A former member of the Yellow Army and supervisor of Hacienda Luisita who admitted to being one of campaigners for the Stock Distribution Option in 1989 tell how he did it — and why they are going against it today.
BY DABET CASTAÑEDA
For almost 16 years, agriculturist Windsor Andaya worked as supervisor in the country’s largest sugar plantation – the 6,443-ha Hacienda Luisita (now 4,915 ha Hacienda Luisita, Inc. or HLI) owned and operated by the powerful Cojuangco-Aquino clan in Tarlac, some 120 kms north of Manila.
His roots are from the hacienda: His father was a former employee of the plantation’s sugar central – the Central Azucarera de Tarlac (CAT) – and his mother a former hacienda farm hand. The Andaya home still stands on a 240-ha lot in Barangay (village) Balite, one of the 11 villages comprising the hacienda.
Windsor started to work as supervisor for the plantation in 1984. Two years later, when one of the heirs of the Cojuangco clan – Corazon Cojuangco-Aquino – became president on the crest of a people’s revolt that overthrew Marcos rule, Andaya found himself lured into the clan’s private army, the Yellow Army.
Yellow Army, SDO
As a trusted servant, Andaya was picked to serve in the Yellow Army – the Israeli-British-trained private armed group formed in 1986. Loyalty to the Cojuangco-Aquino clan was the most important qualification for the yellow army, he told Bulatlat.
Andaya said 90 percent of 106 supervisors at that time were armed and doubled as protectors of the hacienda. “Bilang sentro ng kapangyarihan sunod sa Malacañang, ang Hacienda Luisita ang kailangan naming protektahan” (Being the center of power next to Malacañang, we had to protect Hacienda Luisita). They received no pay or incentive for the extra service, he said however.
Protecting the hacienda was not their only task, Andaya said. They were also told, he said, to convince the farm workers to vote in favor of the Stock Distribution Option (SDO) scheme. “Ginamit din nila kami para manalo ang SDO” (They used us to make sure the stock option would win), he said.
In an article published Dec. 5 last year by the Philippine Daily Inquirer, HLI general counsel Fernando C. Cojuangco insisted that the SDO is both legal and moral it being the choice in two referenda initiated by then Agrarian Reform Secretary Phillip Ella Juico. In the first referendum, Cojuangco said 92.9 percent of the farm workers approved and signed the Memorandum of Agreement (MOA); 96.27 percent of the farm beneficiaries voted in favor of the SDO in the second referendum on Oct. 14, 1989.
In a separate Bulatlat interview, a source from the Presidential Agrarian Reform Committee (PARC) belied reports that the farm beneficiaries were forced to vote for the SDO during the referendum. “Tahimik naman nun” (It was peaceful then), the source said.
In the late 1980s, the PARC, headed no less by President Aquino, unanimously approved the SDO as the mode of compliance of the Cojuangcos to the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP), President Aquino’s centerpiece program. Through the SDO, the hacienda owners distributed stocks instead of actual land parcels to more than 5,000 farm beneficiaries.
However, in a recent House inquiry on the SDO, woman peasant leader and hacienda farm hand Carina Espino testified that they were coerced into voting for the SDO, thus corroborating Andaya’s admission.
In an interview with Bulatlat, hacienda farm hands Ofelia Mendoza, 53, and Rosario Santos, 59, attested that they were harassed during the campaign for the SDO. Both had opposed the SDO and were known in the community during the referendum as being on the side of those who preferred land distribution to stocks.
As a sort of punishment, both Mendoza and Santos were told to leave the plantation when they reported for work the day after the referendum.
Andaya also confirmed that the coercion campaign took place way before the referendum. “Yung ibang supervisors nanakot talaga” (Some of the supervisors issued threats), he said.
One way of harassing the farm workers, he said, was to warn those who go against the SDO that they would lose their jobs in the hacienda. “Halimbawa, iipitin o hindi sila tatanggapin sa trabaho,” he said.
But the campaign for the SDO, he qualified, was more of convincing the people that the SDO was a better choice than actual land distribution. Armed with rifles or pistols and giving away pamphlets and comics that echoed the age-old dictum “prinsipyo o kaldero?” the supervisors succeeded in persuading most of the farm beneficiaries to vote for the SDO, Andaya said.
“Kami ang sandata ng mga Cojuangco” (We were the Cojuangcos’ weapons), he said.
The Yellow Army was disarmed in 1994 after Jose “Aping” Yap won as governor over Margarita “Ting-Ting” Cojuangco, wife of another Cojuangco heir and President Aquino’s brother Jose “Peping” Cojuangco.