Police to file charges vs Luisita labor leader

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HACIENDA LUISITA, Tarlac: Authorities are preparing to file charges against a militant group leader in the light of the commemoration of the Hacienda Luisita massacre 13 years ago.

Charges of malicious mischief, direct assault, serious disobedience and resistance to an agent of persons in authority are being readied by the police against Florida Sibayan, a known leader of the Alyansa ng mga Manggagawang Bukid sa Asyenda Luisita (Ambala).

Sibayan’s group of about 150 members of Sakdal, Kadamay, Anakpawis and Alyansa ng ng Manggagawa sa Gitnang Luzon allegedly destroyed the perimeter fence of Rizal Commercial Banking Corp. (RCBC) using sledge hammer and farm equipment on Wednesday.

The Tarlac City police chief, Supt. Bayani Razalan, said military and police forces deployed to the area tried to prevent the group from forcibly entering the RCBC compound by destroying its fence, but protesters became unruly and simultaneously hurled stones.


About 12 spans of the fence were destroyed and two policemen were injured from stones thrown at them. They are identified as Senior Police Officer 1 Rolly Marzan of Santa Ignacia police station and Police Officer 1 Arnold John Abella of Tarlac Police Provincial Office.

Sibayan was arrested and is under police custody.

On Thursday, police and military personnel were sent to the area to maintain peace and order.

Police provincial director, Senior Supt. Ritchie Medardo Posadas, told The Manila Times they were implementing maximum tolerance over potential resurgence of violence in the conduct of protests by the militants.

The commemoration day went peacefully, however.

Glimpse of the past
On November 16, 2004, a date remembered as one of the most violent days in Hacienda Luisita history, protesters from the United Luisita Workers Union (ULWU) and Central Azucarera de Tarlac Labor Union (CATLU) launched a massive strike.

Ten days after, the picket was violently dispersed by police and soldiers.

Farmers and their supporters resisted water cannons and teargas but successive gunshots rang out that resulted in the death of seven farm workers and two children, injuring 121 (32 of them with gunshot wounds), including 11 children and four elderly men.

The event triggered a series of extrajudicial killings of eight supporters–Bishop Alberto Ramento, former supreme bishop of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente; Fr. William Tadena, also of the IFI; Tarlac City Councilor Abel Ladera; CATLU president Ric Ramos and four worker-community leaders.

During congressional hearings, Benigno Aquino 3rd, then Tarlac representative, CAT and Hacienda Luisita Inc. (HLI) officials denied ordering the use of force to break the picket line and resume ingress to the sugar mill.

In 2005, then-Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez dismissed the charges against Aquino and the HLI officials “for insufficiency of evidence.”

On December 10, 2010, when Aquino was already the President, the Ombudsman also dismissed the cases against the military and police implicated in the violent dispersal, noting that the gunmen were not identified.

A motion filed by the victims’ families to reopen the criminal and administrative cases against Aquino, former Armed Forces chief of staff Gregorio Pio Catapang, former Labor Secretary Patricia Santo Tomas, former Labor Undersecretary Manuel Imson and sheriff Francis Reyes, was turned down by Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales in October 2014.

In November 2014, the victims’ families were able to see a status report of the incident after the National Bureau of Investigation made it public.

Land distribution
On April 24, 2012 the Supreme Court upheld the 2005 decision of the Presidential Agrarian Reform Council that nearly 5,000-hectare (from 6,000-plus hectares) land should be distributed to over 6,000 farmworker-beneficiaries.

Although the court also ordered HLI to pay the workers P1.3billion, Ambala protested the manner of distribution through a tambiolo (lottery) raffle implemented by the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR).

Ambala rejected the condition that each beneficiary pay for the land at 1989 price level before gaining ownership, saying the Cojuangcos had benefited from the land for 47 years, hence no payment should be required anymore.

Validation
Former Agrarian Reform Secretary Rafael Mariano has vowed to stop what he described as “bogus” agrarian reform program covering Hacienda Luisita by removing the control of Aquino allies over the lands.

In March 2017, DAR completed the validation of the list of agrarian reform beneficiaries (ARB) in Hacienda Luisita.

On April 26, 2017, Mariano revealed that majority of ARBs have either sold, mortgaged or leased the lots awarded to them despite a 10-year ban on such move under the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP).

“The awarded lands were not in their possession,” he said, noting that among those who bought or rented their lots mentioned in the validation report were “influential personalities and local politicians.”

It was found that of 2,800 ARBs who leased or mortgaged their lands, 600 sold them to third-party buyers and 200 took part in joint venture agreements.

Mariano bared this fact after he distributed certificates of land ownership award (CLOA) to 302 farmers, a day after the militants’ first attempted to occupy the property, which is now under the control of RCBC.

He said the CLOA distribution is part of the government’s defense of rights of farmers under Republic Act 3844 enacted during the time of former President Diosdado Macapagal.

JERRY M. HERNANDEZ

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