Six more were reportedly killed but their bodies have yet to be found. Union officers said they could not identify them because they were sacadas (seasonal plantation workers) who came from different provinces of Visayas and Luzon.
Tudla, an independent audio-visual group, captured a video of a man who was shot in the back. This man has not been accounted for as of press time.
One witness, a woman sugar farm worker from Lourdes village, also related the incident to Bulatlat. “Nagtatago ako sa kanal. Nakita ko yung mama pumulot ng bato. Binaril siya. May mga nagsakay sa kanya sa tricycle. Hindi na namin alam nasaan na siya” (I was hiding in a canal. I saw a man picking up a stone. He was shot. We do not know where he was taken.), she said.
Some of those who died could have lived had they been allowed to be brought directly to the Tarlac provincial hospital. But soldiers and policemen ordered them at gunpoint to take a longer route – a 12-km ride from Gate 1 to the hospital’s emergency room.
Sibayan said one of the fatalities, Juancho Sanchez, was still alive when he was brought to the hospital. But he lost a lot of blood. Sanchez’s feet were run over by the APC. Unable to rise, he lost consciousness when a soldier hit him on the face. Sibayan, who herself was hit in the left shoulder, said she could still hear Sanchez breathing while lying beside her in the hospital bed. Sanchez succumbed to his wounds that night.
About 72 wounded strikers soaked in their own blood as they were hurled into the Emergency Room; 34 of them sustained gunshot wounds.
In a press conference held two days later in Quezon City, Catlu lawyer Noel Neri said that the military prevented families of victims from immediately recovering their dead.
Aside from the dead and wounded, 111 others, including 16 women and two minors, were arrested and charged with physical assault, resisting persons in authority and malicious mischief. Neri said most of those arrested were actually sacadas from Negros, Batangas and other provinces who were picked up by the military from their bunkhouse.
Accounts also told of soldiers mowing down the father of a baby who died of asphyxiation resulting from the tear gas attack; of Basilio who was reportedly strangled and hanged in the barbed wire at Gate 1 before he was shot dead.
Testimonies by scores of many eyewitnesses and the victims themselves, video shots and still photos indicate that the protesters were unarmed and that some gunshots came from snipers positioned in the open field to the right facing the sugar mill and on top of the reservoir farther back, and from the soldiers near the entrance of Gate 1.
Anakpawis Rep. Rafael Mariano, who was one of those who went to investigate the massacre on Nov. 17, said he and his group were on their way to the hacienda when 11 truckloads of soldiers rumbled out of the area toward Camp Aquino.
Mariano said he even talked to Col. Romeo Reyes of Nolcom. In their brief talk, Reyes admitted to Mariano that he and his men arrived at the picket line at 2 p.m. of Nov. 16. The colonel also said there were 271 of them along with two APCs.
Mariano would say later, “Sila ay naroon nang maganap ang pamamaslang”(They [military] were there when the killings occurred).
“Deliberate and premeditated”
In a Nov. 23 statement, Galang accused the Cojuangcos and the military and police dispersal teams of a “deliberate and premeditated intent…to kill sugar mill and farm workers on strike.” He also said the killings were committed with the “full consent and awareness of the Arroyo administration and DoLE.”
Meanwhile, Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita, a retired four-star general who occupied key government positions during the presidency of Aquino, said the New People’s Army was involved in the Nov. 16 killings.
During a meeting at the Cojuangco residence attended by city and barangay officials Nov. 18, Rep. Benigno Aquino III’s commented that NPA rebels may have possibly infiltrated the strikers.
In another statement released to the media, the Cojuangco family alleged that “outside forces are influencing the situation, resorting to intimidation of non-striking workers and even to the destruction of millions of pesos worth of crops.”
However, Barangay chairman Rodel Galang of Barangay Balete, Tarlac City countered that he knows all the people who converged at Gate 1 on Nov. 16. All were unarmed, he said, adding that there are no NPA men in his barangay or elsewhere in the picket site at the time of the shooting.
In a statement sent through email, Gregorio “Ka Roger” Rosal, spokesperson of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), said that the NPA had no participation in the Nov. 16 Hacienda Luisita demonstration.
Rosal added that the NPA had no hand in the mobilization of thousands of peasants supporting the workers’ strike at CAT. “The NPA is careful not to step within the bounds of the people’s legal struggle precisely to prevent reactionaries from using this to justify the use of armed means to quell the people’s legitimate unarmed struggles,” he said.
On the contrary, striking workers reported seeing suspected military infiltrators in their ranks. During the shooting, Tua said, a plainclothesman was pointing at him and the other union leaders, apparently as to be shot or arrested. During the funeral march of the massacre victims on Nov. 21, mourners caught a suspected agent of Nolcom taking pictures. “Nahuli namin kasi hindi siya marunong gumamit ng kamera. Nang tanungin siya, pang-souvenir lang daw” (We caught him because he doesn’t know how to use the camera. When our colleagues asked him, he said it’s just for souvenir), he said.
The night after the massacre, Tua said about 80 of the plantation and sugar workers returned to the picket line. “Naisip namin baka dukutin na lang kami” (We were thinking we could just be abducted). The following morning, the number of people at the picket line swelled with the return of other union members and their families.
The Nov. 21 funeral march was attended by more than 6,000 people. At the head of the march-rally was a streamer that read “Tuloy ang laban! Tuloy ang welga!” (The struggle continues. The strike goes on.) (Bulatlat.com)