“This is all part of the scheme of the Cojuangco-Aquino clan to silence us. Who else would have ordered the police to arrest us? Who else would have allowed the military to construct their outposts here?”
By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
MANILA – The 11 arrested members of a fact-finding mission at Hacienda Luisita were released Sept. 19 evening. The fact-finding mission was lookinginto the land grabbing issues involving theTarlac Development Corporation, the raffle system used to assign farmer beneficiaries to their land, and the intensified militarization in the area.
“I am very thankful to everyone who helped us, especially our supporters who did their best to have us released as soon as possible. If not for them, we might all still be languishing in jail,” Florida Sibayan, one of the arrested members of the team and chairperson of the Alyansa ng Magbubukid sa Asyenda Luisita (Ambala), told Bulatlat.com.
Of the 11 arrested only nine were charged with malicious mischief and direct assault. Anakpawis Rep. Fernando Hicap and Sr. Pat Fox of the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines were allowed to leave the precinct on Sept. 18 afternoon but the two refused to leave while the other arrested members of the team remained in prison.
Sibayan said they were released from Camp Gen. Francisco Macabulos in Tarlac City at around 7:00 p.m. on Sept. 19, Thursday.
Their bail amounted to P2,000 ($46) each plus P4,500 ($105) court fee that covered all the nine arrested members of the team.
Progressive groups believe that the Cojuangco-Aquino clan is behind the arrest of the members of fact finding team. Former political prisoner Ericson Acosta, who was also among the arrested, said it is part of the ploy of the Cojuangco-Aquino to “hide the anomalous and violent implementation of a flawed land distribution scheme.”
“While we were on our way out of the police camp, one of the police told me that being sent to jail should be enough to keep my mouth shut. But they do not know me. I will continue the struggle,” Sibayan said.
Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP), for its part, said the arrest shows how Hacienda Luisita is under a state of terror. In a statement, Antonio Flores, KMP secretary general, said the team, who was there to document rights abuses, “experienced first-hand the day-to-day violence experienced by Hacienda Luisita farm workers and residents.”
“And this state of terror is continuously being used as a major component of the Cojuangco-Aquinos and the Department of Agrarian Reform’s campaign of deception and denial of Hacienda Luisita farm workers’ rights to the land,” Flores added.
Sibayan cited that during the eve of the fact finding mission, one of the farmers who till the land for a living in Hacienda Luisita was stopped by four security guards at gunpoint and was told to leave his farm lot. He ran for his life. Sibayan said the security guards were employed by the Cojuango-Aquino clan, through Tarlac Development Corporation.”
One of the arrested members of the fact finding mission, on the other hand, told Sibayan that since their release, three men have been suspiciously guarding her home. “She does not recognize them,” she added.
“This is all part of the scheme of the Cojuangco-Aquino clan to silence us. Who else would have ordered the police to arrest us? Who else would have allowed the military to construct their outposts here?” Sibayan said.