The Office of the Ombudsman has now the biggest number of complainants since it was formed during the last years of martial law: 52 farmers, survivors and relatives of seven victims in the Nov. 16 Hacienda Luisita massacre.
BY DABET CASTAÑEDA
The Office of the Ombudsman has now the biggest number of complainants since it was formed during the last years of martial law.
On Jan. 13, 52 farmers, survivors and relatives of seven victims in the Nov. 16 massacre at Hacienda Luisida in Tarlac filed criminal and administrative charges against the owners and managers of the hacienda and the sugar central, police and military officers and labor officials. Thirty-two of the complainants trooped to the Ombudsman on Agham Road, Quezon City.
One of them was Maribel Valdez, 26. Valdez, who is pregnant, looked pensive as she joined a march along Quezon Avenue in Quezon City on the way to the Office of the Ombudsman. She is to deliver her fourth child at the end of this month but the expectant mother was anything but excited.
“Ipapanganak siya ng walang ama” (The baby will be born without a father) said Valdez as she took off a little white dress she wrapped around her head. The baby’s father, Jessie, a sugar farm worker for 15 years, was one of the seven killed last Nov. 16 when police and military forces attacked the picket line of sugar farm and mill workers at Hacienda Luisita in Tarlac (120 kms north of Manila).
Together with 31 other complainants and about 200 sugar farm and mill workers, Valdez trooped to the Ombudsman that day, nearly two months after the carnage that killed her husband, to file criminal and administrative charges against the owners and managers of the hacienda and the sugar central, police and military officers and labor officials.
Valdez is not alone. She and her children join hundreds of peasant families widowed by state repression as brute force is used to answer their demand for land.
In the Senate hearing last Jan. 12, Dr. Gene Nisperos of the Health Alliance for Democracy (HEAD) presented before the Committee on Labor chaired by Sen. Jinggoy Estrada the findings of an independent investigation into the Nov. 16 massacre.
Contrary to the military’s claim that the violence at the picket line occurred because the soldiers and policemen were provoked and that the series of gunfire was done in defense, the medical findings showed an actual armed assault on the strikers and an excessive use of force that had a clear intent to cause harm.
Nisperos said that of the 10 accumulated gunshot wounds sustained by the seven who died, only two were frontal – Jesus Laza’s two gunshot wounds on his chest. A witness interviewed by Bulatlat one week after the massacre narrated that Laza was throwing stones at the military in self-defense when he was shot.
All other entry wounds were either from the back or from the side.
If the strikers were on an offensive, Nisperos argued, they could have sustained frontal gunshot wounds. That the wounds of the majority of the victims had entry points at the back and side meant that they were already scampering for safety when they were shot, he said.
Ricardo Tacusalme Jr., 30, in his affidavit, stated that “Tumatakbo na kami ay binabaril pa rin kami.” (We were already running but we were still being shot.)
Actual video footages of the incident showed that the first volley of fire lasted for about 30 seconds but the whole shooting lasted for about two minutes. “Doon sa sunod-sunod na putok maraming nasaktan” (It was in the series of gunfire that many were injured), the doctor said.
The medical team also found that before the shooting at around 9 a.m. on Nov. 16, the St. Martin de Porres Hospital (some 200 meters away from the CAT main gate) was “cleared” and its patients were transferred to other hospitals outside the hacienda.
Two hours before the shooting, Nisperos said, army personnel arrived and manned the hospital. “This would give an inkling that there was some degree of premeditation to the extent of the violence that occurred later on because they (the Cojuangcos who also owned the hospital) cleared the hospital readily,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Provincial Epidemiology and Surveillance Unit of the Provincial Health Office (PHO) of Tarlac said that only five of the seven bodies died of gunshot wounds. Juancho Sanchez suffered severe head injury while Laza died of basal skull fracture, the PHO unit reported.
However, the HEAD report said that all seven died of gunshot wounds. Nisperos explained that they could have suffered other injuries prior to death but still died of gunshot wounds.
It is not clear where the PHO based its report, Nisperos said, but even the PHO and the PNP Crime Laboratory had conflicting reports. While the PHO stated that Laza had died of basal skull fracture, the PNP Crime Laboratory stated that the same victim had no head and neck injuries.
Sen. Jamby Madrigal, a member of the Senate labor committee who also attended the hearing, expressed disgust over the seemingly erroneous report submitted by the PHO. “There seems to be falsification and perjury of the documents,” she said. If it is true that the reports were altered, she feared that there is going to be a whitewash in the investigation.
After hearing the medical findings of Nisperos’ group, Madrigal said the facts of the case showed that the assault at the picket line was “an act of violence and no longer an act of defense.”
The PHO report was submitted by Cecille Lopez, Aurora Somintac, Erenita Estavillo, Wilfredo Serrano and Jesus Candelaria to the Department of Health last Nov. 19. Lopez and Estavillo are registered nurses while Somintac is a medical doctor.
