MANILA, Philippines – Anakpawis Rep. Fernando Hicap along with leaders of various militant groups, including a nun, were allegedly arrested by police on Tuesday while attending a fact-finding mission to look into the implementation of agrarian reform programs in Hacienda Luisita in Tarlac.
However, Senior Supt. Alfred Corpus, Tarlac provincial police director, disclaimed that they have arrested the group. Instead, they have only “invited them for questioning” based on a verbal complaint of Hacienda Luisita Inc. (HLI).
The fact-finding team went to the area as they are questioning the distribution process of land ownership certificates to the 6,212 farmer-beneficiaries by the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) which was designed by the Cojuangco-Aquino family.
For questioning only
Also allegedly “invited for questioning” were Hicap’s daughter Carly Mae; Danilo Ramos of Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP); Sister Patricia Fox of the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines; former political prisoners Ericson Acosta and his wife, Kerima Tariman; Rene Blazan, Hicap’s driver; Ronald Matthew Gustillo of the human rights group Karapatan; Florida Sibayan, acting chairperson of Alyansa ng Magbubukid sa Asyenda Luisita (AMBALA), together with Luz Versola, Pong Sibayan, and Angelina Nunag, leaders of AMBALA.
Corpus said that Hicap’s group was “invited for questioning” only and as of 3:30 p.m. yesterday, no case has been filed against the group. He also said that he was not even aware that Hicap was among those taken to the station.
The group is now at the Tarlac City Police Station under the command of Deputy Chief Jovy Pagarigan.
Claims of human rights violations
Inspite of Corpus’ statements, Hicap firmly claimed that they were arrested by police force consisted of seven armed men in plain clothing and armed supervisors of Cojuanco-owned Tarlac Development Corporation.
“We were violently arrested upon the order Supt. Razalan,” Hicap said.
He added that four women were injured during the arrest. He also reported that Sibayan incurred a head contusion.
In a statement, Salvador France, Vice Chairman of Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya), one of those who joined the national fact-finding mission said that it seemed like a de facto martial law has been declared in Hacienda Luisita.
France said that the farmers outside the sugar estate are banned and would be arrested if they enter Luisita and support the estate’s farmers.
Karapatan secretary-general Christina Palabay also said that the policemen used unnecessary force, leaving several Luisita farm workers injured.
“Their arrest is illegal and violate the right to assembly, free expression and to conduct independent investigations on human rights violations,” Palabay said.
Anakpawis leader Rafael Mariano said that Hicap and the others were there to investigate the fraud, harassment and land grabbing reported by farm beneficiaries.
The farmers said a large number of police were usually deployed at Luisita during the “drawing of lots” assigned to them.
The distribution of land started on July 18 with around 4,000 hectares out of the sugar estate’s total of 6,000 hectares are for distribution.
The distribution of Lot Allocation Certificates (LACs) was done through a raffle which determines the location of the plot of land they will own.
Moreover, Anakpawis alleged that the farm worker-beneficiaries were compelled to sign promissory notes or the application to purchase and farmers undertaking (Apfu)- a document required ion the transfer of land titles to the farmers.
After Hicap’s group interviewed the residents about the “violating” incident, they were arrested at 11:35 a.m., said Palabay.
Call for release
“We demand the immediate release of Representative Hicap and others who were arrested,” Mariano said.
Mariano said that they were charged with trespassing, direct assault, malicious mischief, and illegal assembly. He further said that if the group was only invited for questioning, then they should have not been charged.
Jonah Marie T. Rosal
ABCom, Leyte Normal University