By MARYA SALAMAT
MANILA — Weeks before the management of Hacienda Luisita announced the signing of the controversial “compromise agreement” with farm workers, the villages in and around the sugar plantation owned by President Benigno S. Aquino III and his family were subjected to militarization, the kind that sowed fear among the residents, particularly those opposed to the stock distribution option.
Often, according to residents and leaders of the workers in Hacienda, the target of the military harassment were officials of Ambala (Alliance of Hacienda Luisita Farm Workers) and Ulwu (United Luisita Workers’ Union), the two groups whose “impostor” representatives signed the deal with HLI management. The other leaders of these groups are denouncing the agreement and the way it was achieved.
Only recently, before the inauguration of Aquino on June 31, soldiers burned down the hut of one Ambala leader. Another Luisita resident said the soldiers had also trailed the eldest daughter of a former Ambala official to her new job at a mall, threatening to abduct her if he did not get her father’s “head on a platter.” The daughter resigned from her new job to avoid going out and being tailed by soldiers.
“Hacienda Luisita has been turned into a military garrison,” said Federico Laza, a member of Ambala whose son Jesus was one of the casualties of the massacare in 2004.
Video Sidebar: Hacienda Luisita Farmer Endures Military Harassment.
In this video clip, farmer Buenaventura Calaquian narrates how soldiers visited him regularly in November to force him off the land he was tilling inside Hacienda Luisita.
“The situation of every peasant leader in Hacienda Luisita today is very critical,” Laza said. He said peasant leaders are openly under surveillance and being followed everywhere in the hacienda by at least four military men armed with high-powered rifles. “The people in Luisita are being threatened to discontinue their struggle for land,” Laza told Bulatlat in Filipino. If they did not, he said quoting soldiers, “something will happen.”
Ambala officials reported to the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas that since May this year, soldiers from the 701st Infantry Brigade began massive military operations in the area, patrolling and conducting house-to-house operations. The military said that they were to secure the May elections but they are still at present inside Hacienda Luisita, said Danilo Ramos, the KMP’s secretary-general.
The soldiers are based in Balete, Lourdes (Texas), Pasajes (Mabilog), San Sebastian (Parang), Motrico, Pando, Cutcut, Mapalacsiao, Asturias and Bantog, Ramos said.
“Now we know why the military was based at the Hacienda Luisita — to sow fear and terror among the people and to coerced them into participating in this bogus referendum led by the Cojuangco-Aquinos,” Ramos pointed out. “The people could never feel secure and free when soldiers under the control of Cojuangco-Aquinos are everywhere. There is no democracy in Hacienda Luisita, there is only de-facto martial law.” Ramos called the “referendum” a farce and a form of bullying.
Federico Laza, a farm worker at the Hacienda Luisita, during a recent protest action against the management. Read the story. (Photo by Pauline Gidget R. Estella / bulatlat.com)
Ramos of the KMP corroborated Laza’s allegation, saying that his group had documented the military’s increasing presence in Hacienda Luisita in the run-up to the signing of the supposed “breakthrough agreement.”
The outspoken Laza, 69, told Bulatlat that even he is now subject to military surveillance and harassment even though he is not a leader of Ambala.
Every night, he said in an interview in late June, fully armed military men no fewer than 10 per group would patrol the streets of the villages in Hacienda Luisita, meeting other marching soldiers, also no fewer than 10, at certain points in the vast sugar estate.
Other Hacienda Luisita residents, who joined a picket in Mendiola on the day of Aquino’s inauguration, told Bulatlat that three military detachments were put up in Barangay Balite near the heart of Hacienda Luisita. Also, the detachments of the paramilitary group CAFGUs led by the soldiers in surrounding barangays have been beefed up by more troops, they said. The military has also been actively recruiting rseidents to become CAFGUs.
Aside from CAFGUs, Laza and the others said there is also an active recruitment at the Hacienda Luisita for the so-called Barangay Intelligence Network (BIN), which, under Arroyo’s infamous Oplan Bantay Laya (OBL), has specific intelligence-gathering tasks for the military, fingering “enemies” and their movements. OBL treats as “enemies” even the unarmed, progressive activists calling for land reform. On top of the BIN, the locals said the Cojuangcos have also been recruiting for their “yellow army,” the alleged private army of the clan that was instrumental in coercing farmers in 1989 to agree to the stock distribution option (SDO).