Monthly Archives: August 2010

Fishers swimming with fish, but income went down further

By Sarsi Pimentel, Rey Manangan, Lady Michelle Adobe and Gerry Albert Corpuz

MANILA, Philippines- Laguna Lake fishermen are reportedly swimming with fish nowadays, bringing home as much as 100 kilos per fishing trip but their income dropped to all time low.

The militant fisherfolk alliance Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya) on Sunday said fisherfolk in Laguna Lake are literally and figurative swimming with fish particularly big head, milkfish and tilapia due to rainy season and the overflow of some of fish pens in the 94,000 hectare brackish lake water.

But Pamalakaya vice chairperson Salvador France said despite the bounty harvest over the last four weeks or one month, the small fisherfolk of Laguna Lake are wallowing in poverty because the farm gate price of fish in the lake was drastically cut by 1,000 to 25,000 percent per kilo of whatever water products fished from the lake.

The Pamalakaya official who went to Binangonan fish port over the weekend to check farm gate prices of fish said he was shocked to learn that the farm gate price of big head (sometimes called or mistaken as maya-maya) is now P 1 per kilo compared to previous farm gate price of P 25 per kilo or a drop of 24,000 percent.

“One fisherman whom we interviewed last week said his catch was 145 kilos and he only received P 145 for the entire catch or P 1 per kilo. He spent 5 liters of gasoline or P 230 and lost 85 pesos. This is unfair, very unfair,” added France.

The Pamalakaya official said in the aftermath of typhoon Basyang, fish traders buying milkfish in Laguna Lake fish ports buy milkfish at a rate of P 10 per kilo, one of the lowest in the history of fish trading in the lake.

Cartel blamed

France blamed the fish cartel operating in Laguna Lake for the low price of fisherfolk harvests. He said prior to typhoon Basyang, farm gate prices of bangus and big head are pegged at average prices of P 40 and P 20 per kilo respectively. Pamalakaya said fish traders are making huge profits by selling milk fish at P 80 per kilo and big head at 40 per kilo to fish retailers.

The group said aside from unscrupulous fish traders, multinational oil companies are largely to blame for the rock bottom drop in the income of Laguna Lake fishermen because of perpetual hikes and high rise cost of petroleum products used by small fisherfolk.

“The small fisherfolk are exploited, the fish eating public is summarily abused by the fish cartel operating like a long-running syndicate in Laguna Lake. We ask Gov. Junjun Ynares of Rizal, Gov. EJ Ejercito of Laguna and the mayors of Laguna Lake in Rizal and Laguna and National Capital Region to investigate this perpetual exploitation of Laguna Lake fishers and the consuming public and stop this 24 hour, seven day exploitation,” said Pamalakaya.

Collective petition

Pamalakaya said they will file a collective petition before the governor offices of Ynares and Ejercito and the rest of the local government units surrounding the lake to raise the farm gate price of milkfish by an average of P 40 to P 50 per kilo and big head by an average of P 20 per kilo to compensate with the high rising cost of production in fishing.

The militant group said 80 percent of the production cost goes to diesel and gasoline per fishing trip. Pamalakaya said their leaders in the national office and their chapters around the lake are willing to dialogue and come face to face with members of the fish cartel to discuss this problem of six feet below ground prices of fish products in Laguna Lake.

Income of small fishers in Laguna Lake has drastically reduced over the last 15 years due to diminishing fish catch, increasing prices of petroleum products and low farm gate prices. From a high of 10 to 15 kilos of average catch per day, today’s prevailing fish catch is pegged between 3 kilos to 5 kilos per day and income dropped at all time low from P 500 to P 1,000 per fishing trip to P 50 to P 150 per fishing trip.

The militant group clarified that despite their demand for the increase in farm gate prices, fish traders could still enjoy at least P 20 gross profits and could still sell milkfish in the market at P 70 per kilo and big head at P 40 per kilo which are lower compared to the prevailing price of milkfish at P 100 to P 120 per kilo and big head which can still be sold at P 50 per kilo which is way below the prevailing market price of P 80 to P 100 per kilo.

