Achieving Happiness

April 15, 2011

Political detainee poet Ericson Acosta tortured, almost executed by military

Filed under: Uncategorized — Ina Alleco @ 4:07 am

He was not holding a grenade or any explosive at the time of his arrest and he was subjected to torture while in the custody of the military.

These were some of the assertions made by poet and writer Ericson Acosta in counter-affidavit submitted to the National Prosecution Service in Calbayog City Samar on April 12, 2011.

In the presence of the Assistant provincial Prosecutor Agustin M. Avalon and his own lawyer Julian F. Oliva of the National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL), Acosta affirmed that he was a freelance journalist doing research on human rights violations and the protection of the environment in Samar for the Alliance of Concerned Samareños (ACOS) and the peasant group Kapununguan Han Gudti Nga Parag-Uma Ha Weste Han Samar (Kapawa.) He said that during his arrest and in the course of his continued detention, his constitutional and human rights were violated.

“I was arrested without warrant while not committing any crime or doing anything illegal; I not informed of the reason for my arrest at the time of my arrest. I was also denied the right to counsel; denied a phone call and prevented from contacting my family or my lawyer and subjected to prolonged interrogation for 44 hours,” he said.

Acosta said that during tactical interrogation, he was physically and psychologically tortured; deprived of sleep, threatened, intimidated, coerced and forced to admit membership in the New People’s Army (NPA).

“The evidence against me, ‘the grenade’, was planted; the complaint against me was filed in court only after 72 hours and 30 minutes after my arrest; and I was detained in a military camp, which is not of civilian jurisdiction.

Researching human rights violations in Samar

Acosta was arrested On February 13, 2011 in Barangay Bay‐ang, San Jorge, Samar. In reports it released to the media, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) said that Acosta was a verified member of the NPA and that he attempted to resist arrest by trying to lob a grenade against arresting soldiers.

In his sworn statement, Acosta denied both allegations.

“I had just completed my research task the previous day. I left Barangay Bay‐ang, San Jorge, Samar at a little past 9 o’ clock in the morning, and headed for what the barrio folk call their ‘port’ – an unmarked quay by the river which was less than an hour’s walk via mountain trail, where a pump boat was scheduled to pick me up at the said place and bring me to San Jorge town proper. I was joined by Vicente Dacles, the Barangay Secretary, and several other residents of Bay‐ang who were all going to town as well for some business,” he said.

Acosta said that Dacles was at the head of their group, followed closely by himself, while the rest, who were mostly women and children, fell behind by at least a hundred meters.

Around 10am and when they were some 200 meters away from their destination, they caught sight of a platoon of soldiers who motioned them (Dacles and Acosta) to stop. Acosta said that he immediately noticed that the soldiers were resting and cooking by the left side of the trail.

“ One of the soldiers approached and asked where we came from and where we were going. We answered them. The soldier then inquired if we knew where they could fetch water. Dacles turned around and pointed to an area somewhere, and gave the soldier brief directions on how to get there. He even added that if it became difficult to locate, the soldier could just ask the rest of our company who were lagging behind. The soldier then told us to carry on, and so we did,” he said.

Barely a minute had passed after Acosta and the rest of his companions began walking when another team of soldiers accosted them. Dacles answered their questions and told them that they had already been questioned by the first group of soldiers. When they turned to go, the soldier again ordered us to halt. He was motioned to the mini‐knapsack that Acosta carried and asked him what was in it.

“ Before I could even reply, the soldier, in brisk movements, had un‐slung the knapsack from my shoulders and had zipped it open. It was my computer notebook and some other complimentary gadgets he found inside my mini‐knapsack,” Acosta said.

The soldier was reportedly quite surprised by what he saw. “You’re in the mountains but you have a laptop?” the soldier said.

The soldier and his team then led Acosta and his companions back to where the main body of the platoon was. There the soldiers took turns body-searching Acosta. They emptied his pockets and his sling pouch; they checked his sides and lifted the hem of his shirt up to his neck looking for concealed weapons. They did not find any.

Then one of the soldiers handed Acosta his computer and told him to turn it on.

“I told them that the batteries had already drained out. I pressed the power button to show them that the computer won’t boot. But another soldier scolded me for pressing the button saying that I might have consciously and slyly triggered the computer t self‐destruct. Then the soldiers, five to seven of them at a time, started to harangue me almost in unison, with raised voices and intermittent invectives and threats. They accused him of being an NPA and that he was probably a ranking official and that’s why he had a laptop. They yelled at him and ordered him to be careful with his movements or he would be sorry and threatened him with physical harm.

“I tried to explain to them that I was doing research in the area but whatever I said was drowned it seemed by their intense excitement to badger and harass me. This went on for several minutes until our other companions from Bay‐ang finally arrived at the scene,” he went on.

A soldier asked the women of the group if they knew me. The women said yes and that they were supposed to go to town with me. Another soldier butted in and shouted and berated the group, “You’re all liars!,” said the soldier, “This man is an NPA!”