Five casualties were autopsied by Dr. Saturnino Ferrer, Tarlac municipal health officer while the other two were autopsied by Dr. Reynaldo Ardy, Jr. of the PNP Crime Laboratory.
In his affidavit, Rene Galang, president of the United Luisita Workers’ Union (ULWU), described the Nov. 16 massacre as a conspiracy among the Cojuangco clan, Labor Secretary Patricia Sto. Tomas, officers and members of the Philippine National Police (PNP) -Region 3 and the Armed Forces of the Philippines-Northern Luzon Command (AFP-NOLCOM).
At the Office of the Ombudsman, 32 out of the 52 complainants filed criminal charges against the Hacienda Luisita, Inc. including Don Pedro Cojuangco, Jose “Peping” Cojuangco, Jr. and Ricardo Lopa. Also charged were Jose Manuel Lopa, resident manager of the Central Azucarera de Tarlac (CAT) and Ernesto Teopaco, chief negotiator in the collective bargaining agreement of both the sugar mill and the plantation.
Sto. Tomas was implicated for issuing an Assumption of Jurisdiction (AJ) and “deputization order” to the NOLCOM while Labor Undersecretary Manuel Imson was charged for issuing a “deputization order” to the PNP-Region 3. DoLE sheriff Francis Reyes was charged for serving the AJ.
Police officers charged were led by Chief Supt. Quirino dela Torre, director of PNP-Region 3, and Sr. Supt. Angelo Sunglao, PNP-Tarlac provincial director and ground commander during the massacre. Military officials charged included Maj. Gen. Romeo Dominguez, commanding officer of the NOLCOM.
Criminal charges filed were multiple murder for the death of Jhavie Basilio, 20; Juancho Sanchez, 20; Jessie Valdez, 30; Jaime Fastidio, 46; Jesus Laza, 34; June David, 28; and Adriano Caballero Jr., 23.
Multiple frustrated murder, multiple attempted murder, serious and less serious physical injuries were filed for the wounding of at least 72 individuals, 27 of whom sustained gunshot wounds.
They were also charged with theft and malicious mischief for stealing mobile phones, kitchenware and sacks of rice, among others.
Administrative charges of grave abuse of authority and conduct unbecoming of a public official were filed against the labor officials, the police and military officers and personnel and Rep. Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III (2nd district, Tarlac) who was implicated in another shooting incident that occurred in the hacienda last Jan. 5. He is a son of former President Corazon Cojuangco-Aquino.
Marilyn Galvez, one of the Ombudsman directors who facilitated the filing of the case, said that the number of complainants in this case is the biggest so far in the history of the Ombudsman.
Tales of massacre of peasant families and communities are nothing new.
The most infamous mass murder of peasants in contemporary Philippine history occurred on Jan. 22, 1987 when thousands joined a rally at Mendiola to call for genuine agrarian reform. Called the Mendiola Massacre, 13 farmers were killed on the foot of Mendiola Bridge just outside the gates of Malacañang Palace. Six others reportedly died in the hospital. They were demanding President Aquino to fulfill her promise to initiate genuine agrarian reform.
Two years before that, 20 sugar cane farmers were killed in Escalante, Negros while 30 others were wounded in what is also known as “Bloody Thursday.” The farmers were staging a protest in commemoration of the 13th anniversary of martial law.
The other mass executions were results of counter-insurgency operations by the military. On Sept. 15, 1981, the howling of a Special Forces-Integrated Civilian Home Defense Forces (SF-ICHDF) team awakened a community of farmers in Sag-od, an interior village in Las Navas, Northern Samar. In the middle of the night they were assembled for a meeting. Little did they know it was the last they will see of each other. The men were separated from the women and children. The first volley of gunfire was directed toward the men. Later, the women and children, mostly infants and toddlers, were also slaughtered. The number of fatalities remains unknown.
On Feb. 10, 1987, just three weeks after the carnage in Mendiola, soldiers from the 15th Infantry Battalion (IB) of the AFP killed 17 farmers including children and the elderly in Lupao, Nueva Ecija.
Four members of a Mangyan (the indigenous people’s tribe in the twin-province of Mindoro) family were butchered on July 23, 2003 by soldiers from the 16th IB.
In the three instances, the military alleged that the victims were caught in crossfire between them and the New People’s Army guerillas.
Peasant organizers have also become targets of brutality. In 1981, four members of the preparatory committee of the Alliance of Central Luzon Farmers (ACLF) were murdered in Barangay (village) Moronquillo, San Rafael, Bulacan. The ACLF is known today as the Alyansa ng mga Mabubukid sa Gitnang Luzon (AMGL or Alliance of Farmers in Central Luzon).
On April 21, 2003, peasant leader Eddie Gumanoy was murdered in Mindoro Oriental while conducting a fact-finding mission on alleged military atrocities in the area. He was killed together with human rights worker Eden Marcellana.
Indeed, the hands that till the land and feed the nation are also the same hands that are tied to feudal bondage. And until genuine agrarian reform remains elusive, justice for those killed will remain similarly elusive. Bulatlat.com