Tarlac Councilor Is 9th Luisita Martyr; Victim’s Kin Finger Cojuangcos, Military as Suspects

Another witness said the fire came from a rifle. The witness saw the hitman himself screwing the scope into the rifle and fire the shot that killed the councilor.

Yet another witness told Bulatlat that he was riding a bicycle on his way home when he saw a dark green van, a Delica, parked in front of the road leading to Barangay Paraiso. As he passed by, he heard a shot that he described as “parang pumutok na gulong (like a tire that burst).” The shot supposedly came from inside the van.

He said the van immediately raced north toward the city proper.

The autopsy report of Tarlac medical health officer Dr. Saturnino Ferrer stated “some heart muscles were scattered and descending aorta behind heart was also lacerated.” The single bullet entered the left chest but no exit point was recognized.

Accountability

Speaking for the family, Ladera’s younger sister, Emy Ladera-Facunla held both the Nolcom and the Cojuangco-Aquino family – owners of the hacienda – responsible for the councilor’s killing.

“Walang kaaway ang kapatid ko. Mahal sya ng mga tao hindi lang dito sa hacienda kundi sa buong Tarlac” (My brother had no enemies. People here in the hacienda and the whole Tarlac loved him), she said.

She said the family believes that Kagawad Abel’s assailants were “hired killers.”

“Isa lang ang magtatangka sa buhay ng kapatid ko” (It is only they who can threaten my brother), she said, pointing to the Cojuangcos as the most likely suspects in connivance with the Nolcom as proven by its demonization campaign against Ladera.

In a separate interview, Tarlac City Mayor Aro Mendoza said the killing of Ladera was linked to the ongoing strike at Hacienda Luisita. He said he knew Ladera as someone who fights and stands for the people.

Even the initial police report stated “the labor dispute in Hacienda Luisita (has) something to do anent the said incident considering that the victim is (a) known ally of the protesters.”

Pol Viuya, secretary general of the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan – New Patriotic Alliance) in Tarlac, corroborated Ladera-Facula’s allegation, saying that the Cojuangco family has everything to gain by the death of the councilor.

“They would think that the elimination of Kagawad Abel will mean the success of their evil design to drive the hacienda people from the land, even at the cost of countless, precious lives,” Viuya said.

“What they failed to achieve through the deaths of the martyrs of the Hacienda Luisita Massacre and the death of Ka Marcing, they hope to achieve with the death of Kagawad Abel. But sure, the enemies of the people will fail,” Viuya said.

Nolcom

In an attempt to end the protracted strike, Nolcom officials in a grand press briefing held Jan. 22 in Camp Aquino, declared Hacienda Luisita a “matter of national security.” The officials also tagged Ladera, along with other union leaders, as “the contact person of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and its armed wing, the New People’s Army (NPA), in Hacienda Luisita.”

Viuya said that several pamphlets issued by Nolcom falsely portrayed Ladera as a nephew of CPP spokesperson Gregorio “Ka Roger” Rosal – “Rosal” being the maiden name of Ladera’s mother.

Nolcom “also accused him of involvement in the military’s fabricated story that NPA guerillas shot and killed the striking workers on Nov. 16,” Viuya added.

“Needless to say,” Viuya said, “they (Ladera and union leaders) became potential targets of attacks by government forces.”

The same Nolcom report was presented to barangay leaders of Tarlac City and the academic community such as the Tarlac State University (TSU), Viuya added.

But Viuya said the propaganda aspect is not what is alarming about the Nolcom campaign. “The real weight of the presentation is that it is a prelude to cold-blooded murder as proven by the death of Kagawad Abel,” Viuya added.

Cojuangcos’ ire

Elma, the councilor’s widow, said her husband initially got the ire of the Cojuangcos in 1993 during the Hacienda residents’ campaign against the demolition of Barangay Balite. Ladera was the village chair.

Balite, Elma recalled, was then located where the main road leading to the CAT’s Gate 1 now stands. Villagers opposed the Cojuangcos’ road-widening project that threatened to rip through Balite residents’ houses.

Ladera fought hard that they be granted relocation within the hacienda as most of the village’s population is farm workers. Today, Balite has concrete roads, a multi-purpose village hall that includes a basketball court, and new homes.

Elma also recalled that Margarita “Ting-ting” Cojuangco, wife of another Cojuangco heir, Jose (Peping), who ran for governor in 1994, asked for but failed to get Ladera’s support. Ladera instead supported Jose “Aping” Yap who eventually won in that election. Yap currently serves his last term as governor.

Peacemaker

In fact, in the ongoing labor dispute at Hacienda Luisita, Ladera offered to broker negotiations between the Cojuangcos and the striking workers.

Viuya said that it was Ladera who faxed letters to Peping Cojuangco and Rep. Aquino III on Nov. 14 and 15 saying he intends to mediate the labor talks to avert a violent dispersal.

Together with union leaders and Bayan Muna Rep. Satur Ocampo, Ladera went to Peping Cojuangco’s mansion in Dasmariñas Village, Makati City morning of Nov. 16. But, Emy recalled, he was rebuffed by the Cojuangcos.

“You’re not supposed to be here,” Ting-ting Cojuangco supposedly told Ladera as he entered the Cojuangco home. “Hindi ka naman namin kakampi, bakit nandito ka?” (You never supported our family, why are you here?).

Supported by his Tarlac constituents, Ladera was elected fourth among candidates as city councilor in 2001 and second in 2004. Had he not been slain, the councilor could have been a shoo-in for mayor in the next local elections.

Unlike most local officials in Tarlac province, Ladera distanced himself from the Cojuangcos and Aquinos whose seat of political and economic empire is backed by their ownership of Hacienda Luisita, which is considered the Philippines’ largest sugar plantation. (Bulatlat.com)

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