To die for
In 2004, HLI farm workers and mill workers of the Central Azucarrera de Tarlac (CAT), also owned and operated by the Cojuangcos, staged a simultaneous strike to demand the reinstatement of union leaders and members who were not even paid their separation pay, and the revocation of the SDO and pave the way for actual land distribution to farm worker beneficiaries.
The strike caught national and international attention when on Nov. 16, 2004 or exactly 10 days into the strike, seven farm workers lay dead in front of the gates of the CAT sugar mill after state security agents and snipers who were suspected to be members of the Cojuangcos’ private army opened fire at the strikers in what is now known as the Hacienda Luisita Massacre.
Mang Pering’s and his family was there during the massacre. His daughter, Flor, was hit at the back while one of his sons was hit on the buttocks.
After the massacre, the farm workers painstakingly rebuilt the picketline. Harassments and intimidation continued, though, resulting in the deaths of their union officers – CAT president Ric Ramos and HLI Director Tirso Cruz – and staunch supporters – massacre witness Marcelino Beltran, Tarlac Councilor Abel Ladera, Fr. William Tadena, Bishop Alberto Ramento, among others.
When the strike was finally lifted in October, scores of families had to leave the hacienda fearing for their lives. That included Flor’s family as she has been a target of a series of black propaganda and continued harassment for being an active member of the farm workers’ union.
Distribute the land
On September 30, 2005, the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) recommended the revocation of the SDO aftera thorough investigation of its implementation in HLI and its severe implications on the lives of farm workers.
In December 2005, the Presidential Agrarian Reform Committee (PARC) decided with finality the revocation of the SDO in HLI and ordered the DAR to distribute parcels of lands of Hacienda Luisita to its rightful owners – the farm workers.
The Cojuangcos, however, asked the Supreme Court (SC) for a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO). The request was granted after the Cojuangcos shelled out a P5 million bond.
Starting all over again
It took almost two years for Flor and her family to return to their home in Barangay Balete, one of 11 villages comprising the hacienda.
“Mahirap, parang nagsisimula ka ulit,” (It is difficult to start all over again.) Flor told this reporter in an exclusive interview with Bulatlat right in the middle the 2.2-hectare sugar land which has been converted to a rice and vegetable farm.
The farm workers in the hacienda are literally starting from scratch since the strike has been lifted more than two years ago, HLI union president Boyet Galang said in a separate interview. Galang has had to flee the hacienda, too, since he has been a long time target for assassination. He now also stands as the president of the Ugnayan ng mga Manggagawa sa Asyenda (UMA or Association of Hacienda Workers), a national network of farm workers.
Using funds provided by management as part of the final agreement ending the strike, Galang said their union has built a cooperative aimed at helping the farm workers and their families to start planting rice and vegetables in stead of sugarcane. Since two years ago, almost half of the hacienda (or an estimate of 2,000 hectares) has been converted to rice and vegetable farms.
The union cooperative provided for the construction of deep wells for irrigation and the acquisition of farm inputs. The cooperative, Galang said, is also starting to acquire farm machineries such as kuliglig (hand tractor) and thresher.
Planting vegetables has been rewarding, Flor said. She sells them to neighbors and earn at least P500 ($10.72) in three days, a far cry from their P9.50 ($0.20) daily pay from HLI years ago. “Basta matyaga ka lang, kikita ka na may libreng ulam ka pa kasi yung tanim namin, yun na din ang pagkain namin,” (For as long as you are industrious, you can earn and at the same time provide for your food from the harvest.) Flor said.
But more than the monetary compensation, what is more redeeming, Flor said, is the actual cultivation of the land that is rightfully theirs. (Bulatlat.com)