Reality bites the Okra


I received a very heartwarming gift last week: a bag of okra (lady’s fingers). It came from farmers of Hacienda Luisita with a note that read: “Maraming salamat.”

(Thank you very much.) As I read it, I saw in my mind images of their rice field and what the farmers call as “Vines Avenue,” or plots allotted to vegetable-vines.

Since June last year, I and two of my colleagues — Ja and Pom – have been going to Hacienda Luisita to shoot a documentary about the farmers’ bungkalan (tillage campaign). We took videos of the farmers preparing the land. We went back in August when palay and vegetables had already grown and again in October, in time for the harvest season. We envisioned it to be a feel-good documentary, a success story of Hacienda Luisita farmers.

But reality unfolded things differently. First, typhