After experiencing heavy deployment of AFP troops, the peasants of Hacienda Luisita are bracing for the entry of US troops who would be conducting ‘trainings’ inside the hacienda.
By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
MANILA — Residents of Hacienda Luisita first noticed the presence of US troops in the hacienda sometime in March 2010. Since then, news have been circulating that a three-story building would be constructed within the hacienda purportedly to serve as evacuation and health center. Peasant leaders find this suspicious.
“This is definitely a plan of the U.S.-Cojuanco-Aquino regime to crush the so-called insurgency in our province,” United Luisita Workers’ Union acting president Lito Bais told Bulatlat. He added that the issues affecting the hacienda are but an agrarian dispute, which has been going on for more than half a century already.
Hacienda Luisita is a 6,453 real property, co-owned by President Benigno S. Aquino III and the Cojuangco clan that has been going through an agrarian dispute for more than half a century already. The Presidential Agrarian Reform Committee ruled in 2005 to distribute the land to the peasants. The Cojuanco-Aquino family, however, filed a temporary restraining order (TRO) to stop the distribution of the land before the Supreme Court, which was granted in 2006. The high court has yet to decide on the issue even as a TRO is supposedly effective for only 20 days.
U.S. soldiers arrived sometime in March 2010 in Barangay (village) Bantog and asked Greg Gardanoso, a village official, who the barangay captain was. Since then, residents have been hearing of a plan by US troops to construct an evacuation center in the hacienda. Bais, however, sees these seemingly humanitarian services as a “front act” to their real agenda: the conduct of Balikatan military exercises.
Balikatan Exercises in the Hacienda
Balikatan, which literally means “shoulder-to-shoulder,” is an annual joint military exercise being conducted by Philippine and U.S. Armed Forces. These exercises are being held by virtue of the Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) and the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA). Despite the strong clamor from progressive groups for the junking of the VFA, as well as the MDT, President Aquino has not acted on it.
The U.S. Armed Forces, in its website, confirmed that they have already discussed the itinerary of next year’s Balikatan with the Philippine Army Northern Luzon Command (Nolcom). In a report, the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ (AFP) Nolcom Chief Lt. Gen Gaudencio Pangilinan also confirmed thatBalikatan 2011 will be held “in the area of responsibility of Nolcom,” which includes Tarlac, where Hacienda Luisita is.
“Why do they have to conduct the Balikatan in Luisita? This is not a military ground. Are they using the Balikatan to sow terror among us striking farmers?” Bais said in a statement.
Memories of Nicole and the Subic rape case involving four U.S. Marines in November 1, 2005 have pushed Leonor Saroza, 50, president of Nagkakaisang Kababaihan ng Hacienda Luisita (Nabal), a women’s group in Hacienda Luisita, to criticize the presence of American soldiers in the 6,453 hectare hacienda.
“One of our fears is the possibility of sexual abuses among our women,” Saroza told Bulatlat, “Most especially if more American soldiers are bound to come and stay even for a while.”
Nicole, not her real name, was raped by Lance Corporal Daniel Smith inside a van at the Subic Bay Freeport on November 1, 2005. Lance Corporals Dominic Duplantis and Keith Silkwood and Staff Sergeant Chad Carpentier, on the other hand, cheered as Smith raped Nicole. The four were part of a contingent of U.S. Marines who were participating in the Balikatan exercises in 2005. Makati Regional Trial Court found Smith guilty of raping Nicole and sentenced him to life imprisonment on December 4, 2006.
A little less than a month after, however, Smith was spirited out of the Makati City Jail and transferred to the U.S. embassy. Then US ambassador Kristie Kenney and Philippine Foreign Affairs secretary Alberto Romulo cited the Visiting Forces Agreement as the basis for the transfer. On February 2009, the Supreme Court ordered the transfer of Smith to Philippine custody. However, before the transfer was to be effected, Smith was acquitted by the Court of Appeals on April 23, 2009 a little more than a month after Nicole issued an affidavit raising doubts about the rape, Women’s groups believe that Nicole succumbed to pressure from the US and Philippine governments.
“We cannot allow the same fate and injustice to happen to our fellow women,” Saroza said, adding that aside from sexual abuses, women might also be prostituted especially because most of the residents in Hacienda Luisita are poor.
Part of Counterinsurgency Operations
Bais said that U.S. troops should be driven out of Hacienda Luisita. He added that Philippine military units should also be kept out of the hacienda. In a statement, Bais said the heavy military deployment in the hacienda “sends a chilling effect to the farmer-beneficiaries and the rest of the residents of Luisita.”
In Barangay Balete, more soldiers have been deployed prior to the recent barangay elections. Bais could hardly go home after that to safeguard his own security, especially since the military has been accusing peasant organizations of being linked to the New People’s Army, the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines.
Even Nabal, a newly formed women organization in Luisita,is being accused by the military of being a front organizations of the NPA. “I am hurt but I am also angry with such accusation,” Saroza said. Saroza is also a pastor of her church in Luisita.
In a statement, Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas and Pamalakaya, a peasant and fisherfolk group, respectively, said the U.S. government sees Hacienda Luisita as “hotbed of communist insurgency in the country because of the ongoing agrarian dispute between the family of President Aquino and the more than 10,000 farm worker beneficiaries.”
The groups said that the conduct of medical and civic actions is part and parcel of US counterinsurgency strategy as described in the January 2009 US Government Counterinsurgency Guide.
Saroza said the military should not be in Hacienda Luisita. And should the military force them out of their homes, “we will not allow it,” adding that they have a right to live peacefully.
“Noynoy seems to have forgotten that it is through the strength of peasants that (his mother) Cory (Aquino) was placed in power,” Bais said, “And it is also through the strength of peasants that her son (Noynoy) would be ousted.” (Bulatlat.com)