Luisita Workers Reject GMA Expressway; Press for Her Ouster

In January 2005, JBIC threatened to withdraw funding for the project because of the value-added tax and import duties worth P2.3 billion that may be levied on the bank. The government, upon request of the BCDA, immediately exempted JBIC and included a tax subsidy for the Japanese bank in the 2005 budget.

Another cause of delay is the payment for right-of-way acquisitions. BCDA had to secure a P1 billion loan from a local private bank for its counterpart funding which includes right-of-way payments.

In the case of Hacienda Luisita, Galang clarified that union members are not that concerned with money from government acquisition of land for the project. “We are opposed to the project because it is a direct threat to our survival. It will open the floodgates of more large-scale land conversion and with that, our stake in the land,” Galang explained.

But even then, management lawyers say that farm workers are not entitled to a single centavo from right-of-way fees unless the corporation decides to do so in terms of stock dividends.

ULWU, together with the Central Azucarera de Tarlac Labor Union (CATLU), the 700-strong sugar mill workers’ union, launched a simultaneous strike in November last year which has become the bloodiest and most controversial labor dispute in the country.

An assumption of jurisdiction (AJ) order issued by the government led to the Nov. 16 massacre which resulted in the death of at least seven strikers allegedly by government troops. In the ensuing months, four supporters of the striking workers: two farmer leaders, a city councilor and a priest would be assassinated.

The unions blame the Arroyo government and the military for the killings. After seven months, the workers still man several picket lines surrounding the sugar mill and have vowed to continue with the strike.

Galang said the SCTEP is part of the Cojuangco-Aquino family’s design to convert the entire hacienda into a commercial area. The planned conversion, Galang said, will drive the people away from their homes and their sole means of livelihood, and deprive them of their claim on the land.

He said the project now fully explains why hundreds of troops from the Northern Luzon Command are deployed in the hacienda.

“Aside from trying to weaken the people’s resolve to continue the strike, the military now serves as the advance party to clear the area in preparation for the (SCTEP),” Galang said.

Right to till

All cultivable land in the hacienda has become idle since the strike started. To see them through the difficult rainy season, union members plan to cultivate portions of the hacienda to produce vegetables and other food crops.

“We will exercise our right to till and make the idle land productive. While we await the decision of the cases we have filed against management on the transactions regarding the land, including the implementation of CARP, we need to come up with something to ease the difficulties we are facing,” Galang explained.

He said that the union will make sure that the plan will be done in a collective and organized manner and that those who will participate are aware of their rights and responsibilities, he said.

He added that both unions are always ready to face management again on the negotiating table to amicably resolve the strike, Galang said. Bulatlat

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