Hacienda Luisita farmers’ group withdraws support to Reds

SAN MIGUEL, Tarlac — At least 120 former members of the Alyansa ng Manggagawang Bukid sa Hacienda Luisita (AMBALA) have withdrawn their support to the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army (CPP-NPA).

The former AMBALA members, together with other farmers and tenants from the 11 barangays of Hacienda Luisita, attended a peace forum held Wednesday in Barangay Balete of the sugar plantation in this province, where they condemned the CPP-NPA and its allied organizations.

AMBALA is known for its alliance with the rebel group that capitalizes on the non-distribution of lands to the landless farmers in Hacienda Luisita in order to recruit members and stage mass actions against the government.

“We always joined rallies and demonstrations with a promise that they will give us lands. Instead, it brought turmoil in our lives,” said Florida Sibayan, former AMBALA chair, in an interview.

Sibayan said they formed a new organization called the Malayang Magsasaka ng Hacienda Luisita (MALAYA), a legal group that is free from deception and is supportive of the government.

At present, she said that they are working for the accreditation of MALAYA with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).

Lt. Col. Norberto P. Aromin Jr., commanding officer of Philippine Army’s 3rd Mechanized Infantry Battalion, said everyone is longing for peace.

According to him, sustainable peace in Hacienda Luisita will be attained if residents will commit to support President Rodrigo Duterte’s whole-of-nation approach to ending the decades-long insurgency.

“Let us carry on with the same fervor and perseverance to convince all those skeptics that if we unite and work together for peace, we can make change happen, not just for our family but for the Hacienda Luisita and for the entire nation,” Aromin said.

The 3rd Mechanized Infantry Battalion, together with the 703rd Agila Brigade, 7th Infantry Division, Philippine Army and 1st Civil Relations Group, Civil Relations Service-Armed Forces of the Philippines, in collaboration with the provincial government of Tarlac, facilitated the peace forum with the theme “Sama-sama at Magkaisa Tungo sa Mapayapang Hacienda Luisita.”

The event aimed to enlighten the participants on the issue of land reform through a dialogue with the Provincial Agrarian Reform Office (PARO).

Representatives of concerned government agencies such as the Department of Agriculture (DA), Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) and Land Bank of the Philippines (LBP) also discussed the programs of the government that could help the former AMBALA members and farmers uplift their living condition.

The forum was highlighted with the presentation of Executive Order No. 70 on the Whole-of-Nation Approach to End Local Communist Armed Conflict through the delivery of basic social services and development in cooperation with the concerned government agencies.