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Reviving the Cojuangcos’ ‘zombie azucarera’ means slow death for Luisita workers, farmers


It’s like killing people all over again just to revive a ‘zombie.’

This is how the Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA) described the reported revitalization of the decrepit Central Azucarera de Tarlac (CAT) whose management was replaced more than a year ago when businessman Martin Lorenzo purportedly acquired the sugar mill in 2014.

The CAT, located within the 6,453-hectare Hacienda Luisita estate, then acquired shares of other Aquino-Cojuangco firms such as the Luisita Realty Corp. (LRC) and Luisita Industrial Park Co. (LIPCO) through the CAT Resource & Asset Holdings, Inc. or CRAHI. The Cojuangcos remain owners of the sugar mill through Fernando Cojuangco, President and Chief Operating Officer of CAT. Cojuangco is the son of the late Don Pedro Cojuangco and first cousin of President BS Aquino.

According to business reports, Lorenzo has already taught the Cojuangcos a lesson or two in “efficiency” after only a year at the CAT. UMA decried that these steps – such as massive retrenchment and contractualization in the mill, coupled with landgrabbing and the wholesale swindle of supposed agrarian reform beneficiaries – are tantamount to the slow death of farmers and laborers in Hacienda Luisita.

According to UMA Acting Chair John Milton Lozande, the Lorenzos and the Cojuangcos are cutting costs at the sugar mill not just by shedding the traditional perks enjoyed by hacienderos. “They are still raking in profits primarily through the blood and sweat of workers and peasants, who are now doubly exploited through contractualization and the rampant aryendo or leaseback scheme.”

In May this year, almost 700 workers of the CAT were retrenched and forced to sign “voluntary retirement” papers. Those to be rehired this milling season starting November will now work as contractuals. Because of fake land distribution implemented in 2013, supposed beneficiaries who used to work for HLI are now back to being cane cutters employed in the old “kapatas” (middleman) and “pakyaw” (piece-rate) system.

Lozande pointed out that Aquino cronies such as ‘casino queen’ Virginia Torres also facilitate the reconcentration of supposed land reform areas back to the control of this zombie azucarera.

“Even President Aquino admits to this scandalous anomaly just to defend Torres from sugar smuggling accusations,” said Lozande. Only last month, Anakpawis Partylist Rep. Fernando Hicap exposed Torres’s hand in the coercion and swindling of Luisita farmworker-beneficiaries through the illicit aryendo or leaseback scheme.

Lozande also said that the planned sale by the Lorenzos of land assests under CAT and LRC is a ploy for the Cojuangco-Aquinos to evade payment of its standing debt to farmworkers. The Cojuangco-Aquino owned Hacienda Luisita Inc. (HLI), established in 1989 to implement the stock distribution option (SDO) land reform scheme, still owes farmworkers a total of Php 1.33 billion.

In its April 24, 2012 landmark decision for total land distribution in Luisita, the Supreme Court (SC) also ordered the audit of the Php 1.33 billion farmworkers share in the sale of 580 hectares of the company’s land assets to RCBC, Centennary Holdings, and the SCTEX area traversing Hacienda Luisita.

“Disposing of the CAT and LRC’s land assets will muddle the audit, as we believe that these are still part of HLI’s assets where farmers have a legitimate share. Morally and historically, the Cojuangco-Aquinos do not deserve a single centavo, they should no longer own even a single inch of land in Luisita,” said Lozande.

These assets include 505 hectares that are purportedly no longer required for cane milling and sugar refinery operations, and that Lorenzo plans to sell and/or develop out of the self-declared 628-hectare refinery complex.

Other than that, the SC ordered the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR), to cover other agricultural lands originally held by another Cojuangco-Aquino firm, the Tarlac Development Corporation or TADECO. In February 2014, the LRC applied to the Philippine Economic Zone Authority (PEZA) to declare a 260.4-hectare property located in Barangay Balete, Luisita for inclusion to the existing Luisita Industrial Park – Special Economic Zone.

The area, where scores of farmers were injured as Aquino-Cojuangco goons bulldozed crops and burned huts in 2013, is purported TADECO property. The PEZA’s ultimate go-signal for the LRC’s application must be approved by President BS Aquino himself.

“BS Aquino’s alter-egos at the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the DAR have so far failed to act positively on any of the complaints and petitions filed by the Alyansa ng Manggagawang Bukid sa Asyenda Luisita (AMBALA), in behalf of the victims and affected farmers. What do we expect from this haciendero’s tuwad na daan (crooked path)? More than a decade after the massacre, they are still imposing slow death to the farmers,” said Lozande. AMBALA is UMA’s local affiliate in Hacienda Luisita.

“The hacienderos only wish, but the people of Hacienda Luisita will not simply drop dead in the face of blatant swindling and exploitation. Workers and peasants will continue to fight for genuine land reform and national industrialization,” said Lozande.

UMA supports the enactment of House Bill 252 or the Genuine Agrarian Reform Bill (GARB) filed by Anakpawis Partylist in Congress.


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