By Morris Manotoc, Jay Cuesta and GloriaVelarde
TARLAC CITY, Philippines- Farmers in the home province of Philippine President Benigno Simeon Aquino III gave the pro-landlord Chief Executive another political black eye when they staged the "bungkalan" or cultivation in a farming village currently under dispute, just several kilometers from the Aquino family owned Hacienda Luisita. In a bulletin type report sent to media, a copy of which was obtained by allvoices, the regional farmers’ group Alyansa ng mga Magbubukid sa Gitnang Luson (AMGL, Peasant Alliance in Central Luzon) lauded the successful “bungkalan” or cultivation in Brgy. Balingcanaway, Tarlac City led by members of Alyansa ng Magbubukid sa Tarlac (AMT).
In AMGL report, the cultivation was led by farmers whose lands are guarded by armed security by real estate firm St. Tropez Holdings Corp. who is claiming ownership of the 63-hectare productive agricultural lands near the interchange of Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway (SCTEX) and Tarlac-Nueva Ecija national road, adjacent to Brgy. Cut-cut of Hacienda Luisita.
The farmers’ contingent reached to near 100 as they were supported by farmers from Hacienda Luisita as opposed to only about 20 armed guards. “We congratulate the farmers for their successful bungkalan as these guards have been on the land since last year, disrupting their farmwork, resulting to their loss of income,” said Joseph Canlas, Chairperson of AMGL who also joined the farmers’ contingent.
“The guards were helpless as we overwhelmed them with our numbers, the Hacienda Luisita farmers belonging to AMBALA supported the cultivation, they also helped in lending the handtractors,” Canlas added. Prior to this, the armed guards employed by St. Tropez, blocked irrigation canals resulting to damaging of crops and harassed farmers attending to their crops. The presence of the armed guards resulted to significant loss of income and debt.
The disputed lands are being claimed by St. Tropez Holdings Corp., controlled by Martin Lorenzo of Pancake House Group and Macondray and former finance undersecretary Gabriel Singson, Jr.. Singson is also the son of former Central Bank governor Gabriel Singson, Sr. The firm deployed armed guards as since July of last year, fenced the 63-hectares of lands, prompting the farmers to file cases of forcible entry.
The court decided in favor of the farmers but the firm defied the order compelling the farmers to dismantle the fences on November 29. St. Tropez base their claim to a land title named to their corporate secretary Atty. Janette Peña and corporate lawyer Atty. Bob Guinto. Peña is also with Lorenzo in Pancake House Group while Guinto is with NMGRA law firm. But the farmers said that their title was illegal as it could be traced to a certain Teresita Cruz, who was an administrator of sugarcane production during the 1970s who the Dept. of Agrarian Reform (DAR) had no legal claim as the lands are under the Republic Act 1400 or Land Reform Code of 1955.
“This is an issue of determination, St. Tropez deployed armed guards illegally, thus, the farmers have no other option but the combined strength with other farmers to actually till their land,” Canlas said. AMGL also said that the Provincial Agrarian Reform Office (PARO) of Tarlac have contributed to this problem as they have not protected the rights of farmers allowing land speculators such as St. Tropez to suddenly claim lands. “We are aware that more speculators, developers and land grabbers would claim lands in Tarlac as a result of the SCTEX, anticipating the would-be surge of market value of lands. With this kind of situation, the farmers all have their fellow farmers to protect their rights,” Canlas said. P 2.7 million toll collections.
Meanwhile, the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) urged the Toll Regulatory Board (TRB) to order the family of President Aquino to refund motorists or turn into a “farmers’ trust fund” an estimated P2.7 million in the 17-day illegal exaction of fees by the Cojuangcos for the access road in Hacienda Luisita linking the MacArthur Highway and the Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway (SCTEx).
The KMP made the call after the TRB on Thursday issued a cease and desist orderaddressed to all entities whose names appear on tickets issued to motorists and to companies known to have built the San Miguel access road or owned or maintained it to make sure it gets to proper recipients.
“What about the more than P2.7 million they illegally exacted from motorists and resident-farmers? Ganun na lang ba ‘yun? Dapat ibalik ito ng mga Cojuangco,” says KMP secretary general Danilo Ramos adding: “The Cojuangcos have no authority to collect fees from motorists because they do not own the land.”
He said that “at the very least, the Cojuangcos have illegally exacted an estimated P2.7 million at an average of 4,000 vehicles a day that passed through the access road from May 17 to June 2 at P20 per vehicle.”
Cars are charged P20 while vans and small delivery trucks pay P50 for using the road. Buses, trucks and other heavy vehicles are charged P100. Citing reports from Luisita farmers, Ramos said “resident-farmers who own vehicles are being required by the HLI management to pay the P20 service fee, and submit the plate number, copy of vehicle registration, and a payment of P50.00 for a so-called sticker or gate pass for the vehicle.”
“The TRB and the President must order his relatives to return the multi-million-peso extortion money they got from motorists and farmer-residents,” Ramos said.
The peasant leader said the TRB could serve as a trustee of the P2.7 million for motorists and farmer-residents who have kept their tickets or “the money could serve as a trust fund for Luisita farmers who are the legitimate and rightful owners of the land on the basis of the Presidential Agrarian Reform Council decision.”
The TRB said that “JCSI-BICSI” that appears in the “passthru tickets” stands for Jose Cojuangco & Sons Inc.-Brown International Corporate Services Inc.—indicating that the Cojuangco family has a hand in the toll collection. #