Anti-Crime Crusader, RM Awardee, Church Leaders Back Luisita Workers

An anti-crime crusader, a Ramon Magsaysay awardee, Church leaders and academic personalities share one thing in common: they support the battle-scarred striking workers of the Hacienda Luisita against its owners, the Cojuangco and Aquino clans.

BY ALEXANDER MARTIN REMOLLINO
Bulatlat.com

An anti-crime crusader, a Ramon Magsaysay awardee, Church leaders and academic personalities share one thing in common: they support the battle-scarred striking workers of the Hacienda Luisita against its owners, the Cojuangco and Aquino clans.

The anti-crime crusader, Dante Jimenez of the Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption (VACC); Dr. Bien Lumbera, 1993 Ramon Magsaysay Awardee in Journalism, Literature and Creative Communication Arts; Catholic Bp. Deogracias Iñiguez (Caloocan City); and Bp. Alberto Ramento of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente (IFI or Philippine Independent Church) acted as convenors along with other leaders in forming Kapitbisig (Link Arms, A Campaign for Justice to the Victims of the Hacienda Luisita Massacre).

Kapitbisig, a broad solidarity alliance for the farm and mill workers and their two-month long strike at Hacienda Luisita in Tarlac City, was launched Jan. 18 at the Balai Kalinaw, University of the Philippines (UP) in Diliman, Quezon City.

Other convenors included Sr. Mary Benedict Falcatan, Pastor Marie Sol Villena, the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan), Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP or Philippine Peasant Movement) and Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU or May First Movement).

Around 6,000 sugar plantation workers and mill laborers are on strike since Nov. 6 last year demanding, among others, land distribution, pay increases and the reinstatement of retrenched workers. Seven striking workers were killed in an assault by military and police forces on Nov. 16 while more than 40 others were injured. Another peasant leader, Marcelino Beltran, was mowed down allegedly by soldiers on Dec. 8 in Tarlac.

Jimenez, lawyer-president of VACC, said during the launch that he never thought that the Cojuangcos and Aquinos would go to such heights of violence. “I don’t know what happened to the freedom and democracy they espoused during the Marcos period,” he said.

Continue the fight

Jimenez urged the strikers to continue the fight. “We know that the justice system is rotten,” he said, “but if we unite we will find the justice we are seeking – in any form, in any way.”

In a subsequent interview with Bulatlat, Jimenez said that the VACC has committed to help the families of the Hacienda Luisita victims by monitoring and following up their claims for damages before the Department of Justice (DoJ)’s Board of Claims. They are legally entitled to damages amounting to P10,000 ($178.57 based on a $1:P56 exchange rate) “as victims of heinous crimes,” according to Jimenez.

The anti-crime crusader also disclosed that the VACC will ask law enforcement agencies to ban policemen with long firearms from mass actions. “This is to prevent the escalation of violence,” Jimenez said.

“We see that the Hacienda Luisita incident is a boiling issue that must be taken care of, and we the people must take a look at this,” Jimenez said when asked about the reason for the VACC’s decision to get involved in the Hacienda Luisita issue.

Brazen

On the other hand, Dr. Lumbera in a separate interview with Bulatlat, denounced the Tarlac massacre as brazen. “The people, even if they have no links with the peasants or the place where the crime was committed, should protest and make it known to the authorities that the violence that happened is a grave crime against the Filipino people,” he said.

Lumbera is one of the contributors to Pakikiramay (Condolence), an anthology of poems condemning the Hacienda Luisita Massacre. Pakikiramay was initiated by Dr. Joi Barrios, an award-winning poet and a UP professor. Launched Dec. 13, Pakikiramay features poems by writers like Jesus Manuel Santiago, Dr. Lilia Quindoza-Santiago, Edel Garcellano, Reuel Molina Aguila, and Fidel Rillo.

Meanwhile, KMU chairman Elmer Labog revealed that since Nov. 16, the labor center’s office has received more than 5,000 letters addressed to Malacañang, the AFP, and the PNP – all condemning the Nov. 16 dispersal.

Also present at the launch was Ildefonso Pingol, vice president of the 6,000-strong United Luisita Workers Union (ULWU), who expressed appreciation for the formation of Kapitbisig.

Pingol’s sentiments were echoed by Rodel Mesa, a spokesperson of the Alyansa ng Manggagawang-Bukid sa Asyenda Luisita (Ambala or Hacienda Luisita Farm Workers Alliance), in an interview with Bulatlat.

“We are most thankful for it,” Mesa said of Kapitbisig’s formation.

“Though they are far from us,” he said of Kapitbisig’s convenors and members, “they are able to make their concern felt. Admirable, compared to some who are in Hacienda Luisita but have not been able to help us in any way.”

