MANILA, Philippines-Striking Hacienda Luisita farm workers on Tuesday pressed Department of National Defense (DND) Secretary Voltaire Gazmin to scrap a reported deal between Malacanang and the US military command in charge of the RP-US Balikatan exercises to hold joint military exercises inside the 6,453 hectare sugar estate in Tarlac province. 

In a press conference held at the national office of Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) Hacienda Luisita based groups—Unyon ng Mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA), United Luisita Workers Union (ULWU) and Alyansa ng Mga Manggagawang Bukid sa Asyenda Luisita (Ambala)  also asked President Benigno Simeon Aquino III if there is truth to report that the disputed 6,453 hectare sugar estate would be the next venue of the scheduled Balikatan exercises between the US troops and Filipino soldiers this month under VFA.  

The inquiry on the alleged plan to hold Balikatan exercises were also echoed by KMP and staunch ally-- the left-leaning fisherfolk alliance Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya). Both groups said President Aquino, the HLI management and the defense department are all obliged to explain and clarify the supposed hosting of the RP-US joint military exercises.

“President Aquino, his defense chief and the HLI management are obliged to tell the truth and nothing but the truth about the joint military exercises,” UMA acting President Lito Bais said in a statement. 

Bais learned last week that as of March 2010, a councilor of Barangay Bantog inside Hacienda Luisita were informed that US troops will set up an evacuation center and will conduct medical mission inside the 6,453 hectare sugar estate by this month. Last August, US military officials also went to Hacienda Luisita to talk to barangay officials and informed village about plans to put up evacuation centers and conduct medical and humanitarian mission inside Hacienda Luisita. 

The ULWU leader also received reports that vehicles marked with RP-US Balikatan Exercises were seen last month conducting “surveys”, which farm workers and Luisita residents said were related to the plans of US troops to put up military infrastructure and evacuation centers inside the sprawling sugar estate. 

“The American officials in charge of the Balikatan exercises will exploit the usual humanitarian and medical mission activities as entry point for joint military exercises, counter-insurgency operations and US instigated war on terror. In fact, the conduct of medical and civic actions is clearly stipulated in the US guideline on counter-insurgency drafted in January 2009,” said Bais.  

For his part, KMP secretary general Danilo Ramos said the US government and Aquino administration see Hacienda Luisita as a hotbed of communist insurgency in the country because of the ongoing agrarian dispute between the family of President Aquino and the more than 10,000 farm worker beneficiaries.

“When there is smoke, there is fire. We believe Washington D.C and the Manila government under the helm of the Aquino administration are hell bent to pursue RP-US joint military exercises inside Luisita in the name of counter-insurgency and stop the rising tide of protest and heightened militancy against the sinister agenda of the Cojuangco-Aquino clan to continuously deny land rights of farm workers and dispose the 6,453 hectare sugar lands to the highest bidders among HLI’s corporate clients and investors,” said Ramos.  

The KMP will lead a delegation of farm workers in Hacienda Luisita who will compose the lobby team. The team will seek an audience with senators and discuss with them the alleged plan of Malacanang to allow US troops to conduct Balikatan exercises inside the sugar plantation and the reported sightings of US troops inside Luisita and the immediate vicinity surrounding the 6,453-hectare sugar estate.

The KMP and other militant groups are planning to stage a 50-vehicle caravan from the National Capital Region to Hacienda Luisita on Nov.16, the 6th year anniversary of the infamous Hacienda Luisita massacre.

 Organizers led by KMP, the umbrella alliance Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) and UMA said aside from demanding immediate free distribution of Luisita lands to farm worker beneficiaries and justice to victims of the massacre, the protesters on board of 50 vehicles will also call for the junking of proposed Balikatan exercises inside Luisita. # 

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