Luisita farmers bare ‘grand plan’ to frustrate land distribution

According to the document, Oplan April Spring has a P1.545 million ($35.9 thousand) budget for operations that include “propaganda and counter-propaganda, organizing and mobilization, special operations (psyops).”

By RONALYN V. OLEA
Bulatlat.com

MANILA – Even as the Supreme Court ruled with finality the distribution of land in Hacienda Luisita, farm workers decried various schemes aiming to deny them their right over their land.

In a press conference this morning, Lito Bais, president of the United Luisita Workers Union (Ulwu) said former Marikina congressman Romeo Candazo, negotiator for the Rizal Commercial Banking Corporation (RCBC), has drawn up an operational plan dubbed as Oplan April Spring to drive away the farm workers from the 500-hectare land being claimed by the RCBC and the Cojuangcos. Some 184 of the 500 hectares were turned over by the Luisita Industrial Park Corporation (Lipco) to RCBC as payment for a loan a few days after the infamous Hacienda Luisita massacre.

The document titled “Oplan April Spring” which was sent via email on April 30 by Candazo to Anacleto Diaz, lawyer of the RCBC, aims “to mobilize the community in the completion of the fencing and enclosure of the property, eviction of the intruders and its defense against future saboteurs.” A hard copy of the plan was leaked to Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) by an insider last May, according to Willy Marbella, KMP deputy secretary general.

“The filing of criminal charges against Ambala [Alyansa ng Magbubukid sa Asyenda Luisita] leaders, the deception and bribery coincide with Candazo’s plan,” Bais said.

In July 2011, the RCBC filed charges of grave coercion and occupation of real property against Bais and 22 other leaders of Ambala at the Municipal Trial Court of Tarlac. In March this year, separate charges of robbery, grave coercion and malicious mischief have also been filed by RCBC against 17 other leaders and members of Ambala. In July 2011, Some 400 members of Ambala started cultivating the land for agriculture.

According to the document, Oplan April Spring has a P1.545 million ($35.9 thousand) budget for operations that include “propaganda and counter-propaganda, organizing and mobilization, special operations (psyops).”

Bais said Candazo, who introduced himself as the representative of RCBC, faced them in a dialogue on April 13 in barangay Buena Vista inside Hacienda Luisita. In that meeting, Bais said, Candazo was convincing the farm workers to give up the 500 hectare land in exchange for employment and other benefits from the RCBC. Bais said they would be willing negotiate if charges against the Ambala leaders would be dismissed. To this, Bais said, Candazo promised he would see to it that the charges would be withdrawn.

“But the charges remain even as we initially agreed to move our camp-out at barangay Balete,” Bais said. “Candazo wants us to talk while the RCBC continues to fence off the contested property.”

Ambala set up their camp-out, which also served as their base, at the heart of the disputed 500-hectare land. They have planted palay and other crops. The group also filed a petition before the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) seeking to revoke the 1992 conversion order granted to the Cojuangcos. In their petition, the farm workers said the HLI did not comply with its obligations mandated under the conversion order. Specifically, it did not pursue the proposed development plan that was contained in the application for conversion and instead disposed of the 500 hectares to other Cojuango-owned companies and to RCBC.

“That land is ours and it should be part of the thousands of hectares of land that should be distributed to farmworker-beneficiaries,” Bais said.

Based on the document, more than half of April Spring’s total budget or around P770,000 was allocated for law enforcement support at P650,000, and food and drinks for the Philippine National Police (PNP) amounting to P120,000.

In several instances, Ambala leaders said policemen and soldiers aided RCBC security guards in attempts to demolish the camp-out. In one particular incident, on March 27, policemen arrested seven farm workers and charged them with malicious mischief.

“For sure, the Cojuangco-Aquinos are closely monitoring these developments. The inclusion of state security forces and other legal instrumentalities in Oplan April Spring are concrete proof that the Aquino regime is aware of it,” Marbella said.

“April Spring is in place in Hacienda Luisita and Candazo himself serves as RCBC’s hatchet man and psywar agent of the Cojuangcos. He is now using money, deception, and intimidation inside the Hacienda to sow disunity among the farm workers,” Marbella said.

Bais said the supervisors hired by the Cojuangcos spread “malicious lies” about him and other Ambala leaders. “They would tell the people that I have already been co-opted and accepted money. They want to destroy Ambala’s credibility.”

Marbella noted that under “Special Operations (psy-ops) of Candazo’s Oplan April Spring, special activities are designed to weaken the influence of the ‘intruders’ over the community.” The KMP said ‘intruders’ refer to organizations supporting the struggle of the farm workers such as the KMP and Unyon ng Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (Uma).

“It is the interest of the Cojuangco-Aquinos to weaken the organization and struggle of Hacienda Luisita farm workers. Candazo’s special operations directly serve the interests of President Aquino’s family,” Marbella said.

Bais vowed to defend the hard-won victory of the farm workers. He declared Candazo “a persona non-grata” in Hacienda Luisita.

Asked about the DAR’s implementation of the SC decision, Bais said the DAR is deliberately delaying the process of verification of farmworker-beneficiaries. He said that even those not in the original list of farmworker-beneficiaries were interviewed by DAR personnel.

KMP also said Hacienda Luisita farm workers want genuine agrarian reform and not the “bogus” Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP). “Today, the Aquino regime’s plan to extend the bogus CARP until 2016 forms part of a grand design, bigger than Oplan April Spring, to once again evade Hacienda Luisita’s distribution,” Marbella said.

For his part, Anakpawis Rep. Rafael Mariano called for the passage of House Bill 374 or the Genuine Agrarian Reform Bill. The bills seeks to distribute land to the tillers for free. ()

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