A Mother’s Quest for Justice


HACIENDA LUISITA, Tarlac – She is not JV Basilio’s real mother. But they cared for each other like those related by blood. And from the time that the bullets pierced and killed JV during the infamous Hacienda Luisita massacre, she resolved that she would keep on fighting until justice is served.

“I guess he was looking for a mother, whom he found in me,” Leonor Saroza, 50, told Bulatlat. She said that JV’s biological mother left them when they were still young. “He was my son’s best friend.”

Leonor remembers JV as a “gleeful, naughty and good kid.”

Leonor first met JV, who was still in his early teens then, when they were introduced by his son Nadz. Since then, JV frequently spent the entire day in their house, playing guitar with Nadz. “It was their interest in music that bonded them,” she said, “I, at times, heard them singing and JV sang very well. My favorite was his rendition of the song ‘I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing.”

When JV was already in his mid-teens, he still visited the Saroza residence very often. Leonor patiently listened to JV who shared all his problems with her, from courtship to his family’s difficulties. “I would give him advice, just like what I would have done to my son,” Leonor said.


When the union leaders of the Hacienda Luisita farm workers declared the strike, the Sarozas were at the frontline. Leonor’s husband is a farm worker in the 6,453-hectare hacienda, which is co-owned by President Benigno S. Aquino.

“We went (to the picket line) everyday as a family,” Leonor said, “And so did JV.”

On November 15, the tension between the farm workers and the military and police heightened when the already 6,000 striking peasants were reinforced by 9,000 more residents from the 10 villages of Hacienda Luisita. About 300 police came and tried to break their picket line but failed.

During the attempted dispersal, JV was hit by one of the police on the shoulder. “He was hurt and said he would get back at the police the following day,” Leonor said.

The following day, Leonor did not expect JV to come to the picket line, thinking he would rest his injured shoulder. But “he followed us on our way to the picket line,” Leonor said. He stood right in front of Gate 1, trying to enter the gate. Suddenly, a tear gas canister was lobbed at them. Nadz, then, rushed to look for his friend JV but found, instead, his father who broke a leg while running.

“He brought his father to a safe area and started looking for JV again,” Leonor said. “My son said that when the smoke of the tear gas cleared, he saw JV with a wounded leg, right under a fire truck stationed at Gate 1. He even gave my son a ‘thumbs-up,’ signaling that he was okay. Then the soldiers attacked and started shooting at the farm workers and residents of Hacienda Luisita.”

That was the last time that Nadz and JV saw each other.

Quest for Justice

Leonor said it was so chaotic after the military stopped shooting at the farm workers. “Nadz was crying. I tried to console him, telling him that the most that the soldiers would do is to send him to jail,” she said. At around midnight, however, they received a text message informing them that JV was brought to Funeraria Enriquez, a local funeral parlor.

“I was mad and hurt but all I could do was cry,” Leonor said, adding that it was hard to accept JV’s death because she treated him like her own son. JV’s real family was also devastated with what happened. They asked Leonor what their brother was doing in the front of the picket line. JV was only 19 years old when he was killed.

“I explained to them and they understood,” Leonor said.

Leonor is still active in the peasant struggle in Hacienda Luisita. JV’s death inspired her more. She now heads Nagkakaisang Kababaihan ng Hacienda Luisita (Nabal or United Women of Hacienda Luisita). She was also among the peasant leaders who welcomed the delegation of progressive organizations from Metro Manila who went to Hacienda Luisita for the sixth year commemoration of the massacre.

“Six years have already passed but justice remains elusive for JV and the six others who were killed in the massacre,” Leonor said, urging the Office of the Ombudsman to look into the case once again.

“I would continue to fight for justice for as long as I am alive,” Leonor said. (Bulatlat.com)

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