“It pains us that until now there is no justice for the victims. Until now too, we are still fighting for our right to the land.”
By RONALYN V. OLEA
HACIENDA LUISITA, Tarlac –In the morning of November 15, Sydney Ramos and her 60-year-old mother, Sylvia, prepared to harvest palay from the 0.6-hectare farm their family has been tilling. With them were four children who volunteered to help. But they went home empty-handed.
Sydney and her mother never got to the farm. The day before, security guards of the Tarlac Development Corporation (Tadeco) fenced off over 200 hectares of agricultural land, including the area cultivated by Sydney’s family, in Balete village.
“The OIC [officer in charge] of the security group approached us and asked why we went there and we told him that we wanted to harvest our palay,” Sydney told Bulatlat.com in an interview. “He just said it was not the right time. My mother told the OIC, ‘Would you shoot us if we go there?’ The OIC said we could go back some other time. I told them, ‘You are brave only because you have guns.’”
Two days before, tension ensued as Tadeco security guards destroyed the hut built by members of Alyansa ng Manggagawang Bukid sa Asyenda Luisita (Ambala). Three women were hurt. Eleven days ago, farmer Dennis dela Cruz, caretaker of Ambala’s bungkalan (cultivation) campaign in Balete village, was found dead.
Tadeco and Luisita Realty Corporation, corporations owned by the Cojuangco-Aquinos, have been claiming ownership of some 800 hectares of land in the villages of Balete, Cutcut and Mapalacsiao. In a statement, Ambala said President Benigno Aquino III’s family “has been unleashing a supertyphoon of terror and impunity in its own backyard.”
Tadeco security guards built several outposts in Balete and occupied homes of civilians and turned them into detachments. More than 50 of them, brandishing long firearms, were stationed around the fenced off area when Luisita farmers and their supporters arrived in the village, November 15. Some took photographs of farmers and their supporters.
Florida Sibayan, Ambala acting chairwoman, told supporters that soldiers belonging to the Northern Luzon Command (Nolcom) set up detachments inside the hacienda, one of which is located a few meters from Sibayan’s hut and farm in Balete. Four armored personnel carriers (APC) are stationed there.
Policemen were visible, too. On the eve of the anniversary of the Hacienda Luisita massacre, several policemen from the provincial police were monitoring the activities of farmers and supporters. The next day, when the protesters went to the Central Azucarera de Tarlac Gate 1, the site of the massacre, policemen stood side by side the CAT security guards.
The tension in Hacienda Luisita is comparable to the days before the Hacienda Luisita massacre took place.
In November 2004, the United Luisita Workers Union and the Central Azucarera de Tarlac Labor Union staged a strike to demand the revocation of the stock distribution option (SDO), an increase in the number of mandays (or days of work), reinstatement of retrenched labor leaders, among others.
On November 16, 2004, security guards, policemen and soldiers opened fire at striking farm workers at CAT Gate 1. Seven farm workers died, hundreds wounded.
To this day, no one has been held accountable for the massacre. The charges filed before the Ombudsman against civilian-respondents, including President Aquino, then representative of Tarlac’s second district, were dismissed.
The absence of justice for the victims is aggravated by the continuing denial of the farmers’ right to their land.
Gabby Sanchez, father of Juancho, one of the victims of the Hacienda Luisita massacre, spoke in front of the Nolcom headquarters, “It pains us that until now there is no justice for the victims. Until now too, we are still fighting for our right to the land.”
Sanchez, a pastor of the United Church of Christ of the Philippines (UCCP), is one of those who were excluded by the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) in the list of farmworker-beneficiaries.
The DAR has been mandated by the Supreme Court, in its April 24, 2012 decision, to implement the land distribution in Hacienda Luisita.
The DAR completed in October the distribution of copies of certificate of land ownership awards (CLOA). Ambala calls the CLOA ‘a mere scrap of paper.’ While the farmers have yet to see the land allocated to them, they have to pay amortization and taxes.
Until now, the Hacienda Luisita Incorporated has not paid P1.33 billion ($30.93 million) to farmworker-beneficiaries for the sale of hundreds of hectares of land.
Ambala intends to file contempt charges against DAR before the Supreme Court.
Meanwhile, the Cojuangco-Aquinos already received an initial payment of more than P600 million ($13.95 million) as ‘just compensation.’ The President’s clan would be paid a total of P1.2 billion ($27.9 million).
Farmer Rudy Corpuz, 59, told fellow farmers during a program at CAT Gate 1, “We should not fear. This land is ours. We are the ones who are taking the righteous path. Noynoy Aquino’s path is rotten, one that leads us to extreme poverty. “