An officer finally intervened. He introduced himself as the commanding officer of the platoon. He told Acosta’s companions that they were all free anyway to go to where they were supposed to go, and the soldiers will only take with them the Tagalog (Acosta).

When the women asked where Acosta would be taken, the soldiers merely ordered them to leave. Dacles and the rest of the Bay‐ang group were compelled to leave Acosta with the soldiers and went straight to the port.

An order to kill Acosta

After his arrest, the soldiers led by a 2nd Lieutenant Jacob Madarang told Acosta that he would be taken to the headquarters of the Charlie Company of the 34th Infantry Batallion in Barangay Blanca Aurora. They walked all the way through stretches of rocky and muddy terrain, and during the journey, Acosta herd Madarang inform his superiors that they had arrested him.

It was then that he realized that Madarang was being ordered to kill him.

“ I immediately got the drift of the said conversation. It seemed that Madarang was being told not to bring me anymore to the Company headquarters, but just to ‘get rid’ of me instead. Madarang on the other hand was sort of lobbying or politely insisting that it was wiser to bring me to headquarters for interrogation as he strongly felt that that they could extract from me some valuable information. After the phone call, Madarang told his men that they would take me to the Charlie Company HQ in Blanca. He also commanded a soldier to tie me by the waist before we marched again,’ he said.

After an hour and a half, Madarang ordered one of his men to give Acosta his jacket.

“At first I thought of it as some simple gesture of humanitarian concern on the part of the young lieutenant. As soon however as we entered a village center (this was the barangay immediately before Barangay Blanca), I found out what the jacket was really all about. The soldier behind me who was also the one holding my leash suddenly placed his right arm upon my shoulders. The act made it appear that this soldier and me were casually walking like pals as the platoon passed through the dimly lit steets of the village. The platoon had to make sure that no one in the barrio saw the unit with a captive,” he said.

The soldiers and Acosta arrived at the military headquarters around 9:00 pm and Acosta was turned over to higher military authorities. He was told that he should be grateful that they let him live because he could have been shot and killed instead and the account reported as the result of an encounter with rebels.

For the next few hours, Acosta was subjected to interrogation. He reminded the military of his rights and said that his arrest, detention and interrogation were all beyond the bounds set by law.

“I said that if they are in any way contemplating on charging me with something, then they should just bring me to the nearest police detachment and that I would urgently be needing the assistance of my lawyer,” he said. The military dismissed his requests .

By Acosta’s account, the interrogation by at least eight military persons who took turns began 10:30 p.m. on the day of his arrest and ended only on 6:00 pm of February 15. In the intervening 44 hours, he was only allowed two hours of sleep and only because his interrogators themselves already got too tired and sleepy.

The Grenade

On February 15, Acosta was taken to the San Jorge Municipal Police Headquarters in an SUV. It was there that the soldiers produced a grenade. They proceeded to report to the PNP that the grenade was Acosta’s and that he tried to attack soldiers with it when he was arrested.

After the PNP, the soldiers took Acosta to Gandara Hospital to be examined by a medico‐legal practitioner.

On February 16 at 7:30 a.m., Acosta was made to go through a blotter procedure. The police made him fill up some forms, took his fingerprints and mug shots. After 30 minutes, military officials led by a colonel arrived and took Acosta to the Calbayog City Hall of Justice . He was handcuffed.

During the entire time when he was being charged, no one among the military explained to him what he was being accused of. When he ventured to ask, he was shouted at.

A police official asked the police if it was legally possiblefor Acosta to be handed back to the military under some special custodial arrangements. It was then that Acosta made sure to speak out.

“I made sure that my voice was loud and clear for all the employees in that big office to hear. I stood up and said that the idea was highly irregular and definitely illegal. I then drew their attention towards the colonel and his men by pointing at their group while saying that these men in civilian clothes were the soldiers and officers who illegally arrested me and are now my complainants, and I would never allow them to take me into custody,” he said.

One of the employees told Lucero that I could not be brought back to the military and the best alternative was to bring me to the sub‐provincial jail. Acosta then insisted on being allowed to make a phone call to his family in Metro Manila, saying that the San Jorge PNP had previously denied him the right to do so. The same employee told Lucero to take Acosta to the Public Attorney’s Office (PAO).

Acosta was able to call his mother, but it was a short phone call and then he was taken to the sub‐provincial jail where he was remitted. He later learned that a Complaint for Illegal Possession of Explosives was filed against me before the Regional Trial Court of Calbayog City at 10:30 a.m. of February 16, 2011.

Admiral Work and Advocacy for the Peasantry

The peasant organization Kapawa Western Samar has in the meantime vouched for Acosta, denouncing his arrest and calling for his immediate release.The group said that that the military arbitrarily arrested Acosta and filed against baseless charges of illegal possession of explosives.

Filomino Tabon-Tabon, KAPAWA Chairman, said that farmers attest to his Acosta’s admirable work and advocacy for the peasantry. He said that Acosta volunteered for work with their organization in San Jorge as well as other towns in Samar province.

