By MARYA SALAMAT
When incoming president Senator Noynoy Aquino went on a vacation at his family’s sprawling domicile in Hacienda Luisita recently, the military deployment in the area grew more intense, said the locals. For Noynoy’s security, nightly patrols were conducted by armed troops in barangays within the 6,000-plus hectare hacienda.
But even after Aquino has returned to Manila, the troops stayed on, still patrolling the barangays of Hacienda Luisita up to this day. “We’ve gotten somewhat used to it,” locals told Bulatlat in Filipino, adding that while the presence of armed troops in their midst is not new, their increasing number today is. In Brgy. Balite locals said the 69th IB has stationed three military detachments and rented out houses for the troops.
In other barangays, there are detachments comprised of CAFGUs (Civilian Armed Forces Geographical Unit) led by at least three military men per detachment. Some supervisors or top executives of the Cojuangco-Aquino-controlled Central Azucarera de Tarlac (CAT) have also joined the CAFGUs, noted the foreign election observers who went to Tarlac last May 10 elections. Added to these armed troops are the blue guards of the Cojuangcos.
Who are these military and para-military units after? At present, the locals said they seem to be only making their presence felt— they haven’t made fresh harassments yet, so far.
During the campaign period for the May 10 elections, these CAFGUs and soldiers had threatened the villagers against supporting progressive candidates and party-list groups, reported the team from the People’s International Observers’ Mission (PIOM) that went to Hacienda Luisita. The armed troops also reportedly continued to harass Mr Federico Laza, the father of Jesus who was one of the victims of the infamous Hacienda Luisita massacre in 2004. These armed troops regard the likes of the Lazas and the legal, progressive organizations as “fronts” or members of the communist New People’s Army because they have been calling for “genuine land reform” and other progressive, pro-people demands. For demanding such, they have been cast as “terrorists” and targets of government troops for “neutralization.”
(Photo by Dabet Castañeda/ bulatlat.com)
According to the Tanggol Magsasaka (Defend Peasants), more than half (561) of the thousand victims of extra-judicial killings were peasants. Hacienda Luisita itself has claimed the lives of 7 farmworkers in the Hacienda Luisita massacre of 2004, plus another eight victims of extra-judicial killings who were linked to the struggle of the farm workers there, during the years that followed. Another 129 of the recorded victims of disappearances under the outgoing Arroyo administration are farmers.
It prompted the KMP (Peasant Movement of the Philippines) who has members from Hacienda Luisita to keep their fingers crossed and include in their “omnibus land reform demand” to incoming president Noynoy Aquino, which they submitted last week, the pullout of military troops in peasant communities.
But will the farmers’ demand be listened to, even during the anticipated honeymoon with the “president-elect” who is not exactly known for cherishing the farmers, least of all the Hacienda Luisita farmers?
Aquino’s Litmus Test: Hacienda Luisita
Perhaps to maintain stability during the transition, Noynoy Aquino is currently being fitted with new clothes as the dominant media regales the nation with details of the royal preparation for his inauguration. The emperor being clothed himself tried to sober up his spin doctors when he said Thursday that he is neither Superman nor Einstein— he may not be able to solve all the country’s ills.
The erstwhile non-achiever legislator who once dismissed on TV the Luisita massacre as just lies manufactured by the Left, and later, when 7 of the suspected 14 dead were accounted for, he tried to justify it in saying the victims are leftists, anyway, is now weighed down with the challenge of walking his “daang matwid” (righteous road) talk. He plans to have another vacation.
“Despite the media-created belief that positive change for the Filipino peasantry would be possible under the Aquino administration,” farmers are “discouraged by Noynoy’s frequent attempts to dissociate himself from the Hacienda Luisita problem and in refusing to admit to the failure of CARP despite the dehumanizing plight to which it has consigned the majority of farmers,” said Pedro Arnado, chair of KMP-SMR and ANAKPAWIS partylist in Davao, on the occasion of the anniversary of CARP last week.
In Manila, peasants from different haciendas and huge landholdings marched to the Supreme Court to urge it to lift the TRO (temporary restraining order) which for the past four years has barred the actual physical distribution of Hacienda Luisita lands to farmers.
Two weeks before Aquino’s inauguration, Luisita peasants are praying for rains and for the Supreme Court to finally lift its TRO.
Some of the farmers and claimants of Hacienda Luisita lands, as their parents and relatives had done before them, started growing the seeds this month of what they hope to plant soon with their “family collective” on some 2,000 hectares of hacienda lands. But if the Aquino-Cojuangcos had their way, this lack of rainwater could prove to be the least of their problems.
In his campaign Aquino tried at first to distance himself from the bloodstained Hacienda Luisita. Failing that, he later promised to distribute Hacienda Luisita in five years, which coincides with the lifespan given to CARP in CARPER. But in an interview with New York Times last April, Noynoy’s own cousin and chief operating officer of Hacienda Luisita, Fernando Cojuangco, denied they have plans to distribute said lands.
In fact, as Aquino prepares for his inauguration and farmers ask the Supreme Court to lift the TRO favoring the management of Hacienda Luisita, the latest Cojuangco-Aquino tack in holding on to Hacienda Luisita is taking shape right before the farmers’ eyes.