“The DAR says that the running issues in Luisita are not agrarian in nature. How absurd is that?”
By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA – The Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA), a national federation of agricultural workers denounced the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) and its Provincial Agrarian Reform Office (PARO) in Tarlac for reviving the trumped-up charges against Hacienda Luisita farmers and their supporters.
UMA Acting Chairperson John Milton Lozande said Tarlac PARO Chief Ileona Pangilinan sent back to a Tarlac court the cases against farmer-beneficiaries. These include the fabricated charges of trespassing, physical injuries and direct assault against persons in authority filed against the farmers in 2013 and 2014. The cases were referred back to Branch I of the Municipal Trial Court (MTC) in Tarlac City .
Pangilinan reasoned that the cases were not agrarian in nature, or did not involve an agrarian dispute.
Anakpawis Partylist Rep. Fernando Hicap, who was among those who were charged, condemned the revival of the case saying, “It is clearly a malicious action by the Cojuangco-Aquino clan to counter the recent exposure of former Land Transportation Office chief Virginia Torres, part of President Aquino’s Kabarilan, Kaibigan, Kaklase (KKK) entourage.”
Torres was implicated in attempts to secure 64 containers of smuggled sugar from Thailand worth almost P100 million.
Hicap also exposed Torres’ role in the Cojuangco-Aquinos’ sabotage of land distribution in Hacienda Luisita.
Hicap said the DAR is ‘being used by the Cojuangco-Aquinos to inflict derogatory and malicious complaints against farmers as retaliation for the Torres controversy.”
“Aquino says he will not tolerate Torres’s stunts but the DAR’s actions reveal otherwise. The DAR says that running issues in Luisita are not agrarian in nature. How absurd is that? Farmers and their supporters should not be charged with common crimes,” Hicap added.
Cases vs Luisita farmers
Florida Sibayan, chairperson of Alyansa ng mga Manggagawang Bukid sa Asyenda Luisita (Ambala), together with two other Luisita farmers and six members of the congressional staff and volunteers of Hicap’s office were charged with direct assault in Sept. 2013 while conducting fact-finding mission on the anomalies in Hacienda Luisita.
Hicap was among those manhandled and arrested by police officers led by then Tarlac City Chief P/Supt. Bayani Razalan. According to UMA, Razalan particularly ordered the arrest of Hicap, not sparing farmers and other mission delegates, such as Australian nun Pat Fox, and Hicap’s staff members and driver.
While the direct assault charges were referred back to the MTC, the charge for malicious mischief related to the same incident was already certified by the DAR office as agrarian in nature last year.
This is also the case with the trespassing complaint levelled against Tarlac City Councilor Emily Ladera-Facunla, who was also charged by Tarlac Development Corporation (Tadeco). In December 2013, Facunla acted in her capacity as a government official to prevent violence and intervened between farmers and armed Tadeco goons and the police.
Facunla is the sister of slain Tarlac City Councilor Abelardo Ladera, who was killed 10 years ago. Farmers groups believe Ladera was killed because of his staunch support for Hacienda Luisita sugar workers who were then still on strike.
Pangilinan also referred back to court the physical assault case against three Luisita farmers — Romeo Corpuz, Marcelino Lugay and Ofelia Hernandez — who attempted to stop the security guards of Tarlac Development Corporation (Tadeco) from fencing off a 104-hectare agricultural land in Cutcut village.
Calling the physical assault charges “outrageous,” Lozande cited the Luisita Watch documentation, which said the three accused were actually victims who were assaulted by Tadeco guards using hammers and other tools used to put up the fences.
Other victims also suffered head injuries while Corpuz stayed under hospital arrest for days because of irreversible damage to his hands and a critical heart condition. The Ambala hut was also ransacked, demolished and burned by guards with the complicity of police and soldiers, said Lozande.
“The three farmers suffered serious injuries in the hands of Cojuangco-Aquino goons in March 2014, but they are now the ones vilified and humiliated by the very government agency created to provide social justice to our farmers,” Lozande said.
UMA said the farmers have filed counter-charges against Torres, Tadeco, police and the DAR officials involved in these atrocities before the Department of Justice last year. However, the group lamented that the farmers’ complaints are just gathering dust at the DOJ.
For Sibayan, the charges were also meant to harass and intimidate the farmers opposing a multi-billion Public Partnership Project (PPP) that the Office of the President and the Department of Energy is set to implement with the Yuchengcos, through a contract with Petrogreen and the RCBC. RCBC controls a fenced agricultural area in Balete and Lourdes villages contested by Ambala.
“Impunity and criminalization of agrarian disputes in Hacienda Luisita show the public how unjust and immoral Aquino’s ‘Daang Matuwid’ (righteous path) is. The people will not have more of this after 2016,” said Lozande.