“He has helped Kapawa with our campaign against hunger, malnutrition, poverty and militarization here in Western Samar. One of his contributions to Kapawa is his research regarding large-scale mining in the province. He wrote articles about the situation of farmers in the province that contributed to the success of the farmers’ rally in Catbalogan, which marked the occasion of Peasant Month and ‘World Foodless Day’ last October, 2010,” Tabon-Tabon said in a statement.

The organization said that they are certain that Acosta did not carry guns or explosives.

“What the soldiers took from him were his personal belongings, including the computer or laptop he uses for his work. Acosta was illegally arrested while he was doing research on the human rights situation in Barangay Bay-ang and other adjacent villages in the towns of Catbalogan, San Jose de Buan, Motiong and Jiabong. Barangay Bay-ang is just one of the many barrios in Samar that fall prey to widespread military operations and abuses ever since the time of Jovito Palparan and up until the current Oplan Bayanihan of the Aquino regime,” it said.

It went on to say that military operations still torment the countryside and that there is repression, oppression and the military abuses against human rights persist under the government of President Benigno Aquino and that farmers remain in extreme poverty, and suffer much from natural disasters.

“We do not feel that the Aquino regime is indeed sincere when he says he will free the peasants of this burden, as the government clearly lacks programs favorable to impoverished farmers. While he fails to implement a nationalist, pro-peasant program for land reform, he supports militarization in the guise of ‘bayanihan,’ which in truth continues to cause serious detriment to the livelihood of farmers in the countryside. Aquino maintains the policy of repression against perceived “enemies of the state,” as in the arrest of peasant leader Dario Tomada of SAGUPA-Sinirangan Bisayas in July of 2010. Despite promises of justice and change, the number of political prisoners continue to increase under the Aquino administration,” Kapawa said.

The group said that it fully supports calls for Acosta’s immediate and unconditional release.

“We believe that it is not a crime to help and serve the needy and neglected – it is never wrong for one to advocate the welfare of the marginalized peasant sector,” it said.

Legal defense fund

Acosta’s friends and supporters have already set up a legal defense fund and is currently calling on all human rights supporters to contribute.

In their letter being circulated in various social networking sites and posted in the University of the Philippines Alumni website, they stated personal details regarding Acosta.

“Ericson was a former editor of the Philippine Collegian in UP, a former chair of the student cultural group Alay Sining, and a former chair of the campus alliance STAND-UP. He is a writer, journalist, poet, thespian, singer and songwriter. His works remain relevant on and off campus. Since his UP days, Ericson has worked closely with the poor and oppressed. We his friends, together with his family and human rights groups, are working for his immediate release and for the dropping of all the fabricated charges made against him.”

“We appeal for your support for the legal defense fund which we have put up for him. The funds raised will go to Ericson’s legal defense and medical needs. There are the inherent difficulties faced by the family who are based in Metro Manila while Ericson is detained in Samar. Through your help, we can see to it that Ericson will be released and be reunited with his family and the people he serves,” they said.

Supporters may send their contributions to the account under Isaias Acosta, Banco de Oro, The Block SM City North branch, with Savings Account number 0251065464. For international donations, they may be sent to Isaias Acosta, the same branch, account number 00-0251065464, Routing number 021000089, Swiftcode: BNORPHMM.

Ericson Acosta's parents Isaias and Liwayway Acosta

April 6, 2011

40 Days After Deaths of Eton Workers, Families Reel from Loss

Filed under: Uncategorized — Ina Alleco @ 1:00 pm

Three-year old John Kirby said he knows what happened to his father . “Nahulog po siya,” (“He fell.”), he answered slightly lisping. Then he pointed to a building under construction. “Dyan siya nalaglag (That’s where he fell).”

Two-year old John Kirby's father is never returning home

John Birby’s father is Benbon Cristobal, 24, one of the 10 construction workers who were killed when a gondola crashed at the Eton Residences condominium project in Makati City last January 27.

Benbon, Joel Avecilla, William Bañez, , Jeffrey Diocado, Jaykie Legada, Kevin Mabunga, Celso Mabuting, Tisoy Perez, Vicente Piñion and Michael Tatlonghari were killed after their gondola dropped from the 32nd floor of the Lucio Tan-owned building. Only one worker Ruel Perez survived.

John Kirby’s mother and Benbo’s widow Lorraine Banzon, 22, said she has already explained to John Kirby why his father is never coming home.

“He said he understands but sometimes he still looks for his father,“ she said simply, in Filipino.

John Kirby, Lorraine and the loved ones and friends of the 10 victims were joined by support groups led by the Institute for Occupational Health, Safety and Development (IOHSAD) and the Ecumenical Institute for Labor Education and Research (EILER) in marking the 40th day of mourning after the accident in a candle-lighting ceremony at the site at Gallardo Street corner Paseo de Roxas in the heart of Ayala, Makati last March 4.

The network of supporters of the relatives also included the Center for Trade Union and Human Rights (CTUHR), Task Force Urban Conscientization-AMRSP, and Task Force for Organizing of Church Personnel (TFOP-AMRSP).

