Luisita farmers’ leader nabbed on eve of massacre anniversary

November 16, 2017 - 10:57 AM
Florida Sibayan (photo from Luisita Watch)

MANILA, Philippines — The leader of farmers in the vast Tarlac estate owned by the Cojuangco family that activists hold up as they symbol of agrarian reform’s failure, was arrested Wednesday, the eve of the 13th anniversary of the 2004 Hacienda Luisita massacre, in which seven striking farm workers were killed.

Florida “Ka Pong” Sibayan, 61, chairperson of the Alyansa ng mga Manggagawang Bukid sa Hacienda Luisita, was seized by Tarlac provincial police as farmers were serving a symbolic “eviction notice” on the Rizal Commercial Banking Corp. from 500 hectares it acquired from the family of the late President Corazon Aquino.

Sibayan, who along with other Ambala members was charged with malicious mischief and physical injuries after the destruction of part of the RCBC compound’s concrete fence, is detained at Camp Macabulos, headquarters of the Tarlac police.

Ambala maintain that the RCBC lot is covered by agrarian reform and should not have been sold off by the Cojuangcos.

The Hacienda Luisita massacre happened when state security forces opened fire on hundreds of striking workers massed in front of the main gate of the Central Azucarera de Tarlac, killing seven: Juancho Sanchez, Jessie Valdez, Adriano Caballero Jr., Jaime Fastidio, Jesus Laza, Jhaivie Basilio, and Jhune David.

No one has convicted for the massacre.

On Thursday, as the Luisita farmers and their supporters commemorated the massacre’s 13th anniversary, the Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura, the nationwide federation of farm workers, said they had lost hope the government of President Rodrigo Duterte would give justice to the victims.

In fact, UMA claimed the government “is preparing for the reversal of the decisions made by former (Agrarian Reform) Secretary Rafael ‘Ka Paeng’ Mariano with regards to the land disputes there and in other parts of the country.”

Mariano, who was once representative of the Anakpawis party-list and also used to head the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas, lost his post after he was rejected by the Commission on Appointments.