Union grieves for murdered Hacienda union chief
“Ganun si kapitan. He would risk everything for us. It can only be those who feel threatened by him and the union who would want to kill him.” Thus said a Hacienda Luisita worker of murdered union leader Ricardo Ramos.
BY DABET CASTAñEDA
HACIENDA LUISITA, Tarlac – While rain poured all day on Thursday, Oct. 27, majority of the remaining officers of Hacienda Luisita’s Central Azucarrera de Tarlac Labor Union (CATLU) met at the village hall of Barangay Mapalacsiao. It was a gloomy day indeed as the meeting was called to discuss the union’s plans of action after the murder of their president, 47-year old Ricardo Ramos.
Ramos, who was also on his second term as village chair of Mapalacsiao, was shot at the head around 8 p.m. of Oct. 25. He died on the spot.
Romeo Sarate, CATLU director for the medical department and one of the newly-elected union spokespersons, called the murder of Ramos as “another treacherous act by the Cojuangco-Aquino clan.”
He said they were on the verge of sealing a deal with the CAT management after several backdoor negotiations with Ernesto Teopaco, vice president for operations.
Around 700 mill workers belonging to the CATLU staged a simultaneous strike with about 5,000 plantation workers of the Hacienda under the United Luisita Workers’ Union (ULWU) Nov. 6 last year. The 6,443-hectare Hacienda Luisita estate is owned and operated by the family of former President Corazon Cojuangco-Aquino of the powerful Cojuangco clan in Tarlac.
On Nov. 16, seven striking workers and supporters were massacred in the most violent picketline dispersal recorded in history.
After almost a year of on-and-off negotiations, Sarate said both union and management have finally agreed to defy the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) order and give the workers a P15 wage increase and a P13,000 signing bonus, among others. The DOLE earlier ordered a measly P12 wage increase and P12,500 signing bonus.
Sarate said the negotiations with Teopaco should have led to the signing of a Memorandum of Agreement (MoA) and could have been part of the union’s triumph over the strike.
But prior to the backdoor negotiations with management, the union has petitioned DOLE for the release of their earned wages prior to the strike, including their 13th month pay and Christmas bonus for the year 2004. The DOLE should have confiscated some eight thousand bags of sugar amounting to P8.8 million as early as the last week of September so the workers could receive their back wages.
But Sarate said the CAT management lobbied for time and promised to release the workers’ earned wages on Oct. 21. The next day, Oct.22, the DOLE confiscated the bags of sugar. In the morning of Oct. 25, Ramos, assisted by the DOLE-Region III, led the release of the earned wages, with each worker receiving around P25,000 each.
Together with friends and some village officials, Ramos was celebrating the union’s victory when he was shot dead that same night.
Ramos was “Kap” (short for barangay captain) to his constituents or simply “Pres” (short for president) to union members. Either way, Ramos was known to the people of the hacienda as a firm and dependable leader.
In the course of their 11-month strike, Sarate said their president proved he was for the welfare of the workers and the hacienda people in general.
On several occasions, Ramos proved he could neither be cowed nor bribed.
A few days before the DOLE confiscated bags of sugar from the mill, Sarate said Teopaco called on Ramos to sign a document stating that the union was already settling its issues with management, therefore, the levying of CAT property was not necessary. Sarate said Ramos declined to sign it.
Sarate added that what could have made Ramos a bigger pain in the neck for the Cojuangcos was the condition he imposed before any MoA could be signed between the union and the management – that the Cojuangcos should also settle the labor issues between CAT’s sister company, Hacienda Luisita, Inc., which operates the plantation, and the ULWU.