In her conversations with supporters, Lorraine said her husband used to work even on Sundays so he could bring home more money. She remembers a time when Benbon worked seven days a week for almost four months. He had been an employee of Eton Properties’ subcontractor Arlo Aluminum for nearly four years, but Benbon was nowhere near to being given regular worker status.

“Now that he is gone, I do not know how I will be able to raise our son. I’m not employed,“ she said.

Denied the Right to Pursue Justice

Now the families of the victims face another challenge in their quest for justice.

According to news reports, the Makati City Prosecutor’s Office has already recommended the dismissal of the cases lodged against five construction executives of project previously charged for the deaths of the 10 workers.

Assistant Prosecutor Wilhelmina Go-Macaraeg alleged that the families of the workers have filed affidavits of desistance indicating their loss of interest in pursuing the case. In reports to the media, Macaraeg said the families gave notarized affidavits of desistance stating that they are no longer interested in pursuing the case against the persons charged in the case.

The Philippine National Police had previously filed a case of reckless imprudence resulting in multiple homicide and one count of serious physical injury against Arlo Aluminum Glass Corp. executives Eduardo Pinon, project manager Engineer Guillermo Torres, project in-charge Jason Rosette, and Ian Lester Agpoon, and engineer Sonny Romero of Jose Aliling Construction Management Corp.

The charges were filed after the police found negligence on the part of the construction executives that resulted in the deaths of the workers.

Anna Leah Escresa, EILER’s executive director, however, was quick to point out that the members of the families were deceived, forced to sign an affidavit they did not understand, a legal document that was not explained to them clearly.

Escresa said tthe families have received a lump sum of P150,000 ( $3,458) from the company, but the aggrieved relatives are saying that money is not enough. For one, the amount is too small, and the company has already said that its “assistance” ends after the cash has been given.

“You cannot put a price tag on lives,” Escresa said. “What the families want is justice for their relatives and guarantees that what happened in the Eton construction site would not happen again. We cannot just let Eton Properties and its contractors and subcontractors escape blame and accountability as families continue to mourn.”

Escresa pointed out that the victim’s families must be fully indemnified and not given just minimal financial assistance and scholarships. She asserted that the families did not sign anything willingly, and that they did not waive their rights to pursue justice against the company and its officials.

“Those responsible for the accident took more than ten 10 lives and permanently injured another. The victims and the lone survivor who still suffers painful physical injuries have families. The accident wrought extensive damage on the livelihood and well-being of workers’ families, and the effect is not measurable in the sense that it won’t only last a year, but a lifetime. Families should receive socio-psycho counseling and not just compensation – token cash,” she said.

“This is an issue of social justice, and an issue that has criminal implications. The families should not be denied their right to pursue justice and to demand it,” she said.

Most of the victims were very young and had they not been killed, could have lived long and productive lives.

Kevin Mabunga, for instance, was only 17 years old. His grandmother Paterna, said Kevin’s employment at the Eton site was his first and his last.

“He wanted to work even through he knew it was dangerous working in construction because he wanted to earn enough money to finish his studies and be able to help the family,“ she said in Filipino.

In the meantime, Escresa said the families and the support groups of the Eton 11 are determined to push the Department of Labor and Employment to look into the lingering labor and safety code violations in the Eton construction site. According to reports, even after the accident, construction workers in the Eton Residences project have still not been provided with necessary safety equipment. The company has also not complied with laws on minimum wages and the provision of legally-mandated benefits.

A Tangle of Subcontracting Schemes

Iohsad executive director Noel Colina shared that interviews with the families of the victims revealed that all the workers in the Eton Ayala site were all sub-contracted. Eton Properties hired Jose Aliling Construction Management Inc. as the construction manager, with CE Construction serving as the general contractor. Arlo Aluminum is the window contractor, which, in turn, secured the services of E.M. Pinon. It was Pinon which directly hired some of the victims.

“The construction workers of Eton are trapped in a complicated tangle of employment subcontracting arrangements wherein the main company, Eton, is able to weasel out of full responsibility for the workers,” said Colina.

The 11 workers who fell – like the rest of the more than 700 other workers of the Eton Residences site — did not receive wages mandated by law. An eight- hour work-shift in the National Capital Region should be compensated with at least P 404 ($9.31) daily wage, but most construction workers receive only P 260 ($6), with some receiving even less.

Escresa said big construction investors, like Lucio Tan-owned Eton, normally tap a web of subcontractors that employ contractual workers for specific parts of a construction project to minimize on labor cost.

“Subcontractors generally pay lower wages, and compromise health and safety standards to minimize costs.

Hong Kong-based Asia Monitor Resource Center in 2008 released a report saying that 1.79 million of the total 1.8 million workers in the Philippine construction industry are “contractuals” or project-based earning low wages.

Justice and Criminal Liability

In the aftermath of the accident, the Philippine National Police (PNP) filed criminal charges against officials of Eton’s sub-contractor. Based on findings, eight gondolas, including the one that fell causing the death of the 10 victims, were put up without a permit from Makati City Hall.

