PANAP calls to stop persecution and harassment of its partners fighting land grabs


Florida “Ka Pong” Sibayan leading the protest action in Hacienda Luisita on November 15. (Photo: Kodao Productions)

PAN Asia Pacific (PANAP) today asked Philippine authorities to stop the political persecution and harassment of peasants and activists from its partner organizations working on land issues after two separate cases occurred in the country last November 15. In central Philippines, a woman peasant leader was arrested by the local police and remains in detention after being charged with two counts of alleged physical assault and disobedience to persons of authority. In Mindanao, two Filipino peasant leaders and nine Cambodian, Indonesian and Thai farmers and land rights advocates participating in an exchange program were held by the police for no apparent reason on their way to visit farming communities.

Florida “Ka Pong” Sibayan, chairperson of the Alyansa ng Manggagawang Bukid sa Asyenda Luisita or Alliance of Agricultural Workers in Hacienda Luisita (AMBALA), and her group were issuing an “eviction notice” to the Rizal Commercial Banking Corporation (RCBC) which occupies the remaining 500 hectares of land left undistributed to farmworker beneficiaries of government’s agrarian reform program when the Ka Pong was “snatched” by the police. The activity was part of the farmers’ and farmworkers’ protests marking the 13th anniversary of the Hacienda Luisita massacre.

The 500 hectares of land was part of the more than 4,915 Hacienda Luisita sugar estate originally controlled by the local landlord Cojuangco-Aquino family. It was placed under agrarian reform program for distribution to around 6,296 farmworkers during the Marcos administration. In 1996, the Cojuangco-Aquino family entered into a deal with the RCBC to convert the land into an industrial and commercial area, without the consent of the agrarian reform beneficiaries. On February 23 this year, the country’s Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) under the leadership of its former Secretary and prominent peasant leader Rafael Mariano, issued a revocation order nullifying the said land conversion deal.

Meanwhile, Antonio Flores, secretary general of the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas or Philippine Peasant Movement (KMP), and Ireneo Udarbe, secretary general of KMP’s regional chapter in northern Mindanao, together with nine farmers and land rights activists from Cambodia, Indonesia, and Thailand, were stopped and held by the local police in the town of Opol in Misamis Oriental province. The group was on their way to a farming community as part of the “Farmer to Farmer Exchange Program” organized by the Asian Peasant Coalition (APC) from November 13 to 17 in Mindanao.

PANAP met Ka Pong during a solidarity activity in Hacienda Luisita organized by its partner organizations Unyon ng Manggagawa sa Agrikultura Pilipinasor Union of Agricultural Workers Philippines (UMA) and the KMP earlier this year, and was inspired by her unwavering dedication in asserting the people’s right to own and control their land despite the several threats and harassment she has been subjected to in the past years. This is the fourth time that she has been arrested on trumped up charges after leading activities related to the distribution of land in the sugar estate. Ka Pong was arrested on the eve of the commemoration of the Hacienda Luisita massacre, which on November 16, 2004 claimed the lives of seven farmers and their supporters who were holding a strike to demand, among others, the distribution of land by the Hacienda Luisita management.She is expected to be released on bail, according to UMA.

The farmers and activists from Cambodia, Indonesia and Thailand, on the other hand, are also from partner organizations of PANAP that are actively involved in its regional campaign to oppose land and resource grabbing and promote the human rights of poor and oppressed rural communities in Asia Pacific. They are in the Philippines to learn from the experiences of Filipino farmers and indigenous people fighting for land ownership and control such as those in Opol who were able to win back their 520-hectare land converted into an oil palm plantation by a private company. These farmers and activists are facing similar land and resource grabbing and repression in their own countries and the incident they endured in the Philippines illustrates how widespread human rights violations are against those fighting for land, PANAP noted.

PANAP said that the use of illegal arrest and detention, trumped up charges, and criminalization of legitimate protests is a blatant disregard of human rights and must be condemned and stopped. The group added that the incidents in the Philippines underscore the need and urgency for greater and stronger solidarity among the rural people and their supporters and advocates to make accountable the perpetrators of human rights violations and land grabbing. #

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