“Our proposal will give small fisherfolk decent income and at the same time will give the consuming public a cheaper price for fishery products,” said Pamalakaya. (With reports from Handog Malaya Vera and Billy Javier Reyes) #

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Manila anti-casino group sought divine intervention

By Gerry Albert Corpuz, Handog Malaya Vera and Victoria Sunshine Malubarry

MANILA, Philippines- A militant alliance of small fishermen opposed to the planned construction of a Las Vegas like casino in the western portion of Manila Bay in Paranaque City on Saturday asked the influential Catholic Bishop Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) to join forces with them to stop the 557 million US dollar casino-resort project in the Bagong Nayong Pilipino-Entertainment City.

In a press statement, the activist fisherfolk alliance Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya) appealed to the 117 archbishops and bishops of the CBCP to coalesce with the fisherfolk and other affected people in Manila Bay in the fight of what it called the Las Vegas-nization of the country.

“We ask our archbishops and bishops to join the Manila Bay coastal people in their legit and just struggle against those evil forces who want to make this country the gambling capital of Asia to the detriment of coastal people and the bay environment,” said Pamalakaya national chair Fernando Hicap.

The Pamalakaya leader said his group is planning to seek a dialogue with the bishops and archbishops of the CBCP anytime next week to discuss the devastating impact of the project to small fisherfolk and urban poor and its destructive effect to the already fragile Manila Bay environment.

“We will move heaven and earth to put up a strong opposition against this largest gambling project clinched during the administration of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and passed on to the new administration of President Benigno Simeon “Noynoy” Aquino III,” added Hicap.

In a statement yesterday, Bloombury Investments Holdings Inc. which was acquired by port operatorEnrique Razon Jr. said it had broken ground for the construction of Solaire, an integrated resort complex that includes a five-star, 500-room hotel on a 165,000-square-meter land.

According to Bloombury, aside from catapulting the Philippines into becoming a key player in the tourism, hospitality and entertainment industries, the project will make Filipinos proud for having a world class leisure hub that will showcase the best that the country can offer. It said the entertainment city will rival leisure hubs in the region such as those in Macau, Malaysia and Singapore.

The project marks Razon’s first venture into the lucrative gaming industry. Razon owns Manila-based global port giant International Container Terminal Services Inc. The Bloombury complex is expected to open by the third quarter of 2012. Total investment in the long term is expected to reach $ 1 billion.

Project proponents said aside from attracting local and foreign visitors, the complex is expected to generate some 2,500 jobs and boost the country’s ancillary service sectors.

“This is ridiculous, very, very ridiculous. Please allow us to inform the bishops that the Supreme Court ruling is clear——-Malacanang should rehabilitate Manila Bay and should not transform the bay into a gambling capital of Asia is contrary to the high court decision,” said Hicap in reference to the Dec. 2008 Supreme Court decision mandating the national government and concerned government agencies to restore Manila Bay back to its historic and proud past.

“The bishops are politically and morally obliged to confront this gambling project of the ruling Mafia in Malacanang. That is one their callings as far as the Christian faith and the people’s collective interest are concerned,” the Pamalakaya official added.

The other companies granted licenses were Travellers International Hotel Group, Inc., the partnership between the Andrew L. Tan-led Alliance Global, Inc. and casino-resort operator Genting Hong Kong Ltd., SM Investments Corp. and Universal Entertainment Corp. (formerly Azure Corp.), which makes gaming machines and is a co-investor in the Wynn chain of casino hotels in Las Vegas and Macau.

“The issue of Manila Bay casino project is not only about cronyism and the despicable partnership between Arroyo and his cherished client-Mr. Razon and now Razon as de facto supporter and crony of Aquino. At stake here is the marine environment, the livelihood of 3 million people in Manila Bay and the national interest of 92 million Filipinos. Sad to say, President Arroyo sacrificed these stakes to make more money and make his crony the happiest and the luckiest guy on earth.

Pagcor president and chief operating officer Rafael Butch Francisco announced on Monday the construction at the Bay Shore Entertainment City was expected to start in the latter part of the year. Sources said the Razon’s entry into the Pagcor project came after his exit from the power transmission business. Last month, Henry Sy Jr.’s OneTaipan Holdings, Inc. bought Monte Oro Grid Resources Corp. from Razon’s group for $350 million.