The city’s Department of Engineering and Public Works said its last inspection of the Eton Residence worksite was on October 28, 2010. The gondolas were reportedly installed after. The gondolas, including the one that fell, had a rated load of 630 kilos with a maximum capacity of two persons.

Makati Mayor Jejomar Erwin Binay had previously ordered a stop to the construction of the condominium building until investigations were completed and the safety of the workers were assured. Binay also issued work stoppage orders on some 35 medium and high-rise buildings in the city that were found to be violating provisions of the National Building Code and the Philippine Mechanical Code.

Escresa, however, said the filing of criminal charges early this month against the officials of Eton Properties’ subcontractors should not be an excuse to soften the pursuit of justice for the killed workers.

“We wonder why Eton Properties itself wasn’t included in the criminal case and only those officials of smaller firms were charged. We fear that those really accountable would get away scot-free,” she said.

“Justice must be accorded to the victims of the tragedy. A thorough investigation must be conducted by the authorities, one that will objectively look into the accountability of all firms involved – not just small subcontractors but also Eton Properties, Inc. itself.”

Worst Violations in the Construction Sector

The worst labor rights violations are daily committed in the country’s construction sector. Workers have no job security, they receive low wages, denied social security, have no protection against dismissals, receive no training, and are given only very limited or no health and safety at work- briefings. They are also not allowed to form or join unions.

The labor department has a standing order (Order no. 13-1998) which states the requirements for a Construction Safety and Health Program which companies must enforce in their construction sites before local government units give them building permits.

A construction permit or building permit is a permit required in most jurisdictions for new construction of buildings and is being issued by District Engineering Offices.

Included in the order is a stipulation that the constructor must provide for a full-time officer assigned to the general construction safety and health of the project. The constructor must also provide a “competent” emergency health personnel within the worksite complemented by adequate medical supplies, equipment and facilities.

A Construction Safety and Health Committee is also a requirement. It must be consisted of the project manager, General Construction Safety and Health Officer, safety representatives from each subcontractor, doctors/nurses, and workers’ representatives serving as its members.

The order also require constructors to furnish workers with protective equipment for eyes, face, hands, feet, lifeline, safety belt/harness, protective shields and barriers at his own expense.

Despite the existence of the order, many construction firms do not implement health and safety standards down to the letter.

Colina cites the case of another construction worker Rolando Arias, a co-worker of the 11 victims of the accident.

“Arias was brave enough to file a complaint at the DOLE; but when Eton Properties caught wind of his complaint , Arias found himself sacked,” he said.

Colina said that in the aftermath of the Eton tragedy, the labor department should clamp down on all erring companies and ensure their follow safety standards. He said the DOLE should scrap its Order 57-04 which allows companies to conduct self-assessment.

The DOLE itself has assessed its own self-assessment program, admitting that the number of labor inspectors have shrunk, from around 240 to less than 200 in the last five years. The number of establishments inspected has also gone down, from 60,000 in 2003, to only 6,000 last year.

In its 2009 occupational health and safety report, Iohsad recorded 26 deaths from the construction sector, with the mining sector, also part of the hazardous sector, on top with 84 deaths. “The DoLE should prioritize hiring new workplace inspectors to supplement the existing number of inspectors the Occupational Health and Safety Center (OHSC) has at its disposal. They should prioritize the hazardous sectors and ensure that at least every 6 months this workplaces undergo mandatory inspections,” said Colina.

“We are also pushing for the immediate ban on the use of asbestos in the Philippines. Many in the construction sector are exposed to the deadly dust it produces, which causes cancer. Companies should also be required by law to re-absorb their injured workers as soon as they become fit. We also hope that our legislators would start to discuss the possibility of legislating a law on industrial manslaughter.”#

April 4, 2011

San Roque Quezon City residents arrested as they defend their homes

Filed under: Uncategorized — Ina Alleco @ 7:06 am

(Report for

Urban poor residents hold rally against demolitions in their communities in the metro

Residents of the Sitio San Roque II in North Triangle in Quezon City continue to face harassment from the National Housing Authority (NHA).

Last March 26, a security officer sent by the NHA threatened residents and fired a gun after residents asserted their rights against the deployment of armed guards in the community. Though no one was hurt, seven residents, including the community leader, were forced to consider themselves as having surrendered to police authorities when the security agent filed “alarm and scandal,” and “ illegal trespassing on government property” charges against them.

San Roque resident and September 23 president Mrs. Estrelita R. Bagasbas told that since the beginning of the month, security guards with long and short fire-arms have converted a partially-demolished chapel in the area into their headquarters. When questioned by the residents, the guards who initially numbering 30 then gradually reduced to 10 said that they were sent by the NHA.

September 23 Movement president Estrelita Bagasbas says the residents of Sitio San Roque will fight for their homes, however humble they are

“Of course we do not want armed security guards in our area; we have children, we want peace; the NHA should not have deployed guards in our community,” she said.

Residents grew increasingly wary and worried regarding the guards’ presence, so they mounted a campaign to evict the guards.

