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Land rights champions face more charges from Tarlac prosecutors

Government prosecutors are not letting up on Hacienda Tinang farmers and their supporters, charging them with another criminal complaint in Tarlac City on Wednesday.

While appearing at a preliminary investigation for human trafficking charges connected with their violent dispersal and arrest by the Concepcion, Tarlac police last June 9, government prosecutors bared that nine of the defendants are also facing child exploitation charges.

“In today’s preliminary investigation in Tarlac, we received a copy of the records of the new trumped up charge of child exploitation against the artists, journalist and peasant rights advocates who were illegally arrested, along with the agrarian reform beneficiaries of Hacienda Tinang during the conduct of their peaceful ceremonial bungkalan of the land that rightfully belongs to them,” their lawyer Kathy Panguban said.

The latest complaint apparently stems from reports that several minors were present during the arrest and were among those hauled to the Concepcion municipal police station on the day of the incident.

The minors, reportedly children of the supporters present that day, were released to relatives and guardians within hours of the mass arrest.

Nine of the 83 were charged with the latest criminal complaint.

The new charge brings to seven the total number of complaints filed against them by the Tarlac Provincial Prosecutor’s Office, including alleged malicious mischief, illegal assembly, obstruction of justice, disobedience to authority, usurpation of real rights in property and human trafficking.

The Capas (Tarlac) Municipal Trial Court has already dismissed the malicious mischief and illegal assembly charges against all of the 83 farmers and supporters arrested and jailed for four days.

The Department of Agrarian Reform has also finally released its list of legitimate Hacienda Tinang land beneficiaries, including all members of the members of Malayang Kilusan ng Samahang Magsasaka ng Tinang (Makisama-Tinang) arrested on June 9.

“It pains to see how the justice system is being weaponized against what is right and just for the farmers who had long been deprived of the enjoyment of their property. Even those who support their legitimate calls are now being dragged to answer such fabricated criminal charges,” Panguban said.

Fiscal asked to inhibit

The Unyon ng Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA) said in a separate statement that Wednesday’s preliminary investigation did not proceed pending the resolution of an earlier motion that the entire Tarlac Provincial Prosecutor’s Office inhibit itself from conducting the human trafficking compliant it filed against six of the defendants.

A similar motion was filed last July 8 by all of the 83 defendants pertaining to the conduct of the preliminary investigation into the charges of disobedience to authority, obstruction of justice, and usurpation of real rights in property.

The defendants also asked the courts for a transfer of venue of the investigations, expressing concern about the perceived influence Concepcion mayor Noel Villanueva over the proceedings.

Villanueva, then District Representative, was present during the arrest of the defendants and was recorded to have ordered the police to round up the farmers and their supporters who were having lunch at the time.

It was while waiting for the resolution of their motion to inhibit last Wednesday did Prosecutor Mila Mae Montefalco-Ikeshita bared the “never-before-seen official complaint” for the charge of child exploitation, UMA said in its statement.

The complaint had been filed by Concepcion police against nine peasant advocates, including the six facing accusations of human trafficking.

Five of those charged who agreed to be identified in this report are Donna Miranda, Angelo Suarez, Pia Montalban, Joyce Godoy, and Allan Bonifacio.

Farmers to file complaints themselves

UMA spokesperson John Milton Lozande that the string of charges against the farmers and their supporters is “plain and vulgar judicial harassment.”

“If anyone exploited any children in the case of the Tinang 83, it was the Concepcion police. It was they, after all, who violently accosted farmers and supporters in an illegal mass arrest in Tinang last June 9, stirring fear among minors present, then redtagged them to justify the round-up,” Lozande said.

Lozande also revealed that members of the Tinang 83 will themselves file administrative cases against the Concepcion police, particularly its officer-in-charge Lt. Col. Reynold Macabitas, at the Office of the Ombudsman in Quezon City on Monday, July 25.

