Group lambasts holdings firm’s harassment vs farmers in Tarlac
A MILITANT peasant group slammed the latest harassment of St. Tropez Holdings Corp. against the farmers of Bgy. Balingcanaway in Tarlac City. The St. Tropez firm owned by Gabriel Singson, Jr. and Martin Lorenzo filed criminal cases against the farmers that dismantled their fences on November 29 last year.
The Alyansa ng mga Magbubukid sa Gitnang Luson (AMGL, Peasant Alliance in Central Luzon) said dispute began when a certain Janette Peña and Bob Guinto sent letters to farmers some time on December 2009 telling them to leave their farms. The 63-hectare lands are part of the 154-hectare Valdez Estate which is under the supervision of the Dept. of Agrarian Reform (DAR) as it was covered by Republic Act 1400 or Land Reform Code of 1955.
The St. Tropez group then built fences around the farmers’ lands on July last year accompanied by about 50 armed guards under the Unilateral Security and Safety Solutions. Thus, the farmers filed a forcible entry case against St. Tropez and a local judge in Tarlac issued a judgment on November 15 that lands should be immediately returned to the farmers. But St. Tropez ignored the court order thus on November 29 the farmers dismantled their fences. They were accompanied by barangay and police officials when they carried out the dismantling. But when they delivered the fences on a local precinct, the farmers were detained by police commander Leonardo Taberdo of Bgy. San Manuel precinct for about an hour.
“This is pure harassment by St. Tropez on the local farmers. This is criminalization of an agrarian case. They think the farmers would be cowed by their accusations,” said Joseph Canlas, AMGL chair.
AMGL said that St. Tropez has no business on the lands as DAR officials have already said that land titles claimed by private individuals or business firms have not been cleared by their respective offices. Thus, the group claims that these titles are all fake. Farmers have been cultivating the lands since the 1990s compared to St. Tropez who only appeared on 2009.
As farmers have struggled against the illegal deployment of armed guards on their lands, the Tarlac City council held a public hearing last March 3 at the city tourism office. More then 30 farmers, city and DAR officials attended the hearing while St. Tropez ignored it. Moreover, police official Taberdo lied in front of city officials that he did not detain the farmers during the dismantling.
On March 4, subpoenas were sent to the farmers by the prosecutor’s office that attached affidavits from a certain Redalyn Dazo, property officer of St. Tropez, Unilateral Safety and Security Solutions officials and guards Apolinario Mapalo, Gregorio Atchieles, Romeo Peralta, Jason Mapalo, Alfredo Patwaran and Bernard Patawaran. The police official Taberdo also submitted his affidavit in favor of the St. Tropez. The complaint charged the farmers with Robbery, Trespassing and Malicious Mischief in connection to the dismantling of the fences.
“St. Tropez thought that farmers would give up just because of these subpoenas. They are clueless that farmers have been battling it all out in many courts, DAR offices and even the Supreme Court. This idiotic accusations would definitely backfire against them,” Canlas said.
AMGL said that the complaint disclosed many pertinent information about St. Tropez as they have been elusive since they started grabbing the farmers’ lands. The farmers now know their office address, the names of those armed guards which police officer Taberdo would not reveal. Farmers have been trying to identify the guards as they committed abuses such as barring them from attending their farms, stealing and destroying their crops, pointing their firearms and more.
“Now we know were to hold our protest actions, now we know the names of the armed guards so that we could file appropriate charges against them. Though Dazo mentioned an office address along Pasong Tamo, Makati, they also have a satellite office in Fort Bonifacio Global city. Based on our research, Dazo is a real estate agent and is also involved with other holding firm. At least they are compelled to come out in the open, as farmers have not been cowed by their deceptive and terror tactics,” Canlas said.
“These business firms have showed their true color of being landgrabbers, heartless and greedy. Imagine, farmers have tilled the lands with sweat and blood for many years and here they come claiming the lands. These business entities should be condemned as they abuse and insensitive to people,” he added.
AMGL called on the Tarlac city council to act fast on issuing a resolution of pulling out the armed guards as their presence is a ticking timebomb for conflict. DAR have already claimed that the lands are under their supervision, thus, private individuals or corporations claiming ownership should be barred from occupying lands and disrupting the peaceful cultivation of farmers from Bgy. Balingcanaway. St. Tropez is already engaging in criminalization of an agrarian case, thus, farmers have no choice but to struggle and uphold their rights to lands.