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Cops break up Luisita protest camp

Tension grips Hacienda Luisita over arrest of farmers. PHOTO COURTESY OF UMA

TARLAC CITY—Police authorities on Saturday dismantled a protest camp and sent a bulldozer to level farmlands and huts at Hacienda Luisita in a bid to enforce a claim by the company owned by the family of President Aquino that the area occupied by the farmers was not covered by the agrarian reform program.

Six protesters were arrested but one of them, Manuel Mandigma, was later released, according to Tarlac City Councilor Emy Ladera-Facunla who has been helping the farmers document their claims over 260 hectares of Luisita, which have become the subject of the protests.

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Police are still holding Rod Acosta, Jose Baldiviano, Vicente Sambo, Ronald Sakay and Mamerto Mandigma, all farmers, at the provincial police office in Camp Makabulos, Facunla said. Police officials declined to comment on the arrests.

The farmers are residents of Barangay (village) Balete who have been farming sugarcane, rice and vegetables on contested 260-ha lots in the sugar plantation since 2005, Facunla said.

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The lots, however, are being administered by Tarlac Development Corp. (Tadeco), which sued 20 of the protesting farmers in two municipal courts this month for allegedly illegally retaining possession of a leased property.

The farmers have asked the courts to dismiss the Tadeco petitions, Facunla said.

Balete was one of the villages covered in the release by the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) of over 600 certificates of land ownership award to Luisita farmers in October after the Supreme Court set aside a stock distribution option under the 1988 Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP).

The protesting farmers instead were awarded lots at Barangay Mutrico and Pando in Concepcion town, Tarlac province, Facunla said, which puzzled them since the contested areas were also issued a notice of coverage by the DAR.

Last week, Tadeco sent bulldozers to clear the farms at Barangay Balete, including portions being prepared for gardening by the protesting farmers. Police broke up the camp to ease the tension when farmers blocked the bulldozers on Saturday afternoon.

Group hits arrests

In Manila, Rafael Mariano, chair of Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP), denounced the arrests, saying this showed the “continuing resistance and defiance of the Cojuangco and Aquino families to the distribution of the lands.”

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He maintained that the incident proved the DAR’s ineptitude and the falsity of the land reform program.

“The landlord President and his family will never let go of Hacienda Luisita. The farm workers must continuously assert their rights to the land,” Mariano said, adding that the arrested farmers should be immediately released.

The Hacienda Luisita case is regarded as the litmus test of the government’s sincerity in implementing the CARP, launched by President Aquino’s mother, the democracy icon Corazon Aquino, in 1988. But instead of distributing land, the Luisita managers opted for stock distribution.

Last year, the Supreme Court held that the stock option did not improve the lives of the farmers, contrary to the CARP objectives.

The program is due to end in June next year. Nearly one million of the nation’s prime agricultural farmlands are still to be distributed to tillers under the program.

Mariano said that on Saturday, several policemen and Tadeco security guards were sent to Barangay Balete to escort a bulldozer ordered to clear the land.

No court eviction order

While neither the Tarlac City policemen nor the Tadeco security guards were able to show an order from the court or the DAR, the farmers showed the notice of land reform coverage issued by the department, which included both Barangays Balete and Cutcut.

Even then, the KMP official said, the policemen and security guards proceeded with bulldozing rice and vegetable fields and destroying huts. When the farmers tried to stop the demolition, they were rounded up and arrested.

Mariano claimed that Tadeco started bulldozing some 30 ha of rice and vegetable lands in Barangay Balete on Dec. 12 despite the notice of coverage issued by the DAR in the areas.

The notice of coverage, according to him, means that the lots are up for distribution to qualified farmer-beneficiaries.

Three months ago, at the onset of the distribution of 4,099 ha of Hacienda Luisita to qualified agrarian reform beneficiaries, Tadeco sent out notices of eviction to 134 farm workers in Barangays Cutcut and Balete in Tarlac City.

The 15-day notices stated that the farm workers “entered the land without permission and cultivated it without right and against the law.”

The 134 farm workers issued notices of eviction are reportedly among 6,212 beneficiaries who are supposed to get 6,600 square meters each under the CARP.

But the DAR has said that if Tadeco had issued notices of eviction, the subject lands may not be covered by the program.

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TAGS: agrarian reform, Aquino family, arrests, Hacienda Luisita, Philippines, Police, protest, Tarlac
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