Hacienda Tinang: A model of fake land reform
Close to 100 farmers and their supporters were illegally arrested last June 9 in Hacienda Tinang in Concepcion, Tarlac. Among them were 83 who were charged with illegal assembly and malicious mischief. For four days, they suffered hardships in the hands of police before being set free by posting bail amounting to more than ₱1 million last June 12. In the first court hearing last June 17, they were charged anew with four more cases.
Last June 9 in the morning, 94 beneficiaries of the fake land reform started a collective farming (bungkalan) in a parcel of land within the hacienda. They were assisted by support organizations. According to Malayang Kilusang Samahan ng Magsasaka ng Tinang (Makisama-Tinang), the beneficiaries’ organization, the bungkalan aimed to give relief to their hunger most especially since prices of commodities continue to rise. It asserted that the ₱230 daily wage in the sugarcane fields is grossly insufficient.
No more than two hours into the bungkalan, the police came and ordered them to stop because of supposed complaints from the Tinang Samahang Nayon Multi-Purpose Cooperative, a cooperative run by the Villanueva family, the primary political dynasty in Concepcion. Those who gathered were able to prevent the first attempt after demanding the presence of the Provincial Agrarian Reform Office.
After the dialogue, the Concepcion police who were assisted by at least six other units of the military and police, proceeded with the violent dispersal and illegal arrest of almost all participants of the bungkalan.
Decades of deceit
Hacienda Tinang covers 1,200 hectares of sugarcane fields which were originally owned by the Aquino family. A parcel (200 hectares) supposedly covered by land reform was sold by the family to a private company. The said company sold the land back to the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR). In September 26, 1995, the agency released a list of 236 beneficiaries of land in the hacienda.
Makisama-Tinang added that the Villanueva family deliberately concealed the papers showing the farmers’ collective ownership of the land. It was only in 2016 that the farmers came to know that they were beneficiaries of the hacienda. In the same year, they filed a petition at the DAR to settle boundaries of the beneficiaries’ land. The agency released a final order in 2018 and 2019.
The Villanuevas were able to deny the farmers their land rights because the former controls the local village council. In 1995, Vernon Villanueva was chairman of Barangay Tinang. As such, he is a powerful member of the Barangay Agrarian Reform Council which determines the list of beneficiaries. His brother Jojo was administrator of the farmers’ cooperative which is included in the 200-hectare land covered by the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program or CARP. Barangay Tinang’s current chairman is his son Norman Villanueva while he sits as Concepcion councilor.
According to Makisama-Tinang, the Villanuevas have played a big part in preventing their land claims especially after their brother Noel Villanueva won as mayor in the recent elections. This mayor even accompanied the police to disperse the bungkalan and arrest its participants.
The farmers are puzzled why the DAR allowed the Villanueva-run cooperative to file a petition in April 2021 when a final order was already issued. Because of this, the list of beneficiaries was again subjected to validation. They fear that the Villanuevas will replace their names.
According to Antonio Flores of the Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA), the non-awarding of land to the beneficiaries since 1995 clearly shows how the CARP failed in distributing land to the farmers. “Everyone knows that only the big landlords and arienderos are the ones benefiting from the sugarcane fields in Tarlac,” he said. “Even under CARP, legitimate owners remain oppressed and exploited, and worse, the DAR does nothing to break up the control of the rich on vast lands.”
A day after the bungkalan, the CARP’s 34th anniversary was marked on June 10. In Tarlac, this coincided with Danding Cojuangco Day, honoring the landlord Eduardo Cojuangco. This celebration was enacted in Congress in 2020 by then congressman Noel Villanueva.
UMA condemned the Villanuevas for using the members of the family-initiated cooperative to prevent Makisama-Tinang to rightfully claim their land. The group also condemned the NTF-Elcac in its red-tagging of the bungkalan in order to criminalize the struggle of the farmers.