Pagcor said the construction is expected to start in the third quarter at an estimated cost of $400 million for the first phase. According to the state-run gambling corporation, the complex will include two five-star luxury hotel towers of over 1,000 rooms within a world-class entertainment and convention facility.

The Pamalakaya fisherfolk alliance said the construction of Manila Bay casino similar to first-ratecasinos in Las Vegas and Macau will trigger the displacement of 3 million coastal people in Metro Manila and Cavite who are still dependent to fishing as principal source of livelihood, and any move to transform or convert Manila Bay for other purposes like the $15-billion casino project will have a killing impact on the livelihood of small fishermen, aside from the fact that they would be demolished from their communities, once construction of support structures and establishments begins.

“The irrevocable desire of President Aquino and Mr. Razon to convert Manila Bay into an international gateway for big time gambling addicts both international and domestic is not only blasphemous, but also detestable and highly revolting. This government is sacrificing the future ofManila Bay fishers at the altar of corporate interest and gambling addiction of the international and domestic elites,” the Pamalakaya said.

The militant group said the construction of Manila Bay casino will also trigger reclamation of other coastal shores along Manila Bay that will result to eviction of fishing communities and coastal villagers along the bay.

Pamalakaya recalled from 1992 to 1995, the demolitions of coastal shanties became an everyday ordeal in Pasay Reclamation area. Houses were uprooted on almost day-to-day basis. Small and big time bribery to divide the communities were conducted to facilitate the demolition of homes as if the words and orders of Malacañang were the words of God in this country.

The setting up of casino and resorts, including SM’s Mall of Asia was all in the master plan of the government known as Manila Bay Master Development Plan that officially started during the time of President Ramos and projected to end between 2020 and 2025.

Pamalakaya said 3,500 small fisherfolk and their families in Pasay Reclamation Area, and another 3,000 coastal and urban poor families along the coastal shores of Parañaque were evicted by the government of former President Ramos to pave way for the construction of the proposed casino that would make the Philippines the Las Vegas of Asia.#

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Aquino told: Submit own corruption case to “truth body”

Gerry Albert Corpuz, Bombshell Moran and Trinity Biglang Awa

MANILA, Philippines- Staunch critics of President Benigno Simeon “Noynoy” Aquino III on Saturday challenged the 50-year old bachelor president to allow the newly established Truth Commission to investigate not only corruption cases involving former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and her allies, but also his own turf in connection with the controversial Subic Clark Tarlac Expressway (SCTex) road scandal.

In a press statement, the activist fisherfolk alliance Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya) said the national goverment paid P 170 million for the construction of the interchange in Hacienda Luisita, and there was no closure about the previous expose on this highly irregular deal between the Arroyo government and the Cojuangco-Aquino who agreed on the deal.

“Why not include the SCTex road scandal in the list of high crimes of corruption that happened during the Macapagal-Arroyo administration? If this truth body is after truth, justice and accountability, then it should include the SCTex right of way scandal in the investigation. If President Aquino and former President Arroyo are accountable for flagship cases of corruption that happened from 2001 to 2009, then by all means, subject the two to the Truth Commission and have their grand day for condemnation before the Filipino public,” said Pamalakaya national chair Fernando Hicap in a press statement.

The Truth Commission created through Aquino’s Executive Order No.1 was established to investigate ex-President Arroyo and her allies accountable for irregularities under her watch, including the “Hello Garci” election fraud scandal.

President Aquino signed yesterday Executive Order No. 1 will “investigate reports of graft and corruption of such scale and magnitude that shock and offend the moral and ethical sensibilities of the people.”

The “independent collegial body” chaired by retired Chief Justice Hilario Davide Jr. will have four more commissioners. It has until Dec. 31, 2012, to complete its work, with formal hearings most likely to begin next year, according Justice Secretary Leila de Lima.

De Lima said the hearings would be open to the public but that closed-door sessions would be conducted for “matters of national security or public safety,” including the safety of witnesses.

Justice secretary De Lima said EO No. 1 was crafted in such a way that it would be “broad enough” to include cases such as Arroyo’s purported manipulation of the 2004 presidential election.

