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Workers back off from clash with cops over solar project

/ 05:10 AM December 18, 2015

CITY OF SAN FERNANDO, Philippines—More than 60 farm workers in Hacienda Luisita were persuaded on Wednesday to back off from a confrontation with policemen and private guards securing the installation of about 100 transmission posts for a solar power project on disputed land owned by the family of President Benigno Aquino III, according to officials and farmers in Tarlac City.

The farmers were poised to block the project, claiming that the property had been classified for agrarian reform since 2013. But they heeded the request of Rodel Galang, barangay captain of Balete, to keep the peace in the area, said Florita Sibayan, chair of the Alyansa ng mga Manggagawang Bukid sa Asyenda Luisita (Ambala).

“We did not also want a repeat of the 2004 Luisita massacre,” Sibayan said, referring to the seven workers who were killed when policemen and soldiers retook the gate of the Cojuangco family-owned Central Azucarera de Tarlac from striking sugar mill workers and farmers on Nov. 16, 2004.

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Ambala instead met with officials of PetroSolar Corp., proponent of the 50-megawatt project awarded to the German firm Conergy, Sibayan said on Thursday.

She said unidentified PetroSolar executives had told Ambala leaders and members that they rented the 55-hectare property from the Luisita Realty Corp., a subsidiary of Tarlac Development Corp. (Tadeco) and were not aware that the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) had issued a notice of coverage (NOC) to 258 ha of Balete and 104 ha of the adjacent village of Cutcut.

Ambala had opposed the solar project in a petition filed at the DAR.

No PetroSolar official was available to confirm the meeting with Ambala.

Tadeco had contested the NOC, arguing that the property had been converted for industrial use.

“I showed them (PetroSolar) the NOC. I informed them that [Hacienda Luisita Inc.] still owes us 6,000 farm workers P1.3 billion,” Sibayan said.

She was referring to the proceeds of the sale of 500 ha of farm lands to the Rizal Commercial Banking Corp. and 81 ha to the Bases Conversion and Development Authority for portions of the Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway.

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TAGS: 2004 Luisita massacre, Alyansa ng mga Manggagawang Bukid sa Asyenda Luisita, Ambala, Benigno Aquino III, Central Azucarera de Tarlac, Florita Sibayan, Hacienda Luisita, President Aquino, Solar Project
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