Tension up as troops enter Luisita
TARLAC CITY—Militant farmers in Hacienda Luisita here accused the military on Friday of harassing them to compel them to form into block sugar farming units as soon as they receive their agrarian land allocation this month.
Lito Bais, chair of the United Luisita Workers Union and leader of Ambala (Alyansa ng Manggagawang Bukid ng Asyenda Luisita), said truckloads of soldiers motored to Barangay Asturias on June 5 to seek out Ambala leaders.
Bais claimed that a bigger group came on June 6, agitating the farm workers.
But it was an alleged plan by the New People’s Army to bring guns and explosives into villages inside Hacienda Luisita that prompted the military and police to undertake a two-day operation there, an Army official said.
The more than 6,000-hectare estate cuts across three towns with several villages.
Maj. Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang, chief of the Army’s 7th Infantry Division based in Nueva Ecija, denied the Ambala allegation that the sugar estate owned by the family of President Benigno Aquino is being “militarized.”
Bais complained that soldiers dug up the property near the houses of Ambala leaders Mary Jane Taruc and Gil Palaganas. When villagers asked, the soldiers advised them and the village chief there that they were looking for buried guns.
Bais said the timing of the military buildup coincided with a report that the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) had asked farmer-beneficiaries to form into farming blocks to help increase the profitability of the sugar they grow as soon as they receive their certificates of land ownership awards.
List of beneficiaries
The DAR has completed the final list of beneficiaries and announced the distribution of lands this June at the behest of the Supreme Court, which upheld in 2012 a decision of the Presidential Agrarian Reform Council in 2005 to distribute the lands in Hacienda Luisita.
The Supreme Court decision was believed to have been steered by ousted Chief Justice Renato Corona.
“Our troops acted on intelligence reports. They were there for a purpose,” Catapang told the Inquirer by telephone on Friday.
He said a company of soldiers has been stationed in Hacienda Luisita since the administration of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to prevent communist rebels from regaining control or influence over the estate.
About a hundred soldiers and police officers were deployed for the two-day operation, which failed to detect communist rebel activity at the hacienda, a military report said. Jo Martinez-Clemente and Tonette Orejas, Inquirer Central Luzon