In seeking closure to controversies that occurred from 2001 to 2009, President Aquino armed the truth commission with the power to subpoena respondents and documents.

The commission is empowered to “collect, receive, review and evaluate evidence related to or regarding the cases of large-scale corruption which it has chosen to investigate, and to this end, require any agency, official or employee of the executive branch, including government-owned and -controlled corporations (GOCCs), to produce documents, books, records, and other papers.”

The EO empowers the commission to “obtain information and documents from the Senate and the House of Representatives’ records of investigations conducted by committees,” as well as those from the “courts, including the Sandiganbayan and the Office of the Court Administrator,” in connection with corruption cases filed before them.

The commission can also “call upon any government investigative or prosecutorial agency such as the DOJ or any of the agencies under it, and the Presidential Anti-Graft Commission, for such assistance and cooperation as it may require in the discharge of its functions and duties.”

“If that is the case of this EO, then it can also summon the President or any members of the Cojuangco-Aquino clan to explain and bare all about the P 170 million SCTex scandal and how the family continues to control Luisita despite legal, political and moral basis for them to surrender their unlawful and immoral claim of the 6,453 hectare sugar estate,” said Pamalakaya’s Hicap.

The Pamalakaya leader the Cojuangco-Aquino family received P 170 million but regular government procedure mandates the landowner should give the property to the government at zero cost.

Hicap said the government does not ordinarily pay private landowners for right-of-way properties in government projects because the private landowner presumably benefits from the construction of a national road.

The Pamalakaya official also noted that the Toll Regulatory Board, which processes applications for interchanges in major road projects, does not normally pay for the construction of interchanges in private lands.

“Because of the SCTex hocus pocus, the value of Hacienda Luisita per square meter increased from P 8 to P 1,000 per square meter. The SCTex scandal deserves another round of scrutiny and the Truth Commission can look into this issue, aside from those high crimes of corruption perpetrated by the ruling Arroyo clique in Malacanang from 2001 to 2009,” Pamalakaya said.

The cost of the interchange built inside the Hacienda Luisita complex was shouldered by the government and funded through a loan from the Japan Bank and International Corp. It is a flagship project of President Gloria Arroyo.

The Bases Conversion and Development Authority (BCDA)-SCTEx project engineering chief retired general Eduardo Lena had explained that the government paid for the construction of the interchange because it was part of the original plan for SCTEx.

The hearing failed to directly link Senator Aquino to the allegedly irregular transaction. The BCDA had negotiated with Senator Aquino’s uncle, Pedro Cojuangco.#

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Criminal charges pressed against Manila officials behind rice scam

By Gerry Albert Corpuz, Gegemon Babon and Roy Morilla

MANILA, Philippines- The peasant activist group Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP), the multisectoral alliance Bantay Bigas, the Katipunan ng mga Samahang Magbubukid ng Timog Katagalugan (Kasama-TK) and the leftwing fisherfolk alliance Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya) on Friday urged National Food Authority (NFA) chief administrator Lito Banayo to file criminal and other appropriate charges against former President and now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and former agriculture secretary and now Bohol Rep. Arthur Yap in connection with the over importation of rice which occurred in 2004 and 2007.

Peasant leaders Willy Marbella, deputy secretary general of KMP, Bantay Bigas convener and Amihan peasant women federation secretary general Lita Mariano, Kasama-TK secretary general Axel Pinpin and Pamalakaya national chair Fernando Hicap led 100 farmers and supporters’ rally outside the NFA outlet in Visayas Avenue in Quezon City asking the NFA chief to charge Arroyo and Secretary Yap before the regular court.

Marbella said aside from Reps. Arroyo and Yap, the charge sheet should include former officials of the Department of Agriculture and NFA who played key roles in the over importation of rice in 2004 and 2007 which cost Filipino taxpayers some 171.6 billion pesos.

In 2004, the Philippine government imported 900,000 metric tons of rice, while the country at that time only lacked 117,000 metric tons to fit the demand of the population, while in 2007, the government only needed 589,000 metric tons to fill the gap in rice supply, but DA and NFA pursued the importation of 1.827 million metric tons or about 1.2 million metric tons more of the required volume to augment the shortage in rice supply.

