From the testimony of a worker at the front lines of the Hacienda Luisita picket and the unedited version of a footage taken by an independent media practitioner, police started firing at the strikers during a lull in the fighting. The scenes from the unedited footage, shown Dec. 1 at a hearing of the Senate Committees on Labor and National Security, appears to shoot down police and military claims that it was the strikers who started the violence.
BY ALEXANDER MARTIN REMOLLINO
The gunfire that killed at least seven strikers at Hacienda Luisita last Nov. 16 actually happened during a lull in the fighting between the picketers and the crowd dispersal unit.
Rene Tua, one of the striking Hacienda Luisita workers, said this at the Nov. 30 hearing of the House of Representatives on the incident. “It was the police and military forces deployed to quell the strike who started the violence,” he also said.
Police and military officials have been claiming that the picketers fired the first shot, and the members of the security force only used their guns in self-defense.
Tua’s testimony was confirmed by the unedited version of the footage of the incident taken by Victor Niño Tagaro of the Tudla Multi-Media Network. Mainstream broadcast companies have been using an edited version of the footage in their reportage of the incident.
The unedited version of the footage was shown at the Senate hearing on the dispersal last Dec. 1.
At the House hearing, Tagaro had testified that he had been commissioned by the Ecumenical Institute for Labor Education and Research (EILER) to do a video documentary on workers’ struggles, and he was covering the Hacienda Luisita strike as part of his work on the documentary. He happened to be at Luisita when the violent dispersal occurred, he said, and decided to go on taking footages.
Tagaro had taken the footage from the vantage point of the strikers.
The footage showed what had transpired from as early as 45 minutes before the firing began. It showed that the strikers, although restless, were not attacking the crowd dispersal unit.
Some 1,000 soldiers and local police had gone into the Central Azucarera de Tarlac (CAT) at 3 p.m. that day with two V150s and two fire trucks. Because CAT Gate 1 was padlocked from the inside, as Task Force Luisita chief Sr. Supt. Angel Sunglao had testified in previous Senate and House of Representatives hearings, the V150s and the fire trucks found their way inside the CAT through another entrance.
The strikers were sprayed with water from the fire trucks, but they did not budge. They next found tear gas canisters being lobbed at them, but they found ways to extinguish the gas. They meanwhile started throwing stones at the soldiers and police to defend themselves.
From the inside, a V150 was rammed into CAT (Central Azucarera de Tarlac) Gate 1. The strikers threw stones at the vehicle – in self-defense still, Tua had explained in previous hearings, thinking that they were going to be run over – an explanation with which many congressmen investigating the incident have agreed. More water was sprayed at them and more tear gas canisters were thrown, but the workers continued fighting back.
After a few minutes, the V150 retreated. The crowd dispersal unit stopped spraying water and throwing tear gas. At this point, the front-liners of the picket were caught on video signaling to fellow picketers behind them to stop throwing stones.
It was at this point that a volley of shots was heard, and the strikers were caught on video scampering for safety.
Sunglao had claimed in the Dec. 1 Senate hearing that the security force positioned behind the crowd dispersal unit and providing back-up had fired at workers who forced their way inside CAT through Gate 1.
Sen. Sergio Osmeña III later asked him if the security force had moved to the front of the six-row crowd dispersal unit before firing at the intruders, to which he replied in the negative.
“How could they have fired at intruders from behind the crowd dispersal unit without killing their fellow policemen first?” a smirking Osmeña asked.
Meanwhile Sens. Juan Ponce Enrile, Rodolfo Biazon, and Alfredo Lim repeatedly pressed Sunglao with questions as to who ordered the firing. “Soldiers and policemen don’t act without orders,” Enrile, a former defense secretary, said in a subsequent interview with reporters.
Sunglao kept denying that he ordered the firing and claiming that no one ordered it. He would not point at anyone ordering the firing, even as Lim’s questions appeared to have been formulated in favor of the crowd dispersal unit and the security force. (Bulatlat.com)