The present moment is crucial for the struggle of Hacienda Luisita farmworkers.
The Philippine Supreme Court decided on the Hacienda Luisita issue favorably to the Cojuangco-Aquinos. It revoked the Stock Distribution Plan (SDP) implemented but not Stock Distribution Option (SDO) that clearly caused poverty and hardship to the farmworkers. The farmworkers are demanding land distribution but the high court ordered the referendum of forcing them to choose between being a “stockholder” of the Hacienda Luisita, Inc. (HLI) or land distribution through the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program Extension with “Reforms” (CARPer) or Republic Act 9700.
The choices given to the farmworkers are a “win-win” solution or both serving the Cojuangco-Aquinos. If farmworkers choose stocks, the Cojuangco-Aquinos shall maintain control of the land, allowing them to dispose, encash and cover it to a massive land use conversion program such as the Hacienda Luisita Economic Zone as part of president Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino’s promotion of the “W Corridor” Central Luzon development plan. Thus, farmworkers are doomed to be displaced, their rights to land abolished and the feudal control of the Cojuangco-Aquinos is affirmed.
If the farmworkers choose land, the land would be covered by CARPer, where it is provisioned that farmer-beneficiaries should request attestation from the Cojuangco-Aquinos that they are indeed tenants, the farmworkers are obliged to compensate the Cojuangco-Aquinos at a price the latter have dictated which eventually the former could not afford leading to his or her ejectment. Even in coverage, the threat of the land being exempted or Certificate of Land Ownership Awards (CLOA) being cancelled still exists.
Therefore, the referendum is a booby trap for the farmworkers.
The members under the Alyansa ng mga Manggagawang Bukid sa Asyenda Luisita (AMBALA) are the legitimate farmworkers of the hacienda and they demand free and immediate land distribution. History is on their side, particularly on how sullied the Cojuangco-Aquinos acquired the 6,453-hectares formerly controlled by the Spanish agro-corporation Tabacalera. Tabacalera succumbed to the struggle of Hukbalahap for land reform during the 1950s and former president Ramon Magsaysay facilitated the transfer to the landlord icon Jose “Don Pepe” Cojuangco, Sr. using public funds under the condition that it would be distributed to the farmworkers in 1967. Even the Chief Justice Renato Corona affirms that the land should belong to the farmworkers.
The Hacienda Luisita issue is a landmark in Philippine history. It connects the oppressive character of the Spanish colonization, preserved through American and Japanese occupations and the rule of landlord-dominated regimes until the present represented by the landlord Benigno Simeon “Noynoy” Aquino III, the grandson of Don Pepe Cojuangco. His mother former president Corazon “Cory” Aquino fortified their control by cancelling the government claim of the lands and implementing the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) that incorporated the Stock Distribution Option (SDO) derived from its Sec. 31 or provision for Corporate Landowners. In 1989, the Cojuangco-Aquinos held a manipulated and controlled referendum and claimed majority of the farmworkers approved of the SDO Agreement (SDOA or SDO in Hacienda Luisita). In reality, farmworkers claimed that the Cojuangco-Aquinos fully used their power and influence like a traditional politician, using “guns, goons and gold,” “lupa o kaldero,” massive militarization, harassment, intimidation and threat.
SDO’s consequence to the lives of the farmworkers is history. The farmworkers were forced to work on the sugar plantation as mere laborers, unable to discern that they are “co-owners” of Hacienda Luisita, Inc. To earn from their stocks, they should work, but the workhours or “mandays” are systematically being slashed off by the Cojuangco-Aquinos, essentially cutting off their rights to the corporation, promised to give them a better future than directly cultivating the land. Farmworkers who are in deep poverty suffered to receive a take-home pay of P9.50 for a day’s work. The farmworkers who are supposed to be “co-owners” are being wiped out as the number of “regular farmworkers” are being reduced. The number of casual workers and “sakada” are also increasing, being exploited and giving more power and control to the Cojuangco-Aquinos.
All these hardship pushed them to wage the strike on November 6, 2004. As the operation in the sugar central has stopped, the Cojuangco-Aquinos have colluded with the corrupt Arroyo government to deploy an overkill-force of police and military. On November 10, 2004, Arroyo’s labor secretary Patricia Sto. Tomas issued an “assumption of jurisdiction” which simply means that the strike should end, otherwise it is deemed illegal. The Cojuangco-Aquinos and Arroyos united to repress the farmworkers.
On November 15, 400-strong police force attempted to disperse the 4,000-strong picketline and the farmworkers prevailed.
On November 16, government forces were beefed up reaching to 17 truckload of military forces, two tanks with heavy weapons and four firetrucks. They are accompanied with snipers, and armed with countless teargas canisters. The same day, United Luisita Workers’ Union Rene “Ka Boyet” Galang, accompanied by Bayan Muna Rep. Satur Ocampo tried to dialogue with Jose “Peping” Cojuangco, Jr. But the landlord Peping Cojuangco refused to negotiate with Ka Boyet as he affirm that he is already dismissed as a farmworker of HLI. Peping Cojuangco said “Bahala na ang DOLE dyan,” (It’s up to the labor deparment). Also, Ka Satur tried to contact labor secretary Sto. Tomas but she could not be reached.