Lozande’s group said their complaint will be the first in a series that the police may expect from them. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Workers complain of ‘slave-like’ labor in Isabela’s sugar cane fields

It is not only in the sugar cane fields of Negros and Panay islands that slave-like labor exists, a farmers’ group revealed.

The Unyon ng Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA) said it exists as well in two of Northern Philippines’ biggest provinces: Isabela and Cagayan.

Hundreds of UMA-Sta. Maria (Isabela) members filed a complaint before the Isabela Provincial Council protesting “slave-like” wages and working conditions in local sugar-cane plantations.

In a statement, the group also condemned lack of benefits and mass lay-offs after several sugar-cane plantations entered into a bio-ethanol production contract with Green Future Innovations-Ecofuel Land Development, Inc. (GFII-Ecofuel) based in San Mariano, Isabela.

The farm workers are employed by sugar-cane plantations located in Sta. Maria and neighboring Sto. Tomas towns in the said province as well as in some municipalities in southern Cagayan province.

UMA said its sugar cane farm workers only receive daily wages of P16-50 for weeding, P40-70 for planting, P150 for fertilizing, P94 for taking care of sugar cane plants and P225-250 for harvesting.

Other kinds of work receive equally meager pay, it added.

More or less 1,695 hectares of sugar cane plantations have entered into the contract with GFII-Ecofuel, UMA said.

Sta. Maria Mayor Hilario Pagauitan owns majority of the plantations in the agreement with 685 hectares, the group said.

UMA said its members previously received P200 daily for various kinds of work in Pagauitan’s sugar cane fields.

The group said the mayor promised to increase his workers’ wages after the 2019 local elections.

The farm workers’ wages have drastically dropped after the elections however as Pagauitan entered into an agreement with the bio-ethanol company, the group said.

“When the contract with GFII-Ecofuel started, 287 workers immediately lost their jobs while the few who were retained are being forced to work in far places,” UMA said in Filipino.

Who is Pagauitan?

Mayor Pagauitan is a currently in his second term as Sta. Maria mayor.

Locally famous for his rags-to-riches story, the local executive earned his fortune as a mining engineer in Indonesia before owning his own mines in Mindanao.

Pagauitan and wife Sophia control East Coast Mineral Resources Co. with rights to a mining prospect in northeast Mindanao.

The mayor is also reported to be very close to entering into a shares-for-asset swap deal with 78 percent of Vulcan Industrial and Mining Corp. owned by the Ramoses of the National Bookstore fame.

He is believed to be worth billions of pesos.

He also owns several other properties, including the famous Agripino Resort. He also owns a helicopter he uses to commute between his hometown and other parts of the country.

Despite his incredible wealth, however, UMA said farm hands in Isabela, including Pagauitan’s, receive the lowest wages among sugar cane hands in the country.

The local executive has yet to respond to Kodao’s request for comment.

Below minimum wage

It in last wage order issued on February 4, 2020, the Cagayan Valley Regional Tripartite Wage and Productivity Board mandated a minimum daily wage of P345.

Section 2 of Wage Order No. RTWPB-02-20 also mandated that the minimum wage should be paid to all workers regardless of their position, designation or employment status.

Section 5 of the order as well said that workers should be paid the minimum wage for eight hours of work or P43.125 per hour for less than eight hours of work per day.

UMA said work in sugar cane fields is very difficult, forcing workers to spend very little time with their families.

“If the workers suffer accidents out in the fields, they receive no medical help. They have no pay slips, sick leave, vacation leave, overtime pay, maternity benefits, death benefits, holiday pay, 13th month pay, SSS benefits and Philhealth,” UMA said.

The workers are not also given personal protective equipment such as boots, gloves, and others, the group added.

“Because of their starvation wages, the workers are hard up in feeding their families and sending their children to school, neglected their health and live abjectly. Their conditions are only made worse by the coronavirus pandemic and the ongoing quarantines,” UMA said.

Isabela and Cagayan are currently among the pandemic hotspots in the country.

