By RUTH LUMIBAO
HACIENDA LUISITA, Tarlac City – Police arrested the leader of the group of agrarian reform beneficiaries of Hacienda Luisita this morning, Nov. 15, as anti-riot forces tried to disperse the farmers who were trying to reclaim a disputed portion of the vast estate.
Florida Sibayan, 61, chairperson of the Alyansa ng Magbubukid sa Asyenda Luisita (Ambala), was seized by the Tarlac provincial police as they violently charged against the farmers reclaiming the RCBC compound in Balete village, Tarlac City.
Ambala members were serving a symbolic “eviction notice” to the RCBC, which claims 500 hectares of the 6,543-hectare estate. The disputed area is covered by the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program, but was sold off by the Cojuangco clan to RCBC in 2004.
Tension arose at 9 a.m. today when the Tarlac police led by a Col. Posadas, along with RCBC security guards and privately-hired goons started attacking the farmers by hurling rocks at their ranks. Amid the flurry, two youths were injured, while police whisked off Sibayan to the Tarlac provincial police office in Camp Macabulos.
Hundreds of Luisita farmers and other groups picketed in front of the Camp Macabulos, while peasant leaders asked to negotiate but were refused by police.
At around 5 p.m., after hours of detaining Sibayan inside the camp, police then brought her to the Tarlac provincial court where she was charged with malicious mischief and physical injuries. Peasant leaders hurriedly pooled their money for the P20,000 ($390) bail and P500 ($10) processing fee, but were told that the official in charge of processing bail had already gone home.
Sibayan is being detained at Camp Macabulos. This is the third time she was arrested by the authorities for fighting for their right to land. She was first arrested in September 2013, along with ten others while assisting a fact-finding mission inside the hacienda and then on March 19, 2014 with another Ambala leader, Julius Loveland for allegedly threatening a security guard of the Cojuangco-Aquinos.
“Violence is the marking brand of the Cojuangco-Aquinos. They would kill, abduct, arrest and harm farmers to maintain stronghold of Hacienda Luisita,” peasant group Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) said in a statement.
The reclaiming of the RCBC compound is part of the two-day commemoration of the 13th year of the “Luisita Massacre.” In 2004, seven striking farm workers were killed when state security forces opened fire on their picket line.
Reclaiming the land to get justice
KMP said the Ambala farmers tore down parts of the perimeter fence which RCBC put up around 384 hectares which it has set for conversion. The area remained undeveloped in the past five years, and the farmers are reclaiming it to be cultivated.
“The activity is part of the collective cultivation campaign or bungkalan launched by Ambala members,” KMP said.
KMP said that in February, Agrarian Reform Secretary Rafael Mariano had revoked the conversion of the 384 hectares out of the 500-hectare land being claimed by RCBC, because the area remained undeveloped five years since its conversion for industrial and commercial use.
The activity was also in anticipation of a possible reversal of Mariano’s order by the new leadership in the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR), which has set a two-day forum on Nov. 16 and 17 on processing the land use conversion of agrarian reform areas.
“We want justice for the victims of Luisita massacre. The only justice that would appease us is for us to reclaim the lands that belong to us and punishment for the Cojuangco-Aquinos and their ilk,” said Renato Mendoza, an Ambala leader.
Meanwhile, human rights group Karapatan denounced what it called “relentless attacks” on farmers, with the disappearance of two farmers in Cagayan Valley, and harassment on an international peasant group traveling in Mindanao.
Karapatan said that peasants Oliver Molina and Robert Dalupang have been missing since Nov. 13, and were suspected to have been accosted by the military. The two were last seen going to their farms in the mountainous area of Diasan village, Echague, Isabela province.
According to an urgent alert by Karaparan, footprints of what seemed to be combat boots were seen in the area where the two went. On Nov. 14, their relatives saw soldiers of the 86th Infantry Battalion-Philippine Army in the said area and asked them if they saw Molina and Dalupang. Soldiers denied seeing the two.
This afternoon, in Mindanao, nine members of the international peasant group Asian Peasant Coalition were held at the Opol police station in Misamis Oriental. Police were alerted reportedly because of the surge of foreign nationals present in the area and they had to clear the names of the APC delegates with the Bureau of Immigration (BOI). The nine farmer leaders are from Indonesia, Cambodia and Thailand and were participating in the organization’s “farmer-to-farmer exchange.”
“Such relentless attacks against peasants show the fascist fangs of the Duterte regime, which, like the haciendero BS Aquino III government, exhibits contempt for the farmers’ legitimate struggle for free land distribution and genuine agrarian reform,” Karapatan said. With a report from Dee Ayroso