The rural based groups said aside from bringing the perpetrators of over importation of rice in exchange for fat or juicy commissions, the NFA and the DA should impose a six-year moratorium on the importation of rice and instead pursue measures that would increase domestic rice production, stop land use conversions of rice lands and assure irrigation for more than 3 million hectares of lands devoted to rice production.

They said, instead of reducing rice lands, the government should promote and increase rice lands devoted to rice and food production.

Procurement capacity

For her part, Mariano of Bantay Bigas and Amihan peasant women group urged Aquino government to increase the buying capacity of NFA to 25 percent of the total domestic produced palay by local rice farmers to stabilize rice prices and ensure good dividends for rice farmers.

Mariano lamented that while NFA is mandated by law to buy 10 percent of the locally produced palay from farmers, the authority only managed to buy one percent, and the rest of the funds of the NFA are allocated for unbridled importation of rice.

She said the NFA should increase not only its buying capacity, but also the price of palay per kilo. At present, Bantay Bigas wants the NFA to procure palay at P 15 per kilo, instead of spending taxpayers money to rice importation at the expense of Filipino farmers and consumers.

The groups said rotten and contaminated rice should not be distributed to poor Filipinos, saying the poor do not deserved rotten and unsafe rice for consumption. The groups said it would be grossly insulting and highly revolting to feed the poor with unsafe and health risk rotten rice.

Which is which?

But the groups asserted the unused and undistributed stocks of rice in government warehouses which are sound and still safe to eat should be distributed for free to communities affected by typhoon, including calamity stricken areas hit by Ondoy and Pepeng, and the El Nino and La Nina affected areas.

“In print media, Banayo of NFA said he will strongly consider the demand of farmers to have these hundreds of thousands of metric tons of rice distributed for free to poor Filipinos. But in TV and radio, the NFA chief said the authority will not give free rice to hungry families and multiple conditions shall be met to have these sacks of rice distributed either through food for work program or other measures,” noted Hicap of Pamalakaya.

” Which is which? Are Banayo and his puppet master in Malacanang taking us to another roller coaster ride?” added Hicap.

The Pamalakaya leader said Department of Agriculture (DA) secretary Proceso Alcala should step into the picture and stop the NFA from talking non-sense , adding that the agriculture department has the last way on what to do with the over imported rice.

“Alcala should tell Banayo to shape up or leave NFA. The demand is as easy as ABC. Make an inventory and proceed with the free distribution of these sacks of rice for free at the immediate, ahead of the next harvest season this coming October. Is that difficult? Mr. Banayo and his benefactor in Malacanang are making things difficult and complicated for the Filipino public.,” said Pamalakaya.

Earlier, the KMP, Pamalakaya and other rural based groups demanded Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile and House Speaker Feliciano “Sonny” Belmonte to conduct joint or separate congressional inquiry on the over importation of rice in 2004 and 2007.

The groups said in aid of legislation, the rice inquiry will be able to draft policies to stop the government from anarchic importation of rice which are hinged on the liberalization policy and on the agenda of corrupt officials for juicy and fat commissions sourced from over importation and over pricing of rice imports. (With reports from Bombshell Moran and Lollipop de los Reyes)

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Probe rice scandal RP Congress urged

By Gerry Albert Corpuz, Bb. Joyce Cabral in Manila and Gegemon Babon and Sugar Hicap in Tarlac City

MANILA, Philippines-Four of the biggest rural-based organizations in the country– the activist peasant group Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP), the peasant women federation Amihan, the agricultural worker group Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA) and the left-leaning fisherfolk alliance Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya) on Thursday urged Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile and House Speaker Feliciano “Sonny” Belmonte to pursue a joint or separate congressional inquiry on the alleged over importation of rice in 2004 and 2007.

“In aid of legislation, the people of rural Philippines hereby order Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile and House Speaker Feliciano “Sonny” Belmonte to undertake a joint or separate congressional inquiry on rice importation that cost the Filipino people of P 171.6 billion in taxpayers money,” said KMP secretary general Danilo Ramos and Pamalakaya national chair Fernando Hicap in a press statement.

The two activist leaders suggested the “rice inquiry” to open the books of the National Food Authority (NFA), including inventory, records of transactions and financial records of the food authority from 2004 up to June 2010.

