Fact-Finding Report Says Luisita Massacre Result of ‘Direct Armed Assault’ by Police, Military

Summary of relevant information and analysis of what happened on the days leading up to and the day itself of the Hacienda Lusita massacre on November 16, 2004

Prepared by the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (BAYAN) from a Fact-Finding Mission it led in Nov. 2004.

1. The United Luisita Workers’ Union (ULWU) started the strike at 11 a.m. on Nov. 6, 2004, charging management had engaged in union busting or unfair labor practices, and had refused to bargain thereafter. Almost all of the 5,000-strong farmworkers’ union membership joined the strike, with their families and communities in outlying barrios supporting them.

2. The ULWU strike was not covered by the “AJ” or assumption of jurisdiction by the Labor Secretary. ULWU’s case is with the National Labor Relations Commission. If one will be strict about legality, the four dispersal operations ordered by DoLE at Gate 1 of the sugar mill, where the ULWU members were primarily manning the picket lines, is patently illegal since Secretary Sto. Tomas’ “AJ” does not cover the ULWU strike.

3. The Central Azucarera de Tarlac Labor Union (CATLU) struck at 3 p.m., the same day. When leaders of CATLU learned that management had caused all gates to be closed and that sugar mill workers would be locked in, they called for their members to strike as well. The CATLU was in a CBA deadlock with the management of the sugar mill. It did not take long for CATLU officials and the majority of its members to recognize that CATLU and ULWU had a better fighting chance by uniting their forces and striking together. About 700 sugar mill workers joined the strike while 80 chose to continue working.

4. On Nov. 6 and 7, without any return-to-work nor deputization order from DoLE, the police interfered in the labor dispute. Instead of following the law and keeping themselves at least 50 meters away from the picket line, the PNP undertook a premeditated attack to break up the strike using teargas, water cannon, and truncheons. The workers defended themselves with sticks and stones. Many were hurt in the ensuing melee.

5. On Nov. 10, Ms. Sto. Tomas issued an “assumption of jurisdiction” order citing that the Cojuangcos’ hacienda and sugar mill were “vital” to the national interest. On Nov. 12, Labor Undersecretary Manuel Imson formally asked the police to “ensure ingress and egress from the company premises.” 6. In fact, ingress and egress were assured. There was no need to force open Gate 1 leading to the sugar mill because by Nov. 15, Gates 3 and 6 were very much open. Proof of this was that the vehicles of management as well as those of the police and military, later to include two armed personnel carriers (APCs) and four fire trucks, were free to go in and out of the hacienda. Sr. Supt. Angel Sunglao, Tarlac police chief, admitted as much in the House of Representatives hearings by the Committee on Human rights held to investigate the massacre.

7. The real purpose of the forcible opening of the padlocked Gate 1 (which management itself had closed) was to disperse the rallyists and destroy the picket line that had been serving as the most visible rallying point and symbol of the workers’ struggle. There was no need to deploy the police to disrupt an otherwise peaceful work stoppage and legitimate protest action of the workers.

8. To make matters worse, on Nov. 15, Sec. Sto Tomas deputized not only the police but also the military to enforce her order, an act seriously questioned by senators and human rights lawyers as unlawful, a blatant violation of the constitutional provision that states only the President or Commander-in-Chief can call out the troops to quell a riot or rebellion. The involvement of the military who are not trained to deal with civilian disturbances arising out of demonstrations or strikes was deemed directly contributory to the carnage that ensued, with the authorities utilizing disproportionate and far superior force on the unarmed strikers.

9. On Nov. 15, 10 a.m., around 400 policemen again attempted to disperse around 4,000 strikers assembled at the picket line in front of Gate 1. Again, scores sustained injuries. The president of CATLU was hit on the head by rocks hurled from the ranks of the police, lost consciousness and sustained a gaping head wound. Despite this, the strikers stood their ground and the police were forced to retreat.

10. Bayan Muna party-list representatives Satur Ocampo and Teddy Casiño arrived at the scene and held dialogues with the police. They frantically tried to reach Ms. Sto. Tomas and former Rep. Peping Cojuangco to ask them to hold off any orders for the police to use force once more since entire families of the workers were at the picket line and stood to get hurt. Sec. Sto. Tomas’ cell phone was mysteriously cut off and became busy thereafter. Mr. Ocampo thus failed to reach her.

11. The following day, the morning of Nov. 16, Mr. Cojuangco met with Mr. Ocampo and CATLU officials at his Dasmarinas Village residence while refusing to allow ULWU officials in. (This was consistent with the stance of management that these ULWU officials were already dismissed from the company and could no longer represent the union of farm workers.)

12. The dialogue never got off the ground with Mr. Cojuangco insisting that the only time management would talk with CATLU was when they lifted their strike. Mr. Cojuangco was quoted as saying, “Bahala na ang DoLE d’yan.”

13. One thing emerges from all the moves of the Hacienda Luisita management and the Arroyo government prior to the Nov. 16 massacre. A high-level decision had been made to break the strike of the farm and sugar mill workers, without negotiations, using as legal cover the assumption of jurisdiction of Sec. Sto. Tomas and her subsequent return-to-work order. The police and even the military were “deputized” to do the dirty work of implementing the DoLE order by brute force.

14. The strikers, with their community support from barrios inside the hacienda, plus sympathizers from militant mass organizations, local government officials, party-list congresspersons and various groups from the middle forces, had already proven in three previous violent dispersals that they had the numbers, the determination and the broad support to defend the picket line from the assaults of the police.

15. So the military was called in. Aside from around 700 policemen, there were 17 truckloads of soldiers in full battle gear, and two tanks equipped with heavy weapons, a pay loader and four fire trucks with water cannons. They had hundreds of tear gas canisters. There were snipers positioned in at least five strategic places in front of and at the sides of the “oval,” the open area in front of Gate 1 where the strikers and rallyists were massed up.

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