the security forces of the Cojuangco-Aquino clan. In effect, the farmers have lost faith in local authorities and in the justice system as well, Lappin said.
Days before the mission organized by Amihan (National Federation of Peasant Women) and Unyon ng Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (Uma), Malacañang challenged the farmers to show proof of abuses. The statement came after the farmers filed for the third time criminal charges against the Cojuangco-Aquinos before the Department of Justice (DOJ).
Frawley said it is clear that there are abuses. She said President Aquino is responsible for what is happening in Hacienda Luisita.
Lappin added that Malacañang should have not dismissed the claims without adequate investigation. She said that in the case of Hacienda Luisita, there is no evidence that authorities conducted any thoroughgoing investigation.
Lappin called for a joint inquiry by Senate and the House of Representatives on the reported abuses in Hacienda Luisita. She said that given the vested interest of Aquino in the land, the President should not have any role in the investigation.
The Makabayan bloc in Congress consisting of seven representatives from Bayan Muna, Gabriela Women’s Party, Anakpawis, Kabataan and ACT Teachers Partylist have filed several resolutions calling for investigation into the abuses in Hacienda Luisita.
Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate challenged the House leadership to take on the resolutions filed by Makabayan bloc. “Are these not being taken up because the President’s clan is involved here?” Zarate asked.
Lappin said the APLWD, which holds consultative status with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations, would bring to the attention of the concerned government agencies the results of the mission.