UMA said it hopes its litany of complaints will be given due attention in their dialogue with the provincial council today. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

9 farmers massacred in Sagay City

Nine farmers, including two minors and four women, were massacred in Sagay City, Negros Occidental last night, Saturday.

In a flash report posted this morning, Aksyon Radyo Bacolod said nine were killed in a strafing incident at Hacienda Nene, Purok Fire Tree, Barangay Bulanon, Sagay City.

The victims were National Federation of Sugar Workers (NFSW) members who were staying in a hut at the place of the incident.

Four others survived the attack, NFSW said.

Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) and the Unyon ng Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA) in an urgent alert said the victims were engaged in a Land Cultivation Area (bungkalan) activity.

Sagay chief of police, Chief Inspector Robert Mansueto, said the killings happened around 9:30 p.m.

He added that some of the victims were from different villages while the rest were from Bulanon but not from the hamlet where the plantation is located.

NFSW immediately accused “goons,” a euphemism for private security personnel, and members of the Revolutionary Proletarian Army, an armed band that had broken away from the communist New People’s Army for the incident in Hacienda Nene, Barangay Bulanon, Sagay City, close to 90 kilometers from here.

Sagay Mayor Alfredo Maranon III, son of Negros Occidental Governor Alfredo Maranon Jr., expressed “shock” and condemned the killings “in the strongest possible terms” as he ordered police to “do everything possible to bring justice to the nine families that lost loved ones” and promised to extend all possible assistance to the victims’ kin.

NFSW officer Danilo Tabora confirmed that some 75 members of the union had occupied the land Saturday morning, a day after the harvest on the sugarcane plantation, as part of a “bungkalan” campaign to till lands covered by the government’s agrarian reform program.

Mayor Maranon confirmed that the land was under a “notice of coverage” from the Department of Agrarian Reform but explained that this meant this was still an early stage in the process of distributing the land to beneficiaries.

Sagay police named the victims as:

• Eglicerio Villegas, 36 – Bulanon

• Angelipe Arsenal – Bulanon

• Alias Pater – Barangay Plaridel

• Dodong Laurencio – Plaridel

• Morena Mendoza (female) – Bulanon

• Neknek Dumaguit, female

• Bingbing Bantigue – Plaridel

• Joemarie Ughayon Jr., 17 – Barangay Rafaela Barrera

• Marchtel Sumicad, 17 – Bulanon

According to sources, Hacienda Nene is owned by a certain Atty. Barbara Tolentino and is leased by Bacolod City-based Conpinco Trading.

Reporting from the funeral parlor where the victims had been taken, radio station dyHB said most of them bore headshots and at least three of the bodies were burned.

“We hold the military and the [Rodrigo] Duterte government responsible for said incident,” KMP and UMA said in its alert.

Other sources from the KMP said that they have been other killings at Hacienda Nene prior to the incident.

In December 21, 2017, NFSW-Sagay City chairperson Flora A. Jemola died from 13 stab wounds inflicted by suspected Civilian Auxiliary Force Geographical Unit (CAFGU) forces under the 12th IB of the Philippine Army.

Last February 21, Ronald Manlanat, a member of a local chapter of NFSW in Hacienda Joefred, Barangay General Luna, Sagay City, was killed by suspected CAFGU members who emptied an entire M16 magazine onto his head.

The NFSW told Kodao that a fact-finding mission is being held at the moment.

The massacre happened as farmers’ groups led by the KMP are commemorating Peasant Month this October in a series of nationally-coordinated activities dubbed October Resistance. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Activist among this year’s Sampung Ulirang Nakatatanda awardee

A farmers’ rights activist and former political detainee was named among the honorees of this year’s Sampung Ulirang Nakatatanda (SUN) Award in a ceremony held at the Social Security System’s Ramon Magsaysay Hall in Quezon City Sunday.

Angelina Ipong, thrice detained and heavily tortured for her activism, was honored by the Coalition of Services of the Elderly, Inc. for her lifelong work with agricultural workers for just wages and democratic rights.

