Hacienda Luisita farmers to join Sona protest
CITY OF SAN FERNANDO—A group of farm workers in the sugar estate owned by President Aquino’s family in Tarlac left the province on Sunday to join protests in Metro Manila as the President delivers his State of the Nation Address (Sona) today.
Joseph Canlas, chair of Alyansa ng Magbubukid sa Gitnang Luzon, said the problems of land reform at the Cojuangco family-owned Hacienda Luisita represented “what is wrong with P-Noy’s (Mr. Aquino’s) leadership.”
“He talks of pro-people reforms but all that is empty to us because Luisita and other large estates have not yet been given to us farmers,” Canlas said by telephone on Sunday.
Danilo Ramos, secretary general of the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP), said the Luisita farmers were among those expected at the “People’s Sona” outside Congress.
Members of the United Luisita Workers’ Union (Ulwu) and Alyansa ng mga Manggagawang Bukid sa Asyenda Luisita (Ambala) are angry that the Supreme Court ordered the Department of Agrarian Reform to hold another referendum calling on the farm workers to vote either for land distribution or shares of stock in Hacienda Luisita Inc., the company that manages the 6,000-hectare sugar estate.
The DAR has filed a motion urging the Supreme Court to proceed with the land distribution, citing a decision of the Presidential Agrarian Reform Council in 2005, a year after a violent agrarian and labor strike at the estate.
Ramos said they would challenge Mr. Aquino to “talk of agrarian reform and agriculture rather than dwell on fairy tales.”
In his backyard
“We expect Mr. Aquino to cloak the real state of the nation with empty rhetoric but he can never hide the fact that in his family’s backyard, inequality and injustice exist and have worsened under his administration,” Ramos said in a statement.
In Pampanga, members of the Kilusan para sa Pambansang Demokrasya (KPD) in Central Luzon and representatives of human rights organizations said they would picket the office of the regional prosecutor today to condemn the “slow grind of justice” for five men who they said were the first victims of torture during the first months of the Aquino administration.
“The case of Lenin Salas [and his companions] gives a sign of the poor track record in human rights of the Aquino administration,” Broquil said, noting that the case has dragged on for nine months.
Salas and his four coaccused were allegedly tortured by policemen after they were arrested for supposed links to the communist rebel group Rebolusyonaryong Hukbong Bayan.
Broquil said Salas and his companions were planning to hold a noise barrage in their prison cells at the Pampanga provincial jail to protest their detention.
The anti-torture law, signed during the last months of the administration of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, sets six months as the period to conduct a preliminary investigation of torture cases, said Aurora Broquil, KPD regional secretary general.
She said a protest rally was also set to oppose government policies on debts, social services, agriculture, agrarian reform and its claim to the Spratly Islands.
President Aquino had said he would keep his hands off the issues and let the agencies concerned and the courts decide the issues.
The DAR and the PARC have filed a motion urging the Supreme Court to set aside its order allowing the farmers to own shares of stock in HLI instead of land.
In opposing the stock distribution option (SDO), the DAR and PARC said the entire 6,435-hectare sugar plantation should be apportioned to hacienda farmers “to achieve the agrarian reform policy mandated by the Constitution.”
The agrarian reform agencies said the passage of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program law during the incumbency of the President’s mother, the late Corazon Aquino, was “not intended to continuously shield landowners” from land reform.
The DAR and PARC, through the Office of the Solicitor General, also asked the high court to affirm PARC’s 2005 order revoking the SDO and placing the entire Cojuangco-owned estate under “compulsory coverage” for land reform.
The high court, while agreeing that the HLI’s stock distribution plan should be revoked, directed the DAR to conduct a referendum asking the farmworker-beneficiaries if they want to own HLI stocks in lieu of actual land.
In a majority decision penned by Associate Justice Presbitero Velasco, the high court used the “operative fact doctrine” in giving the farmers an option to remain HLI stockholders despite its finding that hacienda farmers did not benefit from such an arrangement.
The DAR and PARC argued that the tribunal erred in applying the principle of operative fact to the decades-old land dispute. With a report from Marlon Ramos
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