Luisita Peasants and People’s Alliance
LUISITA FARMERS AND SUPPORTERS LAUNCH ALLIANCE URGING FOR DISTRIBUTION OF COJUANGCO-AQUINO LAND
Various groups joined the farmworkers of Hacienda Luisita as they launched the formation of the widest alliance compelling the Aquino government and the Supreme Court to immediately distribute the 6,400 hectares owned by the Cojuangco – Aquino family.
Luisita Peasants and People’s Alliance (LUPPA) today formally launched the broad network of support it gathered from church groups, artists, academe and different sectoral organizations at De La Salle – College of St. Benilde.
Joining Velarde and Bais as convenors of the said alliance are Fr. Gregorio Obejas, O.S.M., Tarlac City Councilor Emmie Ladera, Sentro para sa Tunay na Repormang Agraryo (SENTRA) Executive Director Atty. Jobert Pahilga, visual artist Rustum Casia, and the Catholic Bishop Conference of the Philippines-National Secretariat for Social Action.
The CBCP-NASSA affirmed their commitment to help Luisita farmworkers in their struggle to be owners of the land they have been tilling for ages. Likewise, the Social Justice arm of the Catholic Church join the farmers in their call to junk the spurious Stock Distribution Option (SDO) scheme.
Last August, farmers from Alyansa ng Manggagawang bukid sa Asyenda Luisita (AMBALA) and United Luisita Workers Union (ULWU) walked-out of the SC-established mediation for its failure to convince them to agree with SDO. The longest-running land dispute in the country is now locked pending the decision of the Supreme Court.
LUPPA coordinator and co-convenor Edna Velarde said that the alliance aims to provide the farm workers legal, moral and political support as they battle one of the largest landlord clan in the country. “The farm workers’ struggle for social justice has yet to be attained. The HLI is continuously circumventing the law to favor their selfish interests despite the 2006 decision of the Department of Agrarian Reform revoking the SDO and ordering the immediate distribution of lands to the beneficiaries. Almost six years hence the massacre, justice remains to be elusive. LUPPA will gather much-needed support from the people to help the farm workers attain justice.”
In an interview, lawyer and LUPPA convenor Jobert Pahilga, criticized the reported deal between the HLI and Chinese soda firm Wahaha. Pahilga, who is also counsel of Alyansa ng mga Manggagawang Bukid ng Hacienda Luisita (AMBALA), said the talks with the Chinese company “show that HLI has no regard of court processes. The case is pending before SC, but it already engages in acts that undermine the decision recalling the SDO.” Pahilga said that HLI is already preempting a favorable ruling from the court.
Meanwhile, Velarde added that the alliance is alarmed of the intensifying militarization in Luisita’s nine barangays. Aside from Citizens’ Armed Force Geographical Unit (CAFGU) units which reportedly set up detachments, the US – RP Balikatan will be reportedly conducted in the hacienda according to one of Luisita’s barangay kagawads.
ULWU Chairperson Lito Bais attest that the constant presence of CAFGU and other military elements sends a chilling effect to the farmer-beneficiaries and the rest of the residents of Luisita. Moreover, he questioned the HLI management and Aquino administration’s motive in allowing the conduct of the joint military exercise within the disputed sugar estate. “Why does the Balikatan have to be conducted in Luisita? This is not a military ground, are they using the Balikatan to sow terror among us striking farmers?” Bais asked.
Velarde said that the alliance strongly condemns Cojuangco’s brazen show of disrespect for the rights of the farm workers. “They are threatening the rightful owners of the land. LUPPA will not sit idly with this kind of repression.” the coordinator remarked.