NHA Security Guard Fires Gun

On the morning of March 26, community residents along with their supporters from organizations Kalipunan ng Damayang Mahihirap (KADAMAY) and Anakbayan went to the guards’ “headquarters” and negotiated with the guards, politely but firmly asking them to vacate the premises and the community. When the guards refused, the residents calmly and carefully began to take the scant furniture and the guards’ personal belongings outside the partially destroyed structure.

The guards were reportedly nonplussed and unable to do anything because of the big number of residents and supporters who stood witness to the eviction. One of them, however, called their officer-in-charge, the security agent from the NHA Shaikram Abdulgar.

As the residents and their supporters went on with their impromptu program, singing songs and playing the guitar, Abdulgar arrived. The man was visibly angry, and immediately began berating the guards and the residents.

Kadamay secretary-general Bea Arellano related that she walked up to Abdulgar and tried to explain why he and the rest of his unit must leave, but the man merely continued shouting.

“I tried to explain to him that all their furniture, all their belongings were right there, all accounted for, but he kicked at his own table until it nearly broke. Later he accused the residents of destroying it,” she said.

Abdulgar reportedly began pushing the residents and their supporters, exhorting the other guards to do the same until a small skirmish erupted. As the residents defended themselves by pushing back, Abdulgar pulled out a gun and fired at the air.

“It was deafening. I was standing only some five feet away and my ears rang until I thought I would go deaf,” said Bagasbas.

Some of the residents ran to the nearby precinct, Masambong Precint 2. A few policemen then arrived and escorted Abdulgar to the station. Community residents including Bagasbas also went to the station and declared their intent to file charges.

“The police did not really arrest Abdulgar — he fired a gun in the presence of many witnesses and he could have killed one of us, but the police did not even handcuff him,” Bagasbas said. She added that the gun the security agent fired was not the same gun he surrendered.

“I do not know what kind of gun he fired, but I saw that it was a different gun that he gave to the police,” she said.

When they arrived at the station, Bagasbas said the police did not even make Abdulgar undergo a paraffin test to determine if he did fire a gun.

“We were able to secure the bullet shell from his gun and we gave it to the police, but they did not store it properly considering that it was evidence. They did not even take pictures of the scene of the shooting,” said the urban poor leader.

To make matters worse, when the residents said they were filing charges of illegal discharge of firearm, Bagasbas said he was also filing counter-charges; but he only gave his statement hours after the incident that took place around noon.

“He told the police that he was waiting for the NHA to send someone to vouch for him. When the man from the NHA arrived, that was when he said he was filing counter-charges against us. The police told us that since we were also being charged, we had to stay or else be considered as evading charges,” she said indignant.
Because it was a Saturday and not a workday, there was no way to process the legal documents necessary to file the charges and they all had to stay in the precinct overnight and until Monday morning when an assistant prosecutor from City Hall was able to process the papers.

“We were the ones who were threatened, the ones who were inconvenienced, but we were also the ones who were charged with violations that should have been settled at the level of village authorities,” said Bagasbas. When asked why she and the seven others did not leave the precinct, she said they did not want any legal complications to add to their problems.

“We want to be able to focus on our rights to remain in San Roque and to fight the demolition; if we left the precinct, our opponents might have had another weapon against us,” she said.

Early Monday morning as they all left the precinct, Bagasbas said, one of her companions heard Abdulgar issue a threat.

“He told him that he would kill all of us first before he leaves San Roque,” she said.

A Business District to Displace Thousands

On September 23, 2010, the NHA sent a demolition team to San Roque and began dismantling the houses of residents. The residents fought back and violence ensued. No one was killed but scores of residents were hurt and bloodied. The day after, President Benigno Aquino III directed Executive Secretary Paquito N. Ochoa Jr. to put on hold the relocation of thousands of residents in the area.

The NHA and the Ayala Corporation, is eyeing San Roque to become the location of a so-called ‘Q.C Central Business District’ or QCBD, the city’s version of the Makati Business District. The QCBD is a 256-hectare project that aims to attract global investment and business interests.

Former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo signed the executive order no. 670 “Rationalizing and Speeding Up the Development of the East and North Triangles, and the Veterans Memorial Area of Quezon City” in May 2007, and the NHA has been at the forefront of operations to drive away the residents in the areas targeted for the business hub project.

According to business reports, the joint venture between the Ayala Land Incorporated (ALI) and the NHA has an estimated cost of P22 billion ($506 million). Ali said in a disclosure to the Philippine Stock Exchange that the P22-billion budget includes future development costs and the current value of the property which ALI and the NHA will contribute as their respective equity share in the joint venture.

For their part, the group Kadamay say that over 6000 families will be rendered homeless if the project is carried out. Most of the residents are factory workers, small vendors and public utility drivers. They have been offered P1,000 to P6,000 ($23 to $138) by the NHA to demolish their own houses and move to Montalban, Rizal where the NHA has a resettlement project.

According to Kadamay’s Arellano, the residents who opted for relocation to Montalban reportedly regret their decision because the housing project there does not have electricity service and there is poor access to potable water. Plumbing is also said to be poor, and the area itself is prone to flooding.

