“We are elated by Ka Paeng’s words. He said no one would be harassing us anymore. We could now go back to our farms.”
By RONALYN V. OLEA
MANILA — It’s the first time for Hacienda Luisita farmers to enter the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) compound peacefully and hold a dialogue with the agency’s secretary.
For the past six years under the former Aquino presidency, Hacienda Luisita farmers were barred from entering the DAR premises. There were times they were violently dispersed. Despite repeated pleas for dialogue, they did not see, even for once, former Agrarian Reform Secretary Virgilio delos Reyes.
Today, July 8, hundreds of Hacienda Luisita farmers were welcomed by new DAR chief Rafael Mariano to his office. Mariano ordered DAR personnel to stop the eviction of farmer-beneficiaries from the land they till.
In a memorandum dated July 1, Mariano, also former chairperson of the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP), ordered the DAR regional director and the DAR provincial office in Tarlac to “maintain the status quo,” adding that “no person shall be directly or indirectly dispossess or abet the dispossession of farmers presently occupying the land or the destruction of any crops…”
“We are elated by Ka Paeng’s words. He said no one would be harassing us anymore. We could now go back to our farms,” Florida Sibayan, chairperson of Alyansa ng Magbubukid sa Asyenda Luisita (Ambala), told Bulatlat in an interview.
The dialogue took place a week after alleged lackeys of the Cojuangco-Aquino clan ordered the destruction of crops and a farmers’ hut in barangay Mapalacsiao.
Sibayan said officers of the Provincial Agrarian Reform Office (Paro) kept silent during the dialogue.
According to Ambala, DAR personnel in Tarlac were involved in the illegal arrest, smear campaign and filing of trumped-up charges against Hacienda Luisita farmers. Ironically, several farmers were slapped with violation of Republic Act 6657 or the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law – for cultivating the land promised by agrarian reform
“They did not comment on Ka Paeng’s order,” Sibayan said.
Mariano also vowed to hold dialogues with the local police and the Armed Forces of the Philippines to stop harassing the farmers.
In a historic April 2012 ruling, the Supreme Court ordered the Hacienda Luisita Inc. owned by the Cojuangco-Aquinos to distribute more than 4,000 hectares of land to farmworker-beneficiaries. Instead of heeding the high court’s decision, Ambala said the clan of former President Aquino attempts to maintain its control over the vast sugar plantation.
The Cojuangcos acquired the land in 1957 using government loan. The clan should have given back the land to the farmers in 1967 as per the condition stated in the loan. The Cojuangcos managed to control the land for more than five decades until the Supreme Court ruling.