Luisita farmers bracing for arrest
TARLAC CITY—Farmers who occupied land inside Hacienda Luisita that is now owned by a bank are bracing for arrest as they refuse to leave the property and expressed defiance by serving their version of an eviction notice against the bank and the Cojuangcos, relatives of President Benigno Aquino who owned the 6,000-hectare sugar estate.
Insisting that the land belonged to them and not to the Rizal Commercial Banking Corp. (RCBC) that came to own it, farmers here installed a tarpaulin poster on the 184-hectare piece of property asking RCBC and the Cojuangcos to leave.
The farmers made the symbolic gesture after the Tarlac prosecutor’s office issued a resolution saying there was basis to charge the farmers with grave coercion and illegal occupation of property. The resolution came from the office of Liza Olinares, assistant Tarlac prosecutor.
RCBC, which bought the land from the firm that manages the hacienda, sued the farmers last year.
The Supreme Court, in a decision that ordered the distribution of land in the hacienda in compliance with the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law, removed the property from agrarian reform coverage and declared RCBC as a buyer in good faith.
The property became RCBC’s on Nov. 25, 2004 through foreclosure after the Luisita Industrial Property Corp. (Lipco) failed to pay its loan. The property costs P431.6 million.
In July 2011, the farmers occupied the land, which is planted to sugarcane, and tilled portions of it. RCBC sued 23 farmers after the occupation.
Lito Bais, head of the United Luisita Workers Union, said the land is “morally and historically” theirs.
He said it was impossible for RCBC not to know that the land was covered by agrarian reform because Hacienda Luisita had been in the news for so long. “How could that be in good faith?” Bais said.
In her resolution, Olinares said there was basis to charge the farmers because of two things—they did not deny occupying the land and the Supreme Court had ruled that the property was outside the coverage of agrarian reform.
“The respondents cannot escape indictment,” said the resolution. “The allegations constituting the acts imputed against them remain uncontroverted…,” it said. Jo Martinez-Clemente, Inquirer Central Luzon
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