HACIENDA LUISITA, Tarlac City: Militant-backed farmers groups have “occupied” a piece of land here under the control of Rizal Commercial Banking Corp. (RCBC) that had bought it from the Cojuangco family.
At a gathering called “Bungkalan” or land cultivation, the farmers groups held a mass action to mark the 5th anniversary of the historic Supreme Court’s 2012 decision that ordered the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) to give 4,500 hectares of land to over 6,200 farmworkers in the sugar estate owned by the family of late former President Corazon Cojaungco-Aquino.
The DAR picked out and raffled off the lots allocated for each beneficiary in random as compliance with the court order.
The mass action began Sunday night when around 400 participants arrived, with the number of protesters growing to almost 2,000 before midnight.
On Monday, the number has swollen to around 3,000 when members of Kalipunan ng Damayang Mahihirap (Kadamay) and of other militant groups arrived and demolished a portion of a wall encircling the 500-hectare RCBC property.
Damage was pegged at P200,000 by a member of a crisis management team who declined to be identified.
Bank officials are yet to issue a statement.
Speaking on behalf of the Alyansa ng Manggagawang Bukid sa Asyenda Luisita, Danilo Ramos, secretary general of the Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura, said the action is only a part of a larger demonstration in the entire country.
“Buwagin ang lahat ng asyenda sa buong bansa [Dismantle all haciendas in the country],” he added, referring to vast land estates in the Philippines.
On the other hand, Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas Secretary General Antonio Flores said farmers are desperate to avail of their right to land.
“Ito lamang ang sagot sa kahirapan na magkaroon ng sariling lupa ang mga magsasaka [This is the only answer to difficulty of farmers to have their own land],” he added.
Teodoro Casino of Bayan Muna, who was also in the area, commended the farmers groups and said the action would continue in June.
Meanwhile, acting Tarlac City Mayor Genaro Mendoza has ordered the police to maintain maximum tolerance as dispersal of protesters is being set.
He said reports have been gathered and forwarded to his office for assessment and proper action, including setting dialogues with DAR officials and the demonstrators to settle the decades-old land issue.
“We have always hoped for peaceful settlement of issues surrounding the hacienda lands and the city government will do all the necessary efforts to realize this,” Mendoza told The Manila Times.
JERRY M. HERNANDEZ