Luisita Farm Workers Slam Aquino’s Consistent Defence Of Virgie Torres
Farm workers dared President Benigno Aquino III today, Thursday, September 24, to immediately order the filing of appropriate charges against ex-LTO Chief Virginia Torres, instead of functioning like an unabashed apologist for his embattled Kabarilan.
Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA) Deputy Secretary General Ranmil Echanis criticized Aquino for issuing statements echoing Torres’s sentiments and propping her “pitiful predicament” as she came under fire for alleged sugar smuggling and influence-peddling at the Bureau of Customs (BOC).
Aquino was quoted in news reports as saying that Torres “is considering suing her detractors” because “accusations against her were too much for her to take.”
“Why is Aquino now acting as Virgie Torres’ spokesperson and legal adviser? When Aquino said that the supposed ‘wrongdoers’ must be punished, is the haciendero president referring to the persons besmirching his loyal Kabarilan’s reputation?” Echanis asked.
“We support the calls to dig deeper into this sugar smuggling issue. Malacanang and Aquino have so far engaged only in cover-ups and damage control. The thousands of affected sugar workers and supposed land reform beneficiaries in Hacienda Luisita want to see firm action and decisiveness from government in handling influential persons like Torres,” said Echanis.
According to reports from UMA’s local affliate, the Alyansa ng mga Manggagawang Bukid sa Asyenda Luisita or AMBALA, Torres has effective control over at least 200 hectares in Barangay Mapalacsiao alone, land supposedly distributed to farmworker-beneficiaries in Hacienda Luisita.
Torres has ostensibly utilized armed goons and local police in des-troying farmers’ rice and vegetable plots to ensure continued planting of cane sugar for the Aquino-Cojuangcos’s Hacienda Luisita, Inc. (HLI) and Central Azucarera de Tarlac (CAT). The Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) is also complicit in fresh human rights violations against supposed beneficiaries in Hacienda Luisita.
Victims of violent eviction in Hacienda Luisita have already filed complaints against Torres before the Department of Justice (DOJ) last year. Hundreds of other complaints were also filed against Aquino’s relatives led by Presidential sister Ma. Elena “Ballsy” Aquino-Cruz by farmers supported by AMBALA and their legal counsel Atty. Jobert Pahilga of the Sentro para sa Tunay na Repormang Agraryo (SENTRA).
Among the farmers’ complaints against Torres, her hired goons and conniving local police officers are related to at least four (4) separate bulldozing incidents in Sityo Maligaya, Barangay Mapalacsiao, Hacienda Luisita. Some incidents were caught on camera and uploaded by witnesses and the Luisita Watch network on social media. One video (https://youtu.be/UvkH32Deo2U) emphasizes the role of local DAR officials in facilitating the destruction of farmers’ crops.
Complaints of malicious mischief, grave threats and grave coercion against Torres, et al were filed in October 2014 at the DOJ with docket number XVI-INV-14J-00352.
Despite several attempts by AMBALA and UMA to follow-up on the farm workers’ complaints, the DOJ has yet to act or conduct any serious investigation. (Gi Estrada)
SUGAR WORKERS SUPPORT COLMENARES
Sugar workers expressed support for House Resoluton No. 2413 (HR 2413) directing the House Committee on Agriculture and Food to conduct an inquiry on rampant sugar smuggling, filed today, Thursday, September 24, by Representative Neri J. Colmenares of Bayan Muna Partylist amid the ‘Sugargate’ scandal at the Bureau of Customs (BoC) involving Presidential Kabarilan Virginia Torres.
“We back Rep. Colmenares’s initiative to investigate sugar smuggling, long considered by industry stakeholders and even ordinary sugar workers as a serious matter that government should immediately address,” said John Milton Lozande, Acting Chairperson of the national agriworkers federation Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA).
Lozande is also the secretary-general of the National Federation of Sugar Workers (NFSW), UMA’s local affiliate in Negros Island, where more than half of the country’s total sugar output is produced.
Colmenares’s house resolution noted that the reported series of smuggling happened and swelled into an alarming level in such a short period of time, amounting to an estimated total of Php 140 million during the second quarter of 2015, not including “what may have passed through BoC monitoring, as admitted by BoC Commissioner Alberto Lina.”
UMA observed that sugar smuggling became even more pronounced despite purported “tighter government policy” through the implementation of the recently-enacted Sugar Industry Development Act (SIDA) of 2015.
“Even before President Aquino signed the SIDA last April, UMA had already forewarned concerned Congress and Senate committees that come 2015 sugar smuggling in the country would have certainly gotten out of hand. We have long expressed this point in several of our position papers precisely criticizing the rationale behind the sugar bills which eventually became the SIDA,” said Lozande.
UMA decried government’s flawed framework in “protecting the sugar industry” and its complete lack of will to challenge the very evil that has made the current crisis imminent – liberalization in agriculture.
UMA stated that “only through the repudiation of unequal neoliberal trade and economic treaties such as the GATT-WTO and the Asean Free Trade Agreement (AFTA), and the implementation of genuine land reform can the crisis in the sugar industry and in the whole sector of agriculture can decisively be resolved.”
“If (government) cannot be relied upon to pursue the aforementioned solutions, it should at least try to look into the alleged cases of corruption (in) irregularly hefty bonuses of executives in the Sugar Regulatory Administration (SRA), or into the reported anomalies in the implementation of the SAP (Social Amelioration Program for sugar workers)”
“It is very timely as well for the Senate to probe the extent of sugar smuggling in the country and set up ways to preempt its escalation especially come 2015 when sugar tariffs for imported sugar, as dictated by rapacious global neoliberal policies, finally becomes zero rated.”
Colmenares’s HR 2413 noted that “the sale of illegally imported sugar shall only be possible if the SRA approves for the auction of the confiscated shipments of sugar.” UMA pointed out that with reported corruption at the SRA, the public must also be made aware of how government utilizes proceeds from smuggled sugar.
“If these shipments are not returned to Thailand, burned, destroyed or throw out to sea, then sugar workers would not want to hear that funds culled from these illegal shipments have disappeared in thin air.
UMA also agrees with Anakpawis Partylist Rep. Fernando Hicap, who said that “Torres will not be brave enough to pull this daring stunt (at the BoC) without any connection in high level government offices.” (Gi Estrada)/MP