“I think it is horrible to see the priorities of this government, prioritizing the wealthy over the poor.”
By RONALYN V. OLEA
MANILA – It was the first time that 17-year-old Mikkel Buchler Henriksen went to the Philippines. Instead of going to tourist spots, the high school student from Denmark joined ten other foreigners on a trip to Hacienda Luisita.
Henriksen interviewed farm workers in the plantation controlled by President Benigno Aquino III and his family for more than 50 years. He and the other members of the solidarity mission went to the pilot areas of Alyansa ng Magbubukid sa Asyenda Luisita (Ambala)’s cultivation program. The cultivation program is the group’s own version of agrarian reform.
The solidarity mission in Central Luzon and other parts of the country preceded the International Conference for Human Rights and Peace in the Philippines (ICHRPP) that gathered more than 250 delegates from 25 countries.
“I think it is horrible to see the priorities of this government, prioritizing the wealthy over the poor,” Henriksen told Bulatlat.com in an interview.
Henriksen noted the political and economic power of the Cojuangco-Aquino clan. “This kind of nepotism makes the situation of the farmers even more terrible,” the young activist said.
The Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR), mandated to implement the Supreme Court ruling ordering the distribution of more than 4,000 hectares of land to farmworker-beneficiaries in Hacienda Luisita, recently held a raffle system as a way of distributing farm lots to beneficiaries of Hacienda Luisita.
Beneficiaries were given land allocation certificate (LAC) and they would be made to sign Application to Purchase and Farmer’s Undertaking (APFU) or promissory note under oath, according to Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP).
Ambala, KMP and its and its regional chapter Alyansa ng Magbubukid sa Gitnang Luson (AMGL) have opposed the payment of amortization for the land. The farmers groups have been asserting the free distribution of the land, citing that the Hacienda Luisita belongs to them “historically, morally and legally.”
In 1957, the Cojuangco clan purchased the land using a government loan with the condition that the land shall be given back to the tenants after ten years. It did not happen and the Cojuangcos devised means to maintain control of the land in the decades that followed.
Agrarian Reform Secretary Virgilio Delos Reyes defended the raffle drum system, saying it is the fairest and most transparent method of distributing land.
“Delos Reyes and the Aquino administration’s ‘tambiolo’ land reform is obviously designed to deceive and divide the ranks of Hacienda Luisita farmworkers,” KMP secretary general Antonio Flores said in a statement. “Worst, the deception was coupled by intimidation and coercion,” Flores added, referring to the presence of more than 200 heavily armed police during the raffle.
Hacienda Luisita farm workers vowed to join the protests this Monday, in time for President Aquino’s State of the Nation Address (SONA). Henriksen and the other foreign delegates of the ICHRRP would join them.
“One time, it is depressing to see the situation but at the same time, it is very inspiring to see that the people continue to fight,” Henriksen said. “Despite the arrests and massacre, the farmers keep their morale high. Together, they are strongest.”
In November 2004, seven farm workers were killed and scores were wounded as state security forces opened fire at the picketline of the farm workers.