Lands up for distribution in Hacienda Luisita ‘mysteriously disappearing’

Each paper that was raffled not only contained the name of the farmworker beneficiary but also the corresponding lot allocation that has already been pre-determined. Farmworker-beneficiaries were never asked to pick random lot allocations from the tambiolo.

By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
Bulatlat.com

HACIENDA LUISITA, Tarlac – Perla Marcos, 68, said her humble home in the village of Cutcut in Hacienda Luisita is a product of their blood and sweat. Her whole life, she said, has revolved around her family, their home and the small patch of land they have been tilling. When she received a notice of eviction from the security guard deployed by the Tarlac Development Corporation (Tadeco) in their community, she felt angry and betrayed.

“The court said the land would be distributed to us. Now they want to displace us from the land we have been tilling and demolish our homes,” Marcos told Bulatlat.com.

Marcos and her husband Rodolfo, 71, are among the residents of Cutcut who participated in a fact finding mission organized by Anakpawis Partylist and Unyon ng Manggagawa sa Agrikultura to investigate the claims of Tadeco over the disputed lands; how farm workers perceive the ‘tambiolo’ (raffle system) land distribution of the Department of Agrarian Reform and other efforts of the Cojuangco-Aquino family to hoodwink farmers and regain the land.

The Supreme Court has ordered the distribution of the 6,453-hectare land, which has been under the control of President Aquino’s family for the last 50 years.

But Marcos believes that the fight for their land and livelihood is far from over. She and 30 other farm workers in their village received a notice from Tadeco on July 30 to vacate their homes in 15 days. Farmers, too, she said, are facing possible eviction from the lands they have been tilling under the “bungkalan” campaign. Because of the raffle system that the Department of Agrarian Reform implemented to assign farmworker beneficiaries to their land, they would be displaced to farm lots that are far from their homes.

Tadeco, which is owned by the Cojuangco family, is claiming 100 hectares of agricultural land in Barangay Cutcut and has deployed security guards in the community. In other villages of Hacienda Luisita, such as in Balete, Tadeco, too, is claiming agricultural lands and has constructed six security outposts manned by security guards 24 hours a day.

These agricultural lands, the mission noted, are where farm workers have been doing their “bungkalan,” a campaign of the Alyansa ng Magsasaka sa Asyenda Luisita to till agricultural lands to plant rice and vegetables for a living.

“Why are we going to leave? We have been tilling the land for a long time. This is clearly a form of harassment. The court said the land should be distributed to us. But now they are telling us that we should vacate the land?” Marcos said.

Lands up for distribution ‘mysteriously disappeared’

The Department of Agrarian Reform hired the FF Cruz firm to survey the remaining agricultural land in Hacienda Luisita. Sentra, however, noted that farmworker beneficiaries will get a smaller farm lot, 6,600 square meters, because the FF Cruz copied the 1989 survey that excluded residential areas, roads, cemetery, fish ponds, among others, and now, the area covered by the Subic Clark Tarlac Expressway.

Ambala has tried to get a copy of the FF Cruz survey report from the Department of Agrarian Reform but the group said they were not able to get one.

The fact-finding team said it is important to have the survey validated because there are tracts of land that “mysteriously disappeared.”

Farmers said in the mission report that there are “glaring discrepancies between the DAR’s allocated areas for the farmworker beneficiaries and the actual agricultural land available for distribution. The national fact-finding mission confirmed that there were several tracts of land that were deliberately excluded from DAR survey and were not considered by DAR for distribution despite their agricultural nature.”

In Barangay Mapalacsiao, for example, only 144 lots were allocated for distribution. As a result, 615 out of the 815 beneficiaries in the village are being assigned to lands in other villages. The same scenario is happening in neighboring villages.

Pablito Gajila, one of the farmworker beneficiaries of Hacienda Luisita in Cutcut, said he did not want to join the tambiolo or raffle system being implemented by the Department of Agrarian Reform to assign to them their new farm lots. He is already tilling a two and half hectare land, along with his two sons, in the village of Cutcut since 2004. He plants rice and vegetables for a living. His name, however, was still drawn during the raffle and was assigned in Motrico, a village in Concepcion, La Paz, a neighboring town.

