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MANILA, Philippines – Farmers from across Luzon arrived ahead of other sectoral groups early morning Monday, July 27, in Quezon City to protest delays in land distribution under the Aquino government.
President Benigno Aquino III is set to deliver his 6th and last State of the Nation Address (SONA) Monday afternoon. An annual tradition, a multi-sectoral protest is expected on Commonwealth Avenue, Quezon City, which is near the Batasan Pambansa where the main SONA activity will be held.
Among the farmers present as early as 7:30 am were those tilling land within Hacienda Luisita, the most famous case study of the country’s land reform law.
As of August 2014, more than 700,000 hectares of agricultural land are yet to be awarded to farmer-beneficiaries, according to government data.
Farmworker-beneficiaries of the vast agricultural land cried foul anew over alleged harassment done against them by the Tarlac Development Corporation (TADECO) over the years.
Aquino belongs to the Cojuangco-Aquino clan owning TADECO. The Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law was signed by his mother, the late President Corazon “Cory” Cojuangco Aquino.
Among the protesters, 58-year-old Florina Sibayan said her grandparents and parents have all farmed in the Hacienda but was only given less than a hectare of land after all those years.
Sibayan said the 30 kaban (sacks) of rice harvested from the 0.66 hectare of land now in her family’s name could only yield P500 in profit.
Their house was among those affected by TADECO’s bulldozing activities petitioned before the Supreme Court on January 16, 2014.
Sibayan was also shot at during the massacre of picketing farmers at Hacienda Luisita in 2004. The 2004 violence saw 7 dead and 121 others injured.
Farmers’ groups have claimed the deaths and injuries to have stemmed from the violent dispersal of a farmers union’s strike done by elements of the military and police.
Wanting to be heard
Tarlac farmer Lydia Caponga, 58, came with a dozen others who are Martial Law victims like her.
Caponga said none of them has benefited so far from the Martial Law compensation law, with all their applications pending since May 2013.
Caponga questioned the delay in ensuring justice for victims during the two-decade dictatorship.
Remigio dela Cruz, 59, also a Martial Law victim, recalled that he was arrested under the Marcos regime for being accused of supporting then Senator Benigno Aquino II. The late senator is President Aquino’s father, seen as a martyr whose death helped sparked the 1986 EDSA People Power Revolution.
On social media, some netizens considered the protest as an act by the “kulang sa pansin” (desperate to be noticed) as they urged protesters to use their time more productively.
Sibaya, who has been a veteran in street demonstrations like many of the groups present on Monday morning, said the sentiments are misplaced.
She said harassment of “poor” people like her is widespread. “Pinapalayas sa lupa… Kumo mahirap lang sila, dadahasin nila… Ang binibigyan ng importansya ng rehimeng Aquino, kapitalista,” she said.
([We are] driven out of lands… Just because they are poor, violence is used against them… What the Aquino regime values is the capitalist.)
“Hindi kami natatakot na magsalita dahil totoo naman itong nagyari na ito (We are not afraid to speak because this really happened),” she added, recalling the shots fired at her during the Luisita massacre. – Rappler.com