MANILA, Philippines - Farm workers belonging to the Alyansa ng mga Manggagawang Bukid sa Asyenda Luisita (AMBALA) staged a picket in front of the gate of the Department of Justice(DOJ) this morning to call on Justice Secretary Leila De Lima to help them in their efforts to have military detachments allegedly situated inside the 6,435-hectare sugar estate owed by the family of President Benigno Aquino III transferred to other locations.
The small group, composed of some 20 individuals, submitted a one-page letter to De Lima seeking an audience with her to discuss the issue. They claimed martial law still rules in Hacienda Luisita, due to the presence of the military.
"[F]or the past years the military had augmented its military presence by recruiting Civilian Auxiliary Force Geographical Unit or CAFGU among the community. Their mere presence are causing fear and intimidation not only among the ranks of the farm workers but also in the populace of Hacienda Luisita," the letter read.
"Humihingi kami ng tulong sa kanya kung papaano palalayasin ang militar sa Hacienda Luisita," AMBALA chairman Felix Nakpil said.
AMBALA said the sugar estate's 10 barangays are "sprawling of soldiers" which is an unwelcome site for farm workers following the bloody 2004 riot at a picket line that left 12 picketing farmers and 2 children dead.
"We cannot go run about with our daily organization and economic activities because of them snooping around asking our local leaders' whereabouts," AMBALA flyers distributed during the picket read.
Speaking to reporters at the picket line, AMBALA vice-chairman Lito Bais said: "Kailan lang, yung security guard dun sa pagmamay-ari umano ng RCBC(Rizal Commercial Banking Corp.), yung bakod namin na binabakod para makapagtanim kami, tuwing gabi, binubunot nila. Security guard sila sa umaga, sa gabi, naka-camouflage na."
RCBC bought 500 hectares of Hacienda Luisita lands for commercial use. The Supreme Court(SC) ruled that RCBC was an innocent purchaser that bought the land in good faith and unaware of the agrarian dispute between the hacienda's management and farm workers.
Militant farmers group Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura(UMA) supported the AMBALA picket. UMA said the military should keep away from the sugar estate because it is under legal dispute.
"May detachment po sila sa bawat barangay at may malaki silang kampo sa loob ng hacienda. May phobia na po kami sa kanila," UMA secretary-general Rodel Mesa said.
During their picket, the farm workers also called on the Aquino administration to create an investigating body to look into the culpability of the military in the November 2004 riot that led to the deaths of their colleagues.