“I told them that I am already tilling a land here. They can add or decrease the land I am tilling, depending on what is allocated for me,” Gajila told Bulatlat.com, “I do not believe that the assignment of lands was fair. Mine is too far. I would need P300 ($6.97) a day to tend to my farm lot.”

“If you multiply P300 ($6.97) to the number of days we have to work until harvesting season, what else would be left from our earnings? None,” he added.

Gajila said that while farmworker beneficiaries in Cutcut are being thrown to neighboring towns, Cojuangco-owned Tadeco is claiming nearly 100 hectares of land in their community. Security guards, along with Tadeco’s engineers, he said, have placed white flags to mark the borders of the land Tadeco is claiming and it included Gajila’s farm lot.

“I would not allow it. Why would I give up the lot that is mine? I poured my whole life in that lot and now they are claiming that it is theirs? That land is mine,” he said.

In Barangay Balete, the fact-finding mission noted that a total of 287 hectares of land are supposedly up for distribution to about 700 farmworker beneficiaries. But Agrarian Reform secretary for Legal Affairs Anthony Parungao said in media interviews that there are only 117 lots or 77.22 hectares available for distribution.

Similar to Cutcut, Tadeco is also claiming about 100 hectares of agricultural land in Balete and has deployed security outposts there, manned by security guards. One of the six outposts was placed just beside the farmworkers “bungkalan” pilot areas. Seven farmworkers also received a notice of eviction.

Residents believe that the land that was supposedly given to them is shrinking day by day because of claims of Tadeco and even the Rizal Commercial Banking Corporation.

“Of course we will look for the missing land. If you are lying down on a small patch of land and they take it away from you, you will go and find it. How much more now that it is really big?” Gajida said.

The fact-finding mission team said in its report that the areas in question “are definitely agricultural lands that should be included for distribution to farmworkers as ruled by the Supreme Court.”

Amang Trinidad, 54, said that before the land was claimed by Tadeco and RCBC, they were told that they would receive a parcel of land that is about 7000 square meters. The land that proverbially disappeared, about 400 square meters, would have been sufficient to provide each farmworker beneficiary an extra 40 cavans of rice during harvest season.

They also cited the Supreme Court decision that stipulated that Tadeco has no longer any claim to lands covered by Hacienda Luisita. It read:

“The stock distribution scheme appeared to be Tadeco’s preferred option in complying with the CARP when it organized the HLI as its spin-off corporation in order to facilitate stock acquisition by the FWBs. For this purpose, Tadeco assigned and conveyed to HLI the agricultural lands of Hacienda Luisita, set at 4,915.75 hectares, among others. These agricultural lands constituted as the capital contribution of the FWBs in HLI. In effect, Tadeco deprived itself of the ownership over these lands when it transferred the same to HLI.”

The fact-finding team said that with the Department of Agrarian Reform continuing to defend the claims of Tadeco over these agricultural land, the government agency is “practically aiding the Cojuangco-Aquino clan in the latter’s aggressive bid to retain ownership of choice prime lots, particularly in Barangays Balete, Cutcut and Mapalacsiao.”

Deception and the ‘tambiolo’ land distribution

Aside from the tracts of land that seemed to have “mysteriously disappeared,” the fact finding mission found out through interviews with residents that big amounts of money were being offered to farmworker beneficiaries to sign papers that would include their names in the Department of Agrarian Reform’s “tambiolo” (raffle) system in assigning farm lots.

Residents of the three villages that were covered by the fact finding mission said there were people who introduced themselves as representatives of the Department of Agrarian Reform, stayed at the village halls and conducted house-to-house information campaign on the raffle system of distributing lands.

These people, residents reported, told them that only those who will sign the Application to Purchase and Farmers’ Undertaking (APFU) will be given farm lots and that signing the agreement is a mandatory requirement for the registration of their Certificate of Land Ownership Award.

“The signing of the APFU manifests the willingness of the farmer-beneficiaries to abide by his/her obligation under the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program, which is to (a) cultivate the farm lots allotted to them, (b) pay the amortization based on the lands’ assessed value as well as the real estate taxes, and (c) desist from committing prohibited acts,” the press release of the Department of Agrarian Reform read.

