Manila, Philippines- Sugar workers and landless farmers in Negros identified with the National Federation of Sugar Workers in Negros (NFSW-Negros) and Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) today challenged President Benigno Simeon Aquino III to make a black and white statement declaring the 11 haciendas in the island province own by his uncle Eduardo “Danding” Cojuangco Jr. shall be immediately distributed for free to landless peasants all over Negros. 

The peasant protesters staged a mini Maskara Festival rally at the foot of Mendiola Bridge, and were led by KMP-Negros spokesperson Greg Ratin and Rebecca Bucabal, NFSW- chairperson in Escalante City  who took turns in berating President Aquino for protecting the land monopoly interest of his uncle in Negros province. 

“It appears to us President Aquino is the principal protector of his uncle’s 11 haciendas in Negros Island. As far as the President is concerned, Danding is an untouchable feudal aristocrat not only in Negros but all over the country’s 7,100 islands and he is de facto puppet of his uncle,” the two Negros farmer leaders said in a joint statement. 

Ratin recalled, during the dark years of Marcos dictatorship, Danding as the no.1 crony of former President Ferdinand Marcos managed to accumulate 5,000 hectares of land in the island and his landed estate continue to expand and it is now pegged at more than 20,000 hectares of prime agricultural lands which is about two thirds of Negros Island’s total agricultural lands. 

“We travel all the way down here from Negros to challenge Mr. Aquino for him to turn the tables around and state an open declaration that will subject his uncle’s 11 haciendas in the island under free land distribution to benefit tens of thousands of landless peasants in the island,” the KMP-Negros spokesman added. 

Bucabal, a sugar worker from Escalante City said Danding had openly supported the presidential bid of Aquino in the May 2010 elections and part of the exchange deal she said would be Aquino’s hands off policy on the 11 haciendas of Danding in Negros Island. 

“In Negros, sugar workers and landless farmers in Cojuangco lands knew that such exchange deal between the nephew and the uncle exists and still in effect in the name of common feudal interest and political agenda. The deal is that Noynoy won’t touch Danding lands and would even expand his uncle’s land holdings under his watch.  This is the real score between Aquino and Cojuangco,” she added. 

“If Noynoy has balls and great amount of courage for landless farmers, we will call for the urgent and unconditional free distribution of Cojuangco lands in Negros, nothing more, nothing less,” the NFSW-Negros leader added. 

The KMP-Negros and NFSW-Negros chapter of Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA) also pressed President Aquino to stop big landlords, local powerful officials and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) from criminalizing agrarian cases arising from ongoing land disputes across Negros province. 

The groups said criminal charges are filed against landless farmers in defense of their rights to land. According to data gathered by KMP-Negros and NFSW-Negros, about 256 sugar workers and farmers are facing criminal charges in different municipal, city and regional trial courts in the island. The groups said 56 of these have standing warrants, and 18 sugar workers and farmers are currently in jail for criminal offenses which stemmed from purely agrarian issues. 

The KMP-Negros and NFSW-Negros said the criminalization of agrarian disputes is part of the military’s over-all counter-insurgency game plan known as Oplan Bantay Laya. They said, aside from extrajudicial killings, the military has been very active in filing criminal charges against leaders of militant rural organizations in Negros. 

They said the latest victim of military’s fetish for filing trumped up charges in the name of Oplan Bantay Laya is fisherfolk leader Editho Namion Jr.- secretary general of the activist fisherfolk group Pamalakaya-Negros. Namion was implicated in the attack of New People’s Army inside Victorias Milling Corporation (VMC) in Victorias City on Oct. 5. 

Despite the attestation made by the chief of police of Escalante City that he saw the Pamalakaya leader attending a farmer’s rally dialogue with a landlord in Escalante City on land dispute in the city on the same day and same time the attack was staged against the sugar mill.  

Likewise, the group slammed Aquino over his failure to disband death squads in Negros Island trained and supported by the Philippine Army in the island province. The KMP and NFSW leaders said they leaders and organizers continue to be targets of extra judicial killings by “death squads”. 

Since 2001, the victims of extra-judicial killings coming from our ranks have already reached 45, the last four of them, as mentioned earlier, coming in the month of October which highly suggests that there is a renewed wave of escalating the political killings in Negros Island. The latest victim of politically motivated assassination in Negros province is Rene Quirante who was gunned down by alleged military assassins last month. 

Quirante, is the leader of Kaugmaon peasant organization, the provincial chapter of KMP in Negros Oriental.  #

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