Wednesday, March 28, 2012

5 HLI workers arrested; tension brews in the hacienda anew

ANTIPOLO City, March 28, 2012—Five farmworkers from the Hacienda Luisita were arrested, according to Hacienda Luisita Peasants’ Supporters Network (HL PeasNet) secretariat.
The arrests are in connection with the case of grave coercion and illegal occupation of property filed before the Tarlac Municipal Trial Court Branch 1 by the Rizal Commercial Banking Corporation (RCBC) last February. The warrants of arrest were released by Judge Marvin Mangino, against 23 farmworkers of the hacienda, last February 23.
Some of the farmworker-leaders, including Lito Bais, chairperson of the Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA), who is among the farmworkers to be arrested, are in Manila for a protest and dialogue on the land distribution case filed before the Department of Agrarian Reform and the Supreme Court.
Meanwhile, the Alyansa ng mga Magbubukid sa Gitnang Luson (AMGL) assailed the “divide and rule” tactic being employed allegedly by the RCBC and the HLI [Hacienda Luisita, Inc] management, in terms of regaining control of the disputed hacienda.
“The RCBC and Cojuangco-Aquinos’ efforts to evict the farmworkers [from the hacienda] started last year and continues up to now. They attempted to displace farmworkers and demolish their camp-out located in Brgy. Balete last October 28, 2011 and February 20, 2012 deploying some 100 security guards, elements of the Tarlac provincial police and the Philippine Army, who served as escorts while the RCBC personnel begin to fence the said land,” AMGL chairperson Joseph Canlas said.
Felix Nacpil Jr., chairperson of the Alyansa ng mga Manggagawang Bukid sa Asyenda Luisita (Ambala) said in a statement that they believe the Cojuangco-Aquinos are the ones behind the “railroading” of the release of the warrants of arrest to weaken the hearts of the 6,000 workers fighting for their rights to the land.
What is saddening, said Nacpil, is that they have paid some of the residents of the hacienda, some P300 daily, in order to gain support and turn against their fellow beneficiaries.
“The Cojuangco-Aquino clan wants us, farmworkers, to fight each other. The Cojuangco-Aquinos have mastered this maneuver and want us to surrender our rights to the 184 hectares in Brgy. Balete, as well as the aggregate 4,915 hectares agricultural lands in the hacienda,” Nacpil said.
However, the problem of arrests are not only for the Hacienda 22, but for another 15 members and leaders of Ambala who are now facing charges of malicious mischief, grave coercion and robbery, in connection with the February 20 incident.
Nevertheless, the HL farmworkers’ fight for land and rights had garnered much support, here and abroad.
The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines’ National Secretariat for Social Action, Justice & Peace (CBCP-Nassa) had expressed its support with the HL workers, urging the Supreme Court to finalize its decision, to have the land properly distributed to its rightful owners—the farmworker-beneficiaries.
Even the Asian Peasants’ Coalition (APC) had condemned the HLI and the RCBC of filing “trump up” cases against the farmworkers who had started the bungkalan or collective farming on the 184-hectare RCBC land in Brgy. Balete, last July 11.
“We denounce these criminal cases being pushed by RCBC against farmworkers and their supporters. We strongly believe that it was pure intimidation to undermine the struggling farmworkers of Hacienda Luisita,” the APC statement said, as published on their website.
The APC also urged the DAR to “act in favor of the Hacienda farmers on their January 5, 2012 petition for the revocation of the land conversion order on the 184-hectare land which was re-classified by the department as industrial in favor of RCBC,” since the farmworker-beneficiaries, technically, are the legitimate owners of the Hacienda Luisita.
The APC also called for the dismissal of grave coercion and illegal occupation of property against 23 farmworkers and the robbery case against 20 other farmworkers who participated last Feb. 20, 2012.
“The farmers merely confiscated galvanized iron fences being put up by a construction team escorted by armed security guards, police and military in the land being claimed by RCBC,” the APC statement read.
“We call on more than 15 million APC members to send their solidarity messages or conduct solidarity actions to express their support to the struggling Hacienda Luisita farmworkers,” it added. [Noel Sales Barcelona/CBCPNews]


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