Ipong  was honored along with Eduardo Albonia (79, Bulacan), Bandayan Danwata (79, Davao Occidental), Erlinda Libor (76, Pampanga), Ceilia Ruiz (80, Baguio City), Anita Castor (64, Capiz), Esperanza Escoton (72, Quezon City), Josef Feliciano (71, Navotas City), Salvacion Garcia (64, Negros Occidental), and Leonita Labitag (73, Antipolo City).

In her acceptance speech, Ipong thanked her farmer father and the peasant sector.

Ipong accepting her Sampung Ulirang Nakatatanda 2017 award. (Contributed photo)

Sila ang nagmulat sa akin, sila ang nagbigay sa akin ng buhay. Kaya gusto kong ilaan ang nalalabi pang panahon ng aking buhay sa kanila,” Ipong said.

The 72 year-old mother of one said she spent majority of her adult life as an activist because of the injustices suffered by poor peasants.

Ang magsasaka ang lumilikha ng pagkain ng bansa pero sila ay gutom at lugmok sa kahirapan. Sila ang naglilinang ng lupa ngunit sila ang walang lupa,” Ipong said.

Pito sa sampung magsasaka ang walang lupa. Atrasadong agrikultura, walang pag-unlad sa kanayunan.  Hanggang kalian ba magpapatuloy itong ganitong kalagayan?” she asked.

Ipong, who currently works with the Unyon ng Manggagawa sa Agrikultura, was first detained in 1992 and again in November 1995.

She was abducted by the Armed Forces of the Philippines in 2005 when she was accused to be a top commander of the New People’s Army in Northern Mindanao and slapped with rebellion, double murder, double attempted murder and arson charges.

At the start of her third and longest detention, Ipong was blindfolded for days, tortured and sexually-harassed.  She was also kept in isolation for 14 days.

Ipong acting out her torture for the One Billion Rising-Philippines video. (R. Villanueva)

Activist even in jail

In jail, Ipong said she could not stand the filth in their cells and bathrooms. She organized and led the cleaning brigades and soon managed to bring down cases of skin and other diseases among inmates.

“I asked my friends who visited me to bring me soap, brushes, paint and other supplies so we can clean the jail facility,” Ipong told Kodao in an earlier interview.

She soon trained her sights on her fellow inmates’ nutrition who were forced to eat nothing but poor prison food “unfit for humans.”

“I initiated dialogues with the wardens who eventually gave in to my incessant demands to be allowed to start an organic gardening program inside the jail compound,” she said.

In no time, the garden Ipong started supplemented their prison food with fresh and organically-grown vegetables daily.

Naku, ang mga guwardiya nga, nauuna pang mamitas ng mga gulay namin kasi masarap, fresh, organic at libre,” she said.

Ipong also started a livelihood program to allow fellow inmates to earn and help their families.

When she was arbitrarily transferred in the middle of the night to another jail facility, she started all over and again succeeded until the courts dismissed all charges against her and set free in 2011.

Ipong co-authored the book on human rights A Red Rose for Andrea: Writings from Prison (Quezon City: Southern Voices Printing Press) a year after release.

Secret to a long and productive life

In her speech, Ipong said the secret to her long, productive and eventful life is keeping healthy, staying young at heart and commitment to serving the people.

Ipong said she still asks to this day how she can contribute to improving the lives of poor peasants in the Philippines.

Paano natin matuturuan ang magsasaka na umasa sa sarili, gampanan ang tungkulin na paunlarin ang atrasadong agrikultura at krudong teknolohiya, maging ng buong  kanayunan?” she asked in her speech.

Ipong said the youth should be encouraged to contribute in the development of the countryside.

Gusto kong patuloy na magturo lalo na sa mga kabataan. Hinihikayat at hinahamon ko kayo—lalo na ang young agriculturists, engineers, technicians, farmers, scientists, teachers, artists—na tumulong tayo,” she said.

“Share your time, talent and especially your commitment. We need you.  Let us join our hands with the farmers in their struggle for food, for land, for scientific development and for justice,” she added. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)