In the meantime, the agency in charge remains determined to destroy the communities. Quite telling of its orientation is how it describes itself: though it’s a government agency. The NHA considers itself a business entity. In its website, its descriptions of how it was established is under the heading “corporate profile.”

Under EO 195 dated December 31, 1999, the NHA was ordered to focus on socialized housing supposedly through the development and implementation of a comprehensive housing development and resettlement program.

It was tasked to “fasttrack” the determination and development of government lands suitable for housing; and to “ ensure the sustainability of socialized housing funds by improving its collection efficiency, among others.”

“Whatever its declared mandate is, all we know is that the NHA is not providing good houses for the poor, but instead it’s demolishing communities for business interests,” said Bagasbas.

Defending their Humble Houses

Bagasbas, twice-widowed and a former overseas worker in Yemen, is 56 years old. She said she and her two teenaged daughters have nowhere else to go and they do not want to go to Montalban. After being elected president of the September 23 Movement which the San Roque residents formed after the brutal demolition operations last year, she has been unable to work and has instead relied on the support of neighbors and supporters.

According to her the members of the September 23 Movement are determined to put up a fight, and this is why they support her. She and other officials of the group mount continuing efforts to defend their right to live in San Roque and protect their homes.

“If the government wants us to leave, then it should first provide us with decent houses where there’s working electricity and water, and where we can find employment and income. We have been living all this time without the help of the government, but here it comes trying to drive us out of our houses, humble as they are. They say they want progress – well, we also want progress, but should progress come at the expense of the poor? What kind of progress is it that worsens the poverty of all the already neglected and oppressed?” she said.#

Hacienda Luisita farmworkers to Supreme Court: give us the land free and clear

Filed under: Uncategorized — Ina Alleco @ 6:54 am

Is the Supreme Court deliberately avoiding the farmworkers of Hacienda Luisita?

This was the question posed by Alyansa ng Magbubukid sa Gitnang Luzon (AMGL) chairman Joseph Canlas during a rally led by the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP), the United Luisita Workers Union (ULWU) and Unyon ng Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA) and AMGL in Mendiola recently.

The farmworkers had been holding weekly protest actions in front of the Supreme Court (SC) offices in Padre Faura st. in Manila since January to press the high court to issue the decision on their case against the management of the Hacienda Luisita regarding the revocation of the Stock Distribution Option (SDO).

Every week, too, the Supreme Court disappointed them.

The farmworkers have time and again said the Hacienda Luisita case and how it would be resolved would be a precedent to how other agrarian disputes in the region will be settled. The high court’s decision, they insist, is of grave significance to farmers.

“The SC cannot evade this issue forever; it must take a stand and issue a decision. We have been hearing rumors that the justices have already prepared a decision but have been holding back against announcing it because of pressure from Malacañang itself,” Canlas said.

The justices of the SC are scheduled to hold their en banc sessions every Tuesday, but this last Tuesday, they went to Baguio where the SC has offices. Canlas said it was too early for the SC justices to take a break as the Holy Week holiday is still weeks away.

“We have been regularly holding protest actions in front of the SC building these last three months and the justices are well aware of our demands. This week they must have intended to completely avoid us by going to Baguio,” Canlas said.

Peasant farmer Rodel Canlas, in the meantime, said that whatever the decision the SC makes on their case, the farmworkers of Hacienda Luisita would not stop their campaign. Canlas, UMA’s secretary-general, said they are well aware that the Cojuangco family would not give up easily.

“Let’s say that the SC decides in our favor, does that mean that we have won? No; it doesn’t work that way because we still have to contend with the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program extension with reforms (CARPer) scheme. Under the Carper, farmworkers will still have to prove the legitimacy of their claim to the land as rightful beneficiaries, and they will still have to pay the government for their land share,” he said.

“This is precisely why we are against Carper and why we demand that the SC issues a decision that completely exempts the Hacienda Luisita land dispute from Carper’s coverage. If the SC justices have any delicadeza and a true sense of justice, they will decide in our favor and order that the hacienda be turned over to us without strings attached and without having to go through Carper.”

Canlas said the SC should order the government and the Cojuangcos to give Hacienda Luisita to the farmers and farmworkers “free and clear.”

“This is the least the SC can and should do to remedy the decades of injustice the Cojuangcos have done to the farmers in Hacienda Luisita. The land must be returned to the farmers with no strings attached, no legal complications or further legal impediments,” he said.

No Choice But to Fight For Their Right to Own The Land

The farmworkers of Hacienda Luisita themselves say they would not back down from their fight for land and justice. It has been more than six years since the infamous massacre that claimed the lives of 14 farmworkers, and the survivors and their families are not about to let that blood sacrifice be wasted.

Ramon, 22, wants to continue fighting for the land his own parents also fought for

“My parents lived and died waiting for Hacienda Luisita to be given to the farmworkers, and they always said that we have no other choice but to fight for our rights,” said Ramon Reyes, farmer and tricycle-driver living in Brgy. Balete inside the hacienda.

