“Instead of functioning like an unabashed apologist, why not just file charges?”
By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA – Peasant groups challenged Malacañang to file charges against a former government official and presidential friend who was embroiled in a sugar smuggling incident at the Bureau of Customs (BOC) in August.
“Instead of functioning like an unabashed apologist, why not just file charges?” the farmworkers’ group Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA) dared President Aquino in its statement sent to Bulatlat.com.
Virginia Torres, former chief of the Land of Transportation Office (LTO), reportedly tried to negotiate the release of smuggled Thai sugar at the BOC, and even namedropped the President. Torres denied the allegations, and said that she was just helping friend Phillip Sy, to know the status of the shipment. The smuggled sugar was reportedly worth P100 million ($2.15 million).
In a report, Aquino was quoted as saying, “Torres feels hurt by a new scndal linking her to sugar smuggling and may sue to clear her name.”
UMA Deputy Secretary General Ranmil Echanis criticized Aquino for issuing statements “echoing Torres’s sentiments and propping her pitiful predicament.”
“Why is Aquino now acting as Virgie Torres’s spokesperson and legal adviser? When Aquino says that the supposed ‘wrongdoers’ must be punished, is the haciendero president referring to the persons besmirching his loyal Kabarilan’s reputation?” Echanis asked.
Anakpawis Partylist Rep. Fernando Hicap also dared Aquino to file appropriate criminal complaints against Torres.
“The president should not stop at ‘burning bridges’ with Torres. He must not think twice in pursuing cases against her. She clearly violated the law by bargaining the release of the 64 containers loaded with smuggled sugar seized by the BoC,” said Hicap.
He said smuggling is not only slowly killing local production, but is also a source of big time revenue losses. According to the Department of Agriculture, sugar smuggling accounts for an annual $18.6 million uncollected tax on sugar import.
Bayan Muna Partylist has filed House resolution to probe sugar smuggling in the country on Sept. 24.
“We support the calls to dig deeper into this sugar smuggling issue,” said Echanis. “The thousands of affected sugar workers and supposed land reform beneficiaries in Hacienda Luisita want to see firm action and decisiveness from government in handling influential persons like Torres,” said Echanis.
Torres as aryendador
Hicap said that as Aquino tried to defend Torres, he himself admitted that she has business investments in Hacienda Luisita, owned by the President’s clan.
“To cover up Torres’s sugar smuggling dud at the BOC, both Torres and Aquino have inadvertently been issuing statements exposing the President’s continued interest in the sugar estate through the Cojuangco-Aquino’s evil business partnership with sugar financiers or aryendadors in Hacienda Luisita,” said Hicap.
Hicap said Torres is involved in massive aryendo, or illicit lease agreements in the guise of sugar block farming in Hacienda Luisita, victimizing supposed farmworker beneficiaries in exchange for measly annual land rent.
According to UMA, there are reports from their local affiliate, the Alyansa ng mga Manggagawang Bukid sa Asyenda Luisita (AMBALA), that Torres has effective control over at least 200 hectares in Mapalacsiao village alone, the land supposedly distributed to farmworker-beneficiaries in Hacienda Luisita.
The group said Torres has ostensibly utilized armed goons and local police in destroying farmers’ rice and vegetable plots to ensure continued planting of cane sugar for the Aquino-Cojuangcos’s Hacienda Luisita, Inc. (HLI) and Central Azucarera de Tarlac (CAT). It added that the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) is also complicit in fresh human rights violations against supposed beneficiaries in Hacienda Luisita.
Uma said farmer-victims of violent eviction in Hacienda Luisita have already filed complaints against Torres before the Department of Justice (DOJ) in October 2014.
Charged along with Torres were officials of the Tarlac Development Corporation (Tadeco), including Presidential sister Ma. Elena “Ballsy” Aquino-Cruz, Tadeco security guards. The farmers, led by Ambala, and their legal counsel Jobert Pahilga of the Sentro para sa Tunay na Repormang Agraryo (Sentra), filed charges of attempted murder, arson, robbery, illegal arrest and detention, physical injury, malicious mischief, grave threats and coercion.
The farmers’ complaints were related to at least four separate bulldozing incidents in sitio Maligaya, Mapalacsiao village, Hacienda Luisita.
The group said there are some incidents that were caught on camera and uploaded by witnesses and the Luisita Watch network on social media. One video emphasizes the role of local DAR officials in facilitating the destruction of farmers’ crops.
Rudy Corpuz, Ambala vice-chairperson said, if indeed Aquino is not linked to Torres’s transactions, then the cases against his relatives and shooting buddies committing atrocities against farmers should have immediately prospered.