Congressman, 10 others held in LuisitaBy Tonette Orejas |Inquirer Central Luzon
CITY OF SAN FERNANDO—Anakpawis Rep. Fernando Hicap and 10 others, including a nun, were arrested by police on Tuesday while on a mission to look into the implementation of agrarian reform programs in Hacienda Luisita, the sugar plantation in Tarlac owned by the family of President Aquino.
But Senior Supt. Alfred Corpus, Tarlac provincial police director, denied that the group had been placed under arrest.
“No arrests had been effected … They were invited [for questioning],” Corpus told the Inquirer by telephone, citing the report of Supt. Bayani Razalan, Tarlac City police chief.
Based on Razalan’s account, Corpus said Hicap’s group had put down three guard posts on the property of Rizal Commercial Banking Corp. (RCBC) in Barangay (village) Balete. RCBC claims to own a 500-hectare property there.
This was one of two pieces of property that Hacienda Luisita Inc. (HLI) had sold. The Supreme Court has ordered HLI to pay P1.3 billion to the 6,212 qualified beneficiaries of agrarian reform in the estate as their share of the proceeds from the sale.
Night in jail?
Also allegedly arrested were Hicap’s daughter Carly Mae; Danilo Ramos of Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP); Sr. Patricia Fox of Rural Missionaries of the Philippines; former political prisoners Ericson Acosta and his wife, Kerima Tariman, and Ronald Gustillo of the human rights group Karapatan; Luz Versola, Pong Sibayan and Angelina Nunag, leaders of Alyansa ng mga Manggagawang Bukid sa Asyenda Luisita (Ambala); and Rene Blasan, Hicap’s driver.
“It looks like we are going to spend the night at the Tarlac City police jail,” Fox, 66, said when reached through her mobile phone at 3 p.m.
“It seems that there is no possibility of release because [Hacienda Luisita Inc.] has not yet submitted its affidavit [for its complaints],” Fox told the Inquirer.
Antonio Flores, KMP secretary general, said the arrests took place on the last day of a fact-finding mission to look into allegations that a Supreme Court order to distribute the 5,000-hectare estate to around 6,000 farmers had been tainted by wrong land allocations, land-grabbing and militarization.
“We strongly condemn this barefaced act of fascism inside Hacienda Luisita. This shows the President and his family’s maneuvers, including the use of the state’s armed machinery, in order to maintain control over the lands,” Flores said.
Flores said the cases against the 11 persons were malicious mischief, illegal assembly, direct assault and trespass to dwelling.
Invited for questioning
Corpus said the 11 persons were “invited for questioning” based on a verbal complaint of HLI after the incident in Barangay Balete. As of 3:30 p.m., Corpus said no case had been filed against Hicap and his companions.
Corpus said he was not aware that Hicap was among those taken to the station.
Antonio Ligon, HLI spokesman, said HLI had not asked the police to take action against the group in Balete.
Karapatan demanded the immediate release of Hicap and his companions. “Their arrest is illegal and is violative of their right to assembly, free expression and to conduct independent investigations of human rights violations. No less than President Aquino and his private armies in the [police] and [military] in Tarlac should be made accountable for this,” it said.
“Representative Hicap and his group were just exercising their right to assembly, so why did the police arrest them? Did they not even know that he is an incumbent congressman and is just administering the interest of his constituents?” Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares said in Manila.
Colmenares said arresting a member of Congress while lawmakers were tackling the proposed 2014 national budget constituted harassment, and Hicap’s arrest could be taken to mean the police wanted to prevent the Anakpawis representative from participating in the discussions.
If Hicap and his companions are not released, the Makabayan group will move for a zero budget for the Philippine National Police and the Armed Forces of the Philippines, Colmenares said.
Anakpawis said that Hicap went to Hacienda Luisia to look into claims of harassment of beneficiaries during the land distribution process.
Anakpawis alleged that the distribution was done under the watch of numerous police and military personnel in the area, and that farm worker-beneficiaries were “coerced” into signing promissory notes, or the application to purchase and farmers undertaking (Apfu), a document required in the transfer to the farmers of land titles.
The Apfu will also mean that the farmers have manifested their willingness to pay the amortization and real estate taxes on the land, said Anakpawis leader Rafael Mariano.
“(Agrarian Reform) Secretary Virgilio de los Reyes said they have concluded the lot allocation process in Hacienda Luisita and refusal of any identified farmer-beneficiary to sign the Apfu, is a ground for the farmer or farm worker to be stricken out of the list of beneficiaries and be replaced by other qualified beneficiaries,” Mariano said.—With a report from Leila B. Salaverria in Manila