Ramon may be young, but poverty has made him look older than his 22-years. He was barely 15 when the HLI security forces along with elements of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and local police strafed the ULWU picketline area on November 16, 2004. His parents Baby and Miguel were farmworkers and active members of the union. All three of them were in the picketline area when the bullets began falling like rain.

Now, with his both parents gone – his mother succumbed to complications of diabetes in 2005 and his father to possible liver failure in 2007 (“He drank a lot after mother died, and he was suffered great despair when the Cojuangcos said they will never give up Hacienda Luisita to the farmworkers”) – Miguel has taken it upon himself to continue what they believed in. Whenever he can, he joins the activities sponsored by the ULWU and the KMP.

“I learn much from being an activist. I learn about why my family is poor and why so many others are trapped in poverty. I know how injustice works, its victims and who the perpetrators are. I believe in fighting for the land my parents also fought for,” he said.

Mrs. Juana Santiago, 44, also believes in defending her family’s own claim to the land. She and her husband and children have been living in Brgy. Bantog since the early 80s, and she says that she has never seen any of the Cojuangcos.

“They say that they own the land, but we have never seen them work there. We have given our lives to make the land productive, but we were given crumbs and abuse in return,” she said.

Juana used to work in the sugar cane fields pulling out weeds to make sure that they do not stifle the sugar cane plants. She worked eight hours a day, three times a week and she received P9.50 ($0.22) for every day of work.

“I have heard it said that the Cojuangco-Aquinos have insisted that they were kind and humane to us farmworkers, but I never experienced any kindness from them. My own children were never able to finish high school, and we have lived a hand-to-mouth existence all these years. The benefits the Cojuangcos said that they gave us farmworkers never existed – we had to pay for everything, the schools, the health center services, housing,” she insisted.

Now, with the case still pending at the SC, Juana and her husband remain chained to poverty. Disregarding the Cojuangco’s declaration that they own the entire land, they have “sequestered” a little more than a hectare of it and planted it with rice and a few vegetables. Every four months they harvest rice and sell some of it, but in between harvests they survive on loans from relatives.

“The Leprosy of Money”

Supporters of the farmworkers of Hacienda Luisita and their struggle for land and justice have in the meantime been consistent in their commitment to help the farmworkers.

Last March 28, a mass was held at the Sta. Cruz Church in Binondo Manila specifically for the Hacienda Luisita farmers as well as all Filipino farmers who remain neglected by the government. The Promotion of Church People’s Response (PCPR) and the ecumenical community led by the National Council of Churches of the Philippines (NCCP) joined the farmworkers in the mass where 10 priests officiated. The main celebrant was Fr. Wilfredo Dulay, MJ and convenor of the National Clergy Discernment Group. The other celebrants were Fathers Antonio Cibuan, Gerson Afuea, Joseph Matipu, Eugene Canete, Efren Reyes, Oliver Estor, Efren de Guzman, Greg Obejas and Tito Maratas.

In his homily, Fr. Dulay said it was most unfortunate that those who have wealth are most unwilling to share what they have, and that they are “afflicted” with a kind of leprosy, “a leprosy caused by money.”

“The greed and injustice of those afflicted with ‘leprosy of money’ will be met by the most severe punishment . Exploiting the poor and the powerless will be punished with justice, and God’s justice is different from that of men: it is certain, it will not be denied,” he said.

Fr. Dulay expressed hope that the farmworkers of Hacienda Luisita would never lose hope and continue their struggle for land and justice. “May your hope be unlike the flickering lights of candles; may it be strong and may you all remain steadfast. We must not weaken in our struggle for justice and instead remain strong in our faith that the day will come that we will prevail and true change will happen,” he said.

PCPR secretary-general Nardy Sabino said it was very easy for the PCPR to convince the priests to offer mass for the farmworkers.

“They didn’t even require convincing, they merely asked when we wanted the mass to be held. They have been most supportive of the cause of the Hacienda Luisita farmworkers, the same way that they fully supported the campaign of the former Morong 43,” he said.

After the mass, the farmworkers and their supporters held a torch parade from Sta. Cruz Church to the cathedral of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente (IFI) along Taft Avenue fronting the Philippine General Hospital (PGH). In the IFI’s back parking lot where there was also a basketball court, the organization of poets ‘Kilometer 64, the Luisita Peasant and People’s Alliance held a cultural program.

The farmworkers slept there overnight and came daylight, they again took to the streets and marched toward Padre Faura to the SC building where they were told that the justices would be holding their en banc session in Baguio.

Undaunted, they proceeded to Mendiola, and there called out to Malacanang and its main resident President Benigno Aquino III to stop feigning objectivity and relinquish his family’s immoral and illegal claim to Hacienda Luisita.

“This is an issue of life and death for us, we will not be discouraged or ever dissuaded into giving up. Every Tuesday the justices would see the farmers of Hacienda Luisita hold protests in front the High Court building, and they would hear our demands for justice. As for President Aquino, he is fooling no one when he says that he is keeping his hands off this issue. He is the president, and it doesn’t matter if it’s his family that’s involved – if he is truly a man of justice and honor, he would have given up the hacienda long ago,” said ULWU’s Rodel Mesa.#