MANILA — One of the arguments put forth by Hacienda Luisita management in pushing for the stock distribution option (SDO) and the recent compromise agreement is that the farmer beneficiaries could not possibly survive on less than an hectare each of land. This argument, however, had been demolished by a NEDA study that said a family in Luisita can earn more from 0.78 hectares of land than from stocks — a study that was conveniently ignored by the Presidential Agrarian Reform Council under then President Corazon Aquino when it allowed the implementation of the SDO.
After the strike and massacre and after the Presidential Agrarian Reform Council ordered the revocation of the SDO in 2005, the farmer beneficiaries launched what they call a “bungkalan” or the cultivation of idle Luisita land. It was both a political statement and a matter of survival for the beneficiaries who were, and still are, facing extreme poverty in the hacienda owned by President Benigno S. Aquino III and his family. Farmers who participated swear that their lives improved after the “bungkalan.”
As The New York Times reported in March, quoting Buenvaventura Calaquian, one of the farmers in barangay Asturias:
He spends most days watching his fields from a makeshift shack whose thatched roof is patched with flattened cardboard boxes. Small profits from tomato sales have allowed him to buy 50 ducks that now swim in a nearby creek.
“I never want to go back to sugar cane,” Mr. Calaquian said as his wife, Maria, 46, used a single bucket to carry water from the creek over to several uneven rows of tomato vines. “This is better.”
To be sure, not all farmers who participated in the “bungkalan” had the same size of land to till but they say that their experience with “bungkalan” shows that they do not have to rely on sugar cane alone to survive and that if ran effectively and collectively — under a cooperative, for example — the Hacienda Luisita land put under CARP can become productive.
The livelihood they derive from the “bungkalan” have allowed the farmers to break the cycle of indebtedness to the Cojuangco-Aquinos. Because of lack of jobs or workhours, the farmers don’t earn enough for their daily sustenance and so are forced to borrow from the company — from rice, tuition fee, health care cost, to even, ironically enough, sugar. “It used to be that we were trapped in debt,” Calaquian said in an interview with Bulatlat. “But because of ‘bungkalan’ I am able to send a grandchild and a niece to school.”