For Land and Wages: Half a Century of Peasant Struggle in Hacienda Luisita

Mendiola Massacre

Survivors of the Tarlac carnage now reminisce the Jan. 22, 1987 Mendiola Massacre where 19 farmers – including those who died later in hospitals – were killed by a volley of gunfire coming from law enforcers guarding Malacañang. Peasants from Central Luzon who were among some 10,000 farmers who converged at Mendiola that day were demanding, among others, the land distribution of Hacienda Luisita.

That was also almost a year after Corazon Cojuangco-Aquino, widow of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos’ archrival and slain senator, Benigno Aquino Jr., was catapulted to the presidency after a people’s uprising that toppled the dictator in February 1986. The new President had promised to include the hacienda under land reform.

President Aquino is from the powerful Cojuangco clan who owns Hacienda Luisita, Inc. (HLI), the sugar plantation with 5,250 farm workers and the Central Azucarrera de Tarlac (CAT) sugar mill with 700 laborers.

Today, the 4,915.75-ha sugar plantation harvests some 290,000 tons of sugarcane every year while the CAT mills more than one million tons of cane. CAT Labor Union (CATLU) union president Ricardo Ramos said that of the total tons of cane milled at CAT, 750,000 tons come from other plantations in Luzon.

CAT’s milled by-products, Ramos added, are carbon dioxide which is primarily sold to Coca-Cola and Pop Cola owned by Eduardo “Danding” Cojuangco of the same clan, and alcohol for Ginebra San Miguel, another Danding company.

CAT supplies sugar to most Central and Northern Luzon provinces, Ramos said. The CATLU joined the strike on Nov. 6 as a result of its own CBA deadlock.

In its book, The Rulemakers, the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) says the Cojuangcos of Tarlac are a landowning clan with a history of political power. Nine members of the clan have been elected to Congress since 1907. Jose Sr. (Don Pepe), who acquired the CAT and the hacienda in 1958, was elected to the first post-war Congress and later was appointed by a succession of presidents to various executive posts, PCIJ says.

Jose Sr.’s daughter, Corazon (Cory), married Benigno Aquino, a former Tarlac governor and senator and archrival of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos. Corazon’s brother, Jose Jr. (Peping), one the HLI’s Board of Directors, was a former representative of Tarlac. Peping’s wife, Margarita, was a recent Tarlac governor.

Today, Mrs. Aquino’s son, Benigno Jr. (Noynoy), is representative of the second district of the same province.

Rich and famous

The hacienda’s 5,250 sugar farm workers have no more than a 240-sq.m. home lot in the 11 satellite villages surrounding the plantation – Pando, Motrico, Asturias, Texas, Bantog, Cutcut, Balete, Mapalacsiao, Parang, and Mabilog. Including the workers’ relatives, the total population in the 10 barangays is 35,000. The eleventh village is Brgy. Central which houses the CAT sugar mill, the St. Martin de Porres Hospital, Our Lady of Lourdes Church, the two union offices and a training center.

The Cojuangcos, on the other hand, have Barrio Alto (50 ha.), an exclusive compound that hosts the Hacienda Luisita, Inc.’s current Board of Directors – Pedro Cojuangco, Ernesto Teopaco, Josephine Reyes, Ricardo Lopa Jr. and Pedro Martin Cojuangco. Cory and Peping have their own homes inside the compound, too, aside from the old house of the late Cojuangco patriarch, Don Pepe.

Eldy Pingol, vice-president of ULWU, is witness to the Cojuangcos’ rich lifestyle. Pingol is a former member of the “yellow army” – about 300 Israeli and British-trained paramilitary forces who served as the clan’s private army. He claims to be Peping’s bodyguard from 1983-1986 whenever the latter visited the hacienda.

Former Luisita farmhand, Mang Pering, said that in earlier days water and electricity were supplied without charge to the households in the hacienda. In 1991, he said, the villagers began paying for these. Without money to pay for private water connections, most households now get their water supply from public pumps.

In contrast, Pingol told Bulatlat, Barrio Alto has a clubhouse, swimming pool, pilota and basketball court, a radio communications room and a satellite, among modern facilities. Pingol said Peping even had a mini golf course near his home.

Peping also has a place for around 5,000 fighting cocks each worth at least P5,000. Las Haciendas, now an exclusive subdivision, used to be a racetrack for Peping’s hundreds of stallions. But the horses have been transferred to Batangas after Las Haciendas was converted into a subdivision.

Parts of the hacienda have also been transformed into industrial, commercial and residential areas, including: the Luisita Golf and Country Club (70 has.), Luisita Industrial Park 1 (120 has.), Luisita Industrial Park 2 (500 has.), and Central Techno Park (500 has.). Around 66 hectares have also been reserved for the construction of the Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway which is expected to be completed in 2005.

Exclusive residential areas include the Family Park Homes Subdivision, the Don Pepe Cojuangco Subdivision (Phases 1-4) and the Las Haciendas Industrial Subdivision. The St. Luis Subdivision is also under development.

Pay scale

Rodel Mesa, 45, a casual worker in HLI, said that in the early 1970s, they were receiving P9.50 a day. Today, regular sugar farm workers and seasonal (or casual) farm workers receive P199.50 and P194.50, respectively, a day.

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