Luisita farmers hit back on Hacienda burning

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    ANGELES CITY – Three groups of farmers based in Hacienda Luisita have denied accusations they had burned last Dec. 16 some 300 hectares of sugar cane plantations in the property owned by Pres. Aquino’s family.

    The Supreme Court recently awarded the said property to farmers.

    In a statement, the Unyon ng Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA), the Alyansa ng mga Manggagawang Bukid sa Asyenda Luisita (Ambala) and the United Luisita Workers Union (ULWU) instead accused the management of the Hacienda Luisita Inc. (HLI) for what they described as “arson of three parcels of land planted with sugar cane.”

    “So the family of the President (Aquino) and the HLI management could put the blame on farm workers and legitimize the filing of criminal cases against leaders and other farm worker beneficiaries,” the statement said.

    UMA secretary general Rodel Mesa accused the family of the President and officials of the HLI of being “definitely behind this well-staged political drama to justify the reversal of the 14- 0 decision of Supreme Court on Hacienda Luisita and the filing of trumped up charges against leaders and members of Ambala.”

    Police probers said local farmers allegedly set fire to a portion of the sugarcane field at Hacienda Luisita that is owned by the family of Pres. Aquino in Barangay Balete, Tarlac City where P1-million worth of crops were destroyed last Friday morning.

    The police are also investigating the alleged participation of some members of local farmers’ associations.

    But the farmers’ groups debunked this. “Why will we do that (burn sugarcane plantations)? In fact, we are harvesting the sugarcane to earn some money for Christmas.

    We will have nothing to gain if we set on fire these parcels of land planted with sugarcane,” they stressed.

    Police named the suspects as Barangay Balete councilmen Pual Mallari and Hilario Hipolito, Leonila Halili, Dominador Salian, all of Barangay Balete and Felix Nacpil of Barangay Mabilog, Concepcion, Tarlac.

    The suspects reportedly led at least 30 farmers that started the blaze.

    Hacienda Luisita Independent Planters Association, Azucal Inc. and other farmers from Sugarcane Farming Agricultural Corp. are currently renting the sugar plantation from HLI.

    The farmers, however, had their version of what allegedly happened. “On December 16, at around 9: 30 am, while farm workers were busy harvesting sugar cane in Barangay Balete, members of Tarlac police and private security personnel of HLI came and told farm workers to stop.

    While engaging the local police force and Luisita personnel in verbal debate, suddenly the farmworkers noticed that three parcels of land planted with sugar cane were set on fire by unidentified men,” they said in their statement.

    They cited reports that “Ambala chairman, Felix Nakpil Jr. and other officers and members of the farm worker group will be charged with arson and other criminal offenses in connection with the arson of three parcels of land planted with sugar cane, according to reports reaching UMA national headquarters in Quezon City.”

    “As legitimate owners of Hacienda Luisita land based on the 14- 0 decision of the high court, what we will do is to harvest these sugar canes and later replace with staple crops and vegetables in the name of our ‘bungkalan’ or cultivation campaign for food self-sufficiency and livelihood,” said UMA secretary general Rodel Mesa.

    De Mesa also accused the HLI management of “sowing terror among farm worker beneficiaries to compel them to let go their land claims on the 4,916 hectares and to the P 1. 33 billion shares from the sale of Luisita lands.

    “Whether the HLI denies it or not, its motive and role in the burning incident last Dec.16 is undeniable,” added Mesa.

    UMA said the stage-managed burning of three parcels of land planted with sugar cane was also done to justify the full- blown militarization of the 6,453 hectare sugar estate.

    Last month, the Supreme Court, voting 14-0, ordered the distribution of almost 4,916 hectares of land to some 6,000 farmer beneficiaries of HLI.

    In a 56- page decision, the 14 magistrates “recalled and set aside” the option given to the farmer beneficiaries to remain as stockholders of HLI.

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