Ramos and Hicap, who spoke in behalf of their peers in Amihan women peasant federation and UMA agricultural labor group said all the officials of the Department of Agriculture and the NFA from 2004 up to June 2010 shall be subpoenaed by the rice inquiry task force to be put up jointly and separately by Congress.

KMP and Pamalakaya said those who should be made answerable for the anarchic importation of rice in 2004 and 2007 referring to the 900,000 metric tons of rice imported as against the 117,000 metric tons needed to fill up the gap in supply in 2004, and the 1.827 million metric tons imported by the Philippine government compared to he 589,000 metric tons needed to fill up the gap in rice supply.

“If that is the case, then former President and now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and her then agriculture secretary now Bohol Rep. Arthur Yap should take the center stage of the rice inquiry that should be called by Congress at the soonest possible time, maybe next week,” the groups said.

KMP and Pamalakaya also suggested that while Congress is investigating the rice scam jointly or separately, Reps. Arroyo and Yap shall be suspended from performing their jobs as legislators of their respective districts until the investigation is done and concrete legislative and legal actions have been made to address the over importation of rice and the corruption issues which surround the anarchic buying of rice from sources abroad.

The groups said Congress can make proposals out of the results of the rice inquiry like forwarding corruption cases or legislative complaints before the House Ethics Committee which could decide on the expulsion of Arroyo and Yap from Congress.

“The case People of the Philippines vs. Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and Rep. Arthur Yap must be pursued at all cost. We are talking here of 171.6 billion pesos drawn against the people’s hard earned taxes. The NFA can’t even buy 10 percent of the farmers’ produce in the nine-year rule of Arroyo, but billions of pesos of people’s money were spent for unwarranted importation,” added Pamalakaya and KMP.

Earlier. Danilo Bonabon, NFA director in Central Visayas, Wednesday said that around 2 million bags of rice were arriving in Cebu City until the end of August for Central and Eastern Visayas and the cities of Pagadian and Dipolog. He said this shipment would be on top of the 2.6 million bags of imported rice stored in different warehouses in Cebu, Bohol, Siquijor and Negros Oriental.

Lito Banayo, newly appointed NFA chief, yesterday said he was asking the Department of Justice to investigate why the NFA under Arroyo had authorized the Philippine International Trading Corp. (PTIC) to import 20,000 metric tons of rice from Vietnam in spite of the surplus. #

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Police state in Hacienda Luisita assailed

By Gerry Albert Corpuz, Bianca Jing Bajing Jing and Bb. Tayuman Recto-Yap

MANILA, Philippines-Striking Hacienda Luisita farm workers on Wednesday pressed President Benigno Simeon “Noynoy” Aquino to pull out the composite team of Army troops, para-military forces and members of the intelligence unit of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), saying the 6,453 hectare sugar plantation appeared like a mini garrison or satellite camp for the Northern Luzon command of the AFP.

In a press statement, the Hacienda Luisita based groups– Unyon ng Mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA), the United Luisita Workers Union (ULWU)and the Alyansa ng Mga Manggagawa sa Asyenda Luisita (Ambala)said the AFP has deployed about a platoon of government troops in Luisita, excluding members of CAFGU and intelligence personnel from the 701st Infantry Batallion of the Philippine Army.

UMA national coordinator Emma Velarde said among the task of Army troops deployed inside Luisita is to harass and terrorize leaders and members of Luisita farm workers’ associations calling for the immediate and unconditional free distribution of the sugar estate to 10,000 farmworker beneficiaries.

“Is President Aquino aware of the ongoing AFP campaign of terror inside Hacienda Luisita? Or this brazen act of Jurassic feudal terrorism has the seal of approval of the Office of the President? Which is which Mr.Aquino,” Velarde added.

Velarde raised this concern during a picket rally this morning held at Mendiola Bridge by 50 farm workers most of them were from Hacienda Luisita in Tarlac and Hacienda Yulo in Barangay Canlubang,Calamba City in Laguna. The farmers staged the rally to denounce President Aquino for evading issues pertaining to land reform in his first State of the Nation Address (SONA) last Monday.

