BULATLAT INVESTIGATIVE REPORT
Farm workers of Hacienda Luisita dispute the claim by the Cojuangcos that SDO has been good for their thousands of farm workers. Farm workers say they have been losing their jobs, receiving pitiable pay and may lose their own homes, too.
BY DABET CASTAÑDA
(Second of two parts / Read the first part)
HACIENDA LUISITA, Tarlac City – Together with the many women farmers of Hacienda Luisita, Lourdes Sicat braves the heat of the noontime sun and the cold breeze of the December night at the picket line. This is not to mention the threats of another violent dispersal following the carnage that happened on Nov. 16.
Aling Lourdes, 48, lives in Barangay (village) Texas, roughly a kilometer away from the main gate of the Central Azucarrera de Tarlac (CAT), the hacienda’s sugar mill, where their picket line stands defiantly.
From May this year until the Nov. 6 strike, Aling Lourdes had only a total of five man-days (number of work days) for seven months. At the start of kabyaw (milling season), she was able to work for two days. The last pay slip which she received late November after deductions such as hospital loan, cash advance and other taxes was P23.23.
Aling Lourdes’s dire financial situation became worse when husband Ferdinand received a memo last Aug. 24 stating that he has been dropped from the rolls. Fifty-four-year old Ferdinand worked as a permanent mechanic for 27 years at the hacienda’s Motorpool.
But the scenario became bleaker on Oct. 21 when personnel from the sugar plantation’s management went to their house that stood on a 240-sq.m. lot. “Tapos, sinukat na nila yung bahay namin. Tinanong kami kung magkano ang nagastos namin sa pagpapagawa nito at kung
magkano ang mga gamit namin sa bahay” (Then they measured the size of our house. They asked us how much we spent for building it and the worth of our property), she said.
She found out later that most of the homes of farm workers who have been retrenched were inspected and estimated, too. Now, they all fear that after losing their jobs, they might also be losing their homes. “Saan na kaya kami pupunta?” (What fate awaits us?), was their common fear.
This is where the irony lies in Hacienda Luisita where thousands of sugar farm workers have struggled for 50 years to own the land they till.
After two agrarian reform programs instituted by political protagonists from two of the most influential clans in Philippine history – Presidential Decree No. 27 of Ferdinand Marcos and Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program of Corazon Cojuangco-Aquino – the 6,443-ha. hacienda remains to be owned and controlled by the Cojuangco landlord clan.
The land tillers, meanwhile, are slowly being thrown out from the land that, they say, is historically theirs.
Old farm hand
The wrinkles on his face, the dry skin and the veins of his hands almost protruding tell a story of nearly nine decades of feudal exploitation. Ernesto Basillio, now 89, tells is the epitome of a people locked in a long-drawn struggle and now feel betrayed.
Basillio says he was only 12 when he started working in Hacienda Luisita, then owned by the Spanish Compania General Tobacos de Filipinas (Tabacalera) under Don Antonio Lopez. The estate was named after Lopez’s wife, Luisa.
He vividly recalls that even before Jose (Don Pepe) Cojuangco, Sr. – father of Corazon C. Aquino and Peping Cojuangco – acquired Tabacalera in 1958, he and thousands of sugar farm workers were petitioning for land distribution from then President Carlos P. Garcia.
The lease contract of the Spaniards was nearing its end, Basillio said, and the sugar farm workers were asking government to allocate funds to acquire the hacienda which will then be distributed to them.
However, before the Spaniards’ lease contract could end, Basillio said, Don Pepe showed interest in acquiring the Central Azucarera de Tarlac (CAT), the Tabacalera’s sugar mill.
Court records from the Manila Regional Trial Court (RTC) show that instead of addressing the plea of the sugar farm workers the government, through Central Bank Monetary Board Resolution No. 1240 agreed to guarantee a dollar loan from the Manufacturers Trust Company of New York for Don Pepe to be able to acquire the CAT. The resolution stipulated however that Don Pepe should also acquire the 6,443-hectare Hacienda Luisita on condition that this would be distributed to its tenants and small farmers.