On the afternoon at the picketline, the dispersal operations have began and the police and military used all they have. Initially using teargas, watercannons, tanks, then finally firing at the striking farmworkers. They have confirmed killed 7 farmworkers, as claims of more deaths circulated at the hacienda, including the death of a sakada and his daughter who succumbed to the fatal teargas. Unconfirmed reports also tell that dead bodies were burned at the furnace of the sugar central. The Hacienda Luisita Massacre killed Jesus Laza, 34, Juancho Sanchez, 20, Jhune David, 27, Jhayvie Basilio, 20, Jaime Fastidio, 46, Adrian Caballero, 23, and Jesse Valdez, 30. Jesus Laza’s painful death was even captured in video.
After more than 6 years, justice remain elusive for the victims and president Aquino who himself is involved with a shooting incident of George Loveland and Ernesto Ramos on January 5, 2005, is in vain avoiding the issue. During the electoral campaign, Aquino promised to distribute the hacienda in 5 years and said he suggested his relatives to find ways to transfer the lands to the farmworkers. But when he became president and during the Cojuangco-Aquinos pushing of the sham compromise deal on August 2010, he said that the issue is an “intra-corporate” dispute, thus, he is adopting a “hands off” policy. Now, he is pronouncing to leave it to the decision of the Supreme Court when the said order is clearly favorable to his family. We should not forget that during the oral arguments, Aquino did not affirm the very decision of the Presidential Agrarian Reform Council (PARC) that he chairs, revoking the SDO plan in Hacienda Luisita.
Based on Aquino’s actions (or inaction), he and his family’s treatment to the farmworkers is inhumane, incosiderate and insensitive. Aquino has affirmed their landlord interest of Hacienda Luisita when historically they have defrauded the Filipino people when his grandfather used public fund to acquire the land. He has also no intention of realizing genuine land reform in the country, an exact opposite of his promise of “matuwid na daan” (straight path) or fundamental reforms as farmers in Hacienda Luisita, as well as in Central Luzon and other regions suffer land grabbing, displacement and rights abuses. Aquino is a traitor to the Filipino people. He has betrayed the Filipino farmers who are the majority of our society, as well as other marginalized sectors who day-by-day are struggling to survive.
Thus, the Hacienda Luisita farmworkers led by AMBALA takes on an important role. Facing the Aquino government, they are frontrunners of peasant struggle for genuine land reform, equality and real democracy. AMBALA continues to struggle for their rights to land, facing the fascist attack instigated by Aquino’s family. They were massacred but they are clearly standing and demanding free land distribution, not stocks, not referendum, not CARPer, but land.
They may just be within the 6,453-hectares land area in Tarlac City, La Paz and Concepcion towns, but they represent our society. They are oppressed and exploited by a landlord clan, the present ruling clique, powerful and influential, they are exactly the same as all the poor sectors in our country. Their struggle is a struggle for social justice, freedom and democracy.
We should all be supporting AMBALA on their struggle for genuine land reform and social justice. We from Alyansa ng mga Magbubukid sa Gitnang Luson (AMGL, Peasant Alliance in Central Luzon) as AMBALA’s regional farmers organization, appeal to all sectors to support AMBALA. They are facing a poweful landlord family, defended by president Aquino and the government’s corrupt institutions such as the Dept. of Agrarian Reform and Supreme Court. AMBALA all have are their united strength and our support.
We could materialize our support by visiting them inside Hacienda Luisita. We should embrace courage as the hacienda is heavily militarized, soldiers and their agents are always monitoring and threatening visitors or “taga-labas,” with an objective to isolate the farmworkers and easily terrorize them. We should assert our rights to freely visit Hacienda Luisita. It is not a private property of the Cojuangco-Aquino, it belongs to the farmworkers.
We could also support their mass actions by funding their transportation costs, shelter and food requirements, and other necessities to further drum up their moral and legitimate demand. Ultimately, we could join them on their protests.
It is also helpful if we could issue statements and messages supporting their cause. We have to deepen and broaden the support to apply thrust the Aquino government to implement genuine land and fundamental reforms in the country. We could also organize our ranks as supporters or advocates of the Hacienda Luisita farmworkers.
We should all act now to combat the immoral and unjust claim of the Cojuangco-Aquinos. The Hacienda Luisita farmworkers are our modern-day heroes facing an enormous adversary. The future of our next generation is at stake if we tolerate a society diseased with an atmosphere of oppression, exploitation and injustice. We should not forget the martyrdom of the victims of Hacienda Luisita Massacre and join the broad effor to demand justice.
The Hacienda Luisita farmworkers are ready to struggle and they are waiting for you. Thank you very much!
For genuine land reform,