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Manila’s agrarian reform chief asked to act on land disputes involving top 2010 bets

By Sugar Hicap, Bb. Joyce Cabral, Cherry de Belen and Gerry Albert Corpuz

MANILA, Philippines-Striking farmworkers of Hacienda Luisita and affected farmers of the ambitious MRT-7 railway project in San Jose del Monte, Bulacan had coalesced to pressure Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) Secretary Nasser Pangandaman to stop the families of Liberal Party presidential and vice-presidential candidates Senator Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III and Senator Manuel Roxas from denying their rights to land and compel them to surrender their unlawful and immoral control over the disputed lands.

In a joint press statement, the Hacienda Luisita based United Luisita Workers Union (ULWU) and Alyansa ng mga Manggagawang Bukid sa Asyenda Luisita (Ambala) and farmers groups affiliated with the activist peasant group Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) urged secretary Pangandaman to act on their demands against the “Team Hacienderos” of Aquino and Roxas not later than the May 10, 2010 elections.

ULWU acting president Lito Bais said the farmworkers of Hacienda Luisita are strongly suggesting to DAR to immediately cite the Cojuangco-Aquino family and the Luisita Estate Management (LEM) in contempt of court for violating the status quo order involving the 6,453 hectare sugar estate.

Bais, also the spokesperson of the Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA) said the Cojuangco-Aquino clan through LEM has been allowing different interest groups like the Rizal Commercial Banking Corporation (RCBC) to put fences on 200 hectares of sugar lands, allegedly representing debts of the Cojuangco-Aquino family to the banking group.

“Noynoy recently announced that Hacienda Luisita will be distributed to farm workers in the next five years. But based on what his family is doing right now, the Cojuangco-Aquino clan is doing everything to keep control of the hacienda and later sell it to entities that would give them billions of pesos in profits,” the Hacienda Luisita leader added.

Status quo

The status quo order stemmed from the Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) issued by the Supreme Court in 2005 after the management of Hacienda Luisita Inc. questioned the revocation of the Stock Distribution Option (SDO) and the decision of the Presidential Agrarian Reform Council (PARC) to take over Luisita and have distributed to some 10,000 farmer worker beneficiaries.

The TRO which was applied by HLI management, however, effectively stopped the Cojuangco-Aquino family from pursuing other activities and corporate decisions pertaining to the sugar estate. Reports from ULWU revealed otherwise.

The farmworkers’ group said the Cojuangco-Aquino family has tolerated the terroristic activities of the military and the Army led Civilian Volunteer Organizations (CVOs) under the Northern Luzon Command of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (Nolcom) whom they said are engaged in covert and overt operations like day-to-day surveillance and harassment of leaders and active members of sugar worker groups inside Hacienda Luisita.

Troops loyal to Arroyo

“Troops loyal to President Arroyo are in Hacienda Luisita to protect the illegitimate claim of Noynoy and his family, and that alone confirms the ongoing unholy alliance between the Arroyos and the Cojuangco-Aquino feudal aristocracy,” Bais added.

Joining the Luisita workers in the camp out at DAR are 120 farmers from Bgy. Tungkong Mangga, San Jose Del Monte City, Bulacan are the KMP affiliates— the Tungkong Mangga Upland Farmers Association, Inc. (TMUFAI), San Isidro Sandigang Samahan ng Magsasaka (SASAMAG) and Samahan ng Magsasaka sa Sitio Dalandanan (SAMAGDA).

“We are urging Mar Roxas to convince his relatives to stop landgrabbing and harassment of farmers in Tungkong Mangga. He wants to be vice-president, he should start put aside the interests of his relatives and put the interests of poor farmers in front,” said Wilfredo Marbella, KMP Deputy Secretary-General.

Tungkong Mangga

“The lands in Tungkong Mangga are being claimed by Araneta Properties, Inc. (now led by Gregorio `Greggy’ Araneta, from the Salvador and Gregorio Araneta lineage), though farmers cultivated the lands for decades. Now, Mr. Palengke Mar Roxas, please help farmers against the harassment imposed by your relatives. The farms at Tungkong Mangga are the source of fruits, vegetables at nearby `palengkes,'” he said.

Tungkong Mangga, particularly Sitio San Isidro, Dalandanan and Ricafort is the site of the 200-hectare intermodal station of the MRT 7. Its main proponent is the Universal LRT Corp. led by Hongkong-based EL Holdings, also composing is the SM Development Corp. of mall-tycoon Henry Sy.

“The lands at Tungkong Mangga are not owned by the Aranetas as they have been foreclosed by Manila Banking Corp. during the Marcos’ dictatorship, who then, used it as collateral to acquire loans from the Central Bank. During the Aquino government, MBC was sequestered as it was owned by Marcos cronies and used ill-gotten wealth on its business. Generally, the lands were paid for the Aranetas by public funds, thus, should be subjected by land reform,” said Marbella.

In 1998, DAR has been preparing for the issuance of Cert. of Land Ownership Awards (CLOAs) to the farmers when the Aranetas have filed petition for exemption. Until now, it has not been processed and currently on the discretion of the Presidential Agrarian Reform Council (PARC). The Gregorio Araneta Inc. and Araneta Properties, Inc. are now represented by Gregorio “Greggy” Araneta III as Chief Executive Officer (CEO), the son-in-law of the late dictator Ferdinand MarcosFerdinand Marcos being married to Irene Marcos. They are also relatives of vice-presidential candidate Mar Roxas of the J. Amado Araneta lineage. Moreover, First Gentleman Mike Arroyo is of the clan of Jesus Araneta Lacson de Arroyo of Negros.

“The Araneta Properties, Inc. is chaired by Benito Araneta, a former representative of the PCGG to PhilComSat but was fired by former pres. Estrada due to malversation of funds. He was investigated for plunder in the Senate and sen. Enrile presented proofs of his plunder in the gov’t corporation,” said Marbella.

“Mar Roxas’ relatives are cashing in the lands as SM Dev’t Corp and Universal LRT Corp. are planning another Araneta Center in Tungkong Mangga, composed of a train station, commercial and residential establishments and bus terminal. This is the first stop of our series of protest,” Marbella said. #

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