Among those who attended the Kapitbisig launching were Boy Rellosa of the August Twenty One Movement (ATOM), nationalist and civil libertarian Renato Constantino, Jr., and constitutionalist and former Labor Undersecretary Amado Gat. Inciong.

Families of victims

Kapitbisig is initiated by the families of the Hacienda Luisita victims, the organizations of workers at the Hacienda Luisita, and other concerned groups and individuals. They are united on the basis of an “abiding commitment” to seek justice for the victims.

Among Kapitbisig’s initiators is Pastor Gabriel Sanchez, father of slain striker Juancho Sanchez and a former Hacienda Luisita farm worker. Sanchez, together with Sr. Ellen Belardo of the National Network of Agrarian Reform Advocates (NNARA), appear to play leading roles in the coalition.

The other convenors of Kapitbisig are: Bp. Deogracias Iñiguez (Roman Catholic, Caloocan City), Bp. Alberto Ramento of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente (IFI or Philippine Independent Church) in Tarlac, Sr. Mary Benedict Falcatan, Pastor Marie Sol Villena, Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan), Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP or Philippine Peasant Movement), Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU or May First Labor Center);

Bayan-Central Luzon, NNARA, Promotion of Church People’s Response (PCPR), Karapatan (Alliance for the Advancement of People’s Rights), Sentro para sa Tunay na Repormang Agraryo (Sentra or Center for Genuine Agrarian Reform), Center for Trade Union and Human Rights-National Coalition for the Protection of Workers Rights and Welfare (CTUHR-NCPW), Bayan- National Capital Region, and the Health Alliance for Democracy (HEAD);

Confederation for the Unity, Recognition and Advancement of Government Employees (Courage), Kapisanan ng Manggagawa ng GSIS (KMG or GSIS Workers Association), and Water Systems Employees Response (Water).

Legal and moral support

How is Kapitbisig going to help the striking workers of Hacienda Luisita?

Kapitbisig, according to Lumbera, aims to gather material support for the strikers, as well as financial, legal, and moral support for the victims of the massacre.

In its unity statement, Kapitbisig pledges to: support the prosecution of the masterminds and perpetrators of the massacre and continuing investigation into the case, expose the “unjust and inhumane working and living conditions” of Hacienda Luisita’s workers and work to reform these, uphold the workers’ rights to unionize and strike and their freedom of speech and to oppose the suppression of these rights.

It also commits to gather the “broadest support” for genuine land reform in Hacienda Luisita to “to include the thoroughgoing review of the stock distribution option (SDO) scheme with a view to its revocation should it be proven a failure in terms of improving the lot of its supposed beneficiaries,” and gather support for the repeal of anti-worker laws and policies.

Other efforts

The formation of Kapitbisig is expected to greatly complement other efforts, so far, by various sectors in support of the Hacienda Luisita victims.

Bayan, for instance, has gone on several caravans to Hacienda Luisita.

In late November and early December, concerned legislators in the Senate and the House of Representatives led investigations, in aid of legislation, into the fundamental issues related to the Hacienda Luisita strike.

The multi-media groups Tudla and Sine Patriyotiko have both come out with video documentaries on the strike, covering also the Nov. 16 dispersal: Tudla has Sa Ngalan ng Tubo), while Sine Patriyotiko has Aklasan (Strike).

Meanwhile, support continues to come in.

Jan. 20 saw the founding congress of the Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA), inspired by the unity of the Hacienda Luisita strikers and committed to uphold the rights and welfare of workers in the agricultural sector. Support for the Hacienda Luisita strikers is presently among the main items in its agenda.

At night that same day, Kilometer 64 – a poets’ group whose most active members are largely based in Manila – launched a collection of poems protesting against the oppression of Hacienda Luisita’s workers. Titled Kabyawan (Cane Harvest Season), the collection contains poems by Kilometer 64 members as well as a poem each contributed by Gelacio Guillermo, a long-renowned protest poet and an Hacienda Luisita worker in his youth; and Danilo Ramos, a farmer from Bulacan and national chairman of the KMP.

The next day, UMA and other groups under the banner of Bayan trooped to the Don Chino Roces Bridge in Manila to stage a rally commemorating the 18th anniversary of the Mendiola Massacre. After the rally, they went on a caravan to Hacienda Luisita to beef up the strike – which now stands in danger of another violent dispersal following the issuance of a return-to-work order by Sto. Tomas.

In a House hearing Nov. 24, Quezon City Rep. Edcel Lagman questioned Sto. Tomas as to whether the Cojuangcos and Aquinos had requested for the issuance of the AJ order, saying that in his experience as a former labor lawyer, AJ orders were usually issued “at the instance of management.” Sto. Tomas was not able to answer straight. Bulatlat.com

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