There were also rumors, which, according to residents, were probably being spread by agents of the Cojuangco-Aquino family, that someone rich wants to buy their share of the land for P1 million ($23,255).

“That was the system they were doing here to invite more people to sign the agreement and join the raffle. Residents were even told to keep the P1 million offer a secret to us, those who are closely working with progressive groups because the offer might not push through. Village officials were among those spreading the rumors,” Gajida said.

He added that residents were told that they could buy so much from the P1 million they would receive, such as motorcycles, among others.

In Barangay Cutcut, 197 out of the 645 farmworker beneficiaries did not sign the agreement and did not join the raffle system of assigning farm lots.

When asked if money was given to residents who signed the agreement, Rodolfo, husband of Marcos, laughed and said, “There was none. It was all drawing.”

In Barangay Balete, residents were reportedly given P300 ($6.97) to lure them into joining the raffle.

In Mapalacsiao, financier agents, mostly hired by the Cojuangco-Aquino family, urged farmworkers to sign the APFU as a collateral before they can borrow money from them. “Ambala sees this as a ploy to further cement the disqualification of beneficiaries who under land reform laws are obliged to make their farm lots productive and are prohibited to sell or lease these awarded farm lots,” the report said.

The fact-finding mission said in its report that the “tambiolo” system was “not random at all, but a pre-programmed scheme of imposing land allocation.”

Each paper that was raffled, the group said, “not only contained the name of the FWB but also the corresponding lot allocation that has already been pre-determined. Farmworker-beneficiaries were never asked to pick random lot allocations from the tambiolo. During these raffles, farmworkers were practically made to witness how the DAR and the intimidating presence of hundreds of fully-armed police and military personnel orchestrated a frightening mockery out of their decades-old toil.”

Residents estimated there were about 500 armed men deployed where the raffle was being held. “Farmworkers complained about the way the DAR held it inside the covered court, with policemen locking and heavily guarding all alternative exits. Police and military personnel were deployed in every street corner, apparently anticipating and aiming to preempt any form of protest from the farm workers,” the mission reported.

Despite these, the mission said residents were still able to hold a protest action. But after members of the media and observers left, “the military conducted warrantless raids in several houses to harass farmworkers opposing the lottery scheme.”

A member of Ambala, Rico Tabago, 35, was arrested on Sept. 10, 2013, around 5:00 p.m., for an arson case that happened in 1994 and which, he believed, was long dismissed. The warrant of arrest also bear the name of Elmer Cruz, Valienta Almera, Crisanto Balot and Mario Caguio, who had already passed away.

Cruz and Almera surrendered the following day.

Tabago said this is just another form of harassment against leaders and members of their local peasant group.

“There is undoubtedly a reign of terror within Hacienda Luisita, as demonstrated by the intimidating presence of hundreds of police and military personnel before, during and after the DAR’s lottery activities. The Tadeco’s armed security guards also serve to intimidate legitimate land reform beneficiaries in the very farm lots they have made productive after years of struggle,” the report of the fact finding mission read.

The group noted that the 31st Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army and a unit of the paramilitary group CAFGU also have a detachment in Barangay Cutcut.

During the fact-finding mission, members of the group were arrested, including Anakpawis Rep. Fernando Hicap, who even identified himself as a legislator.

Defending their lands, homes

Residents said despite the hardships and harassment they are facing in their struggle, they will remain in the land they have been fighting for. Marcos said her old age would not deter her from fighting what has been theirs historically and legally.

Though they still live under poor living conditions, with the small income they are getting from tilling their land, she said, their conditions now is way better than during the days they were working in the sugarcane plantation where they sometimes take home not more than P10 a week.

Their home and the land where it sits, she said, was constructed out of their blood and sweat. “It took us two decades to have our house constructed because we bought galvanized iron sheet, cement blocks, bamboos one at a time,” she said.

“There are a lot of us who are fighting. We will not stop. We will continue. We will spend our dying days here,” Marcos said. ()

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