HACIENDA Luisita, Tarlac, Nov. 17, 2014—A Catholic missionary priest based in the Cojuangco-owned Hacienda Luisita in Tarlac blasts the agrarian reform department (DAR) for suing farmers fighting for their rights.
For Fr. Jesus Dumaual, a missionary of the Sacred Heart, said filing charges against the farmers of Luisita who are only standing up for their rights also means criminalizing land reform cases.
“In the first place, if only DAR had been expedient in deciding on these cases it would not have come to the point of confrontation between the farmers and the military who appeared to be protecting the interest of the Cojuangco-Aquinos who wield political power,” the priest told CBCPNews in an interview.
“If the latter sincerely wants to relinquish hold on the land in favor of the farmers, the farmers could be focusing by now on making the land productive and contributing to the attainment of food security for the farmers,” he added.
But Dumaual admits this is not likely to happen soon.
“The land is prime agricultural land, but it is prime commercial land as well. It is a question of which is the priority of our government right now. Meantime, the farmers will just have to continue with their struggle for land,” he stressed.
Lawyer Jobert Pahilga, Hacienda Luisita farmworkers’ counsel, pointed out evidence with DAR’s Bureau of Agrarian Legal Assistance (BALA) in Tarlac proving the agrarian nature of a criminal case filed against five Luisita peasants for alleged trespassing.
In effect, all these should be dropped, he stressed.
On October 16, 2014, Judge Scott Robinos of branch 1 of the Municipal Trial Court (MTC) of Tarlac referred the cases of Vicente Sambu y Roma and four others for trespassing to the DAR Provincial Office to determine if there is an agrarian dispute in the said case.
Pahilga shared Vicente Sambu, along with Jose Baldiviano, Rod Acosta, Mamerto Mandigma, and Ronald Sakay, were illegally arrested by police on Dec. 21, 2013 when they and others were defending ready-to-harvest agricultural lands .
TADECO then filed a case against the five for alleged trespassing in January 2014, besides earlier cases of physical injuries and assault on persons in authority filed by security guards of TADECO and the police.
The lawyer argued that the Supreme Court (SC)’s order to DAR covers all other Luisita agricultural lands for distribution to the farmworker-beneficiaries (FWBs), including the disputed area in barangay Balete where the group were arrested, and over which the DAR issued a Notice of Coverage (NOC) on Dec. 17, 2013.
Before the incident, the accused had already been cultivating the subject land as qualified FWBs of the agrarian reform program since 2005.
According to Pahilga, these and other criminal cases filed against the peasants and their advocates in branch 2 of the MTC in Tarlac are all agrarian in nature.
“DAR knows this and should invoke the courts to refer all cases to them and dismiss the charges against farm workers and their advocates in Hacienda Luisita. To do otherwise would only reinforce its reputation as Aquino’s lackeys for continuously defending the landed interests,” he explained. (Raymond A. Sebastián)