The ex-farm workers of Hacienda Luisita had been reaping the fruits of their labor through a “cultivation campaign” that allowed them to plant what they needed and supported their livelihood. But the plantation has decreed that they should stop what they’re doing and leave. Unfazed, the farmers are bracing for another tough fight ahead.
By ALEXANDER MARTIN REMOLLINO
HACIENDA LUISITA, Tarlac — Rice stalks, with golden grains now visible, greet visitors as they pass through a number of the villages surrounding Hacienda Luisita on buses, jeepneys, or tricycles. The stalks, which according to villagers are to be harvested in a few days, are planted where sugarcane stalks used to sprout.
Of Hacienda Luisita’s total area of 6,453 hectares, 4,915.75 hectares are devoted to agriculture. These nearly 5,000 hectares all used to be planted to sugarcane. Right now, however, some 2,000 hectares of these are rice fields, while a few other parts have become vegetable patches.
The farmers tending these plots used to be farm workers in what used to be parts of the Cojuangco-owned sugar plantation.
“Back then, when this land was all sugar plantation, September and October would be very hard times for the people of Hacienda Luisita, because there would be hardly any work,” said Lito Bais, acting chairman of the United Luisita Workers’ Union (ULWU).
“Now, in the middle of September, you would see the people very busy, harvesting rice,” he said in an interview. “The streets would turn golden as the rice grains are spread out under the sun.”
For those who have shifted from sugarcane to rice, life is now easier, Bais said, because they and their families are assured that they would not go hungry.
“Before, the people would be very hungry by September to October, and their children would be reed-thin,” said Felix Nakpil, founder of the Alyansa ng mga Manggagawang-Bukid sa Asyenda Luisita (Ambala or Alliance of Farm Workers in Hacienda Luisita), in a separate interview. “Now, by those months, there would be a lot of rice in their homes.”
The relative prosperity now enjoyed by the former farm workers of Hacienda Luisita is the product of a bitter struggle that took no small toll, having claimed a number of lives.
Bogus Agrarian Reform
What is now known as Hacienda Luisita was a Spanish-owned property before falling into the hands of the American company that managed Tabacalera. Early in 1957, then President Ramon Magsaysay advised Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino, then mayor of Concepcion, Tarlac, to convince his father-in-law Jose “Don Pepe” Cojuangco Sr. to purchase the land. This, Magsaysay said, was to avoid the possibility of its falling into the hands of the Lopezes, who were the president’s political rivals. Cojuangco led a group of agricultural businessmen in purchasing the land, and eventually came to an agreement allowing his family to purchase the land as well as the majority shares in Central Azucarera de Tarlac, then owned by Tabacalera and a few Spanish businessmen. The purchase was approved by the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP or Central Bank of the Philippines) and, with loans from the Manufacturer’s Trust Company of New York, the Chase Manhattan Bank, and the Government Service Insurance System, Cojuangco purchased the land. The GSIS loan carried a stipulation that the land would be distributed to the tenants and farm workers by 1967.