Before the rally, Hacienda Luisita farmers trooped to the office of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) in Quezon City to submit a formal complaint against military officers and members of the 710st IBPA whom they accused of engaging in state terror campaign and round-the-clock surveillance inside the sprawling sugar estate in Tarlac province.

At the rally in Mendiola, allies of Hacienda Luisita farm workers led by Kilusang Magbubukid ngPilipinas (KMP)and the Katipunan ng mga Samahang Magbubukid ng Timog Katagalugan (Kasama-TK) took turns in berating President Aquino for evading all issues pertaining to agrarian reform during the 50-year old bachelor’s first state address.

“This is official. President Aquino is the ultimate President of Hacienda Republic.He will utilize and mobilize the reactionary and mercenary AFP to protect his family’s land monopolization of Luisita in the name of feudal rule,” said Danilo Ramos, KMP secretary general.

“ He is serving as feudal icon to other hacienda owners who have been resisting agrarian reform beneficiaries demanding land rights and social justice. It is for this reason, why Noynoy is not touching Luisita and other haciendas on his first SONA, and perhaps in his succeeding addresses in the next five years,” the KMP official added.

Ramos further said:”Big hacienda owners are supporting Aquino’s use of state power to protect their unlawful and immoral control on the 6,453 hectare sugar plantation in Tarlac province. The hacienda oligarchs are all happy with Aquino and like the landed family of the President, they don’t want to hear any policy statement on agrarian reform that would benefit landless and land-lacking farmers in the country.”

Kasama-TK secretary general echoed Ramos opinion. “Hacienda Luisita and bigger issues on land reform are intentionally omitted in his 1st SONA because Aquino is politically allergic to discuss Luisita and other Luisita like cases such as the 7,100 hectare Hacienda Yulo controversy in Barangay Canlubang and the 8,650 hectare perpetual land use conversion of prime agricultural land in Hacienda Looc”, he added.

Pinpin said if Aquino really wants to address Luisita and other high profile issues involving haciendas in favor of the land reform beneficiaries through appropriate legislative action, the President could easily send marching orders to Congress to repeal the extended CARPer (CARP with reforms) law and enact GARB or HB 374.

The controversial GARB was re-filed in the first week of July by its main author—Anakpawis party list Rep. Rafael Mariano, a farmer himself and current KMP chair. The re-filed bill was co-authored by the progressive bloc in Congress led by Bayan Muna Reps. Teodoro Casino and Atty. Neri Javier Colmenares, Gabriela Women Party (GWP) Reps. Luzviminda Ilagan and Emmy de Jesus, Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) party list lawmaker Antonio Tinio and Kabataan party list Rep. Raymond Palatino.

The bill if enacted will automatically cover vast landholdings for free land distribution that includes Hacienda Luisita, Hacienda Yulo, Hacienda Looc, scattered thousands of agricultural lands owned by business tycoon Eduardo “Danding” Cojuangco, the vast tracts of plantations leased to multinational companies like Del Monte in Mindanao the and the controversial 3,100 hectare Fort Magsaysay in Laur, Nueva Ecija.

“But President Aquino is not listening to the legitimate cry and agrarian demands of Hacienda Luisita farm workers and Hacienda Yulo farmers and this is the real score at the moment. We dare him to come up with a strong presidential instruction urging congressmen from both side of the political equation to certify HB 374 as urgent and necessary, and his first SONA is the right time for this,” the Kasama-TK official added.

According to Kasama-TK, the Southern Tagalog region has become the regional laboratory for land reform reversals, land reform denials and land use conversions since the dictatorial regime offormer President Ferdinand Marcos. Hundreds of thousands of prime agricultural lands have been subjected to automatic control of big landlords and were primed for land use conversions at the expense of land reform beneficiaries and other land tillers across the region,” the group said.

Citing a report filed by Ibon Foundation, the KMP said as of December 2006, DAR has cancelled at least 108,141 CLOAs and Emancipation Patents (EPs) involving 204,579 hectares. CLOA and EP cancellations are increased by 3,790% from 1995 data of 2,780, while land area increased by 1,162% from 16, 213 hectares. Of the cancellations, majority or 87% were due to subdivision of mother-CLOAs into individual CLOAs. It involved about 82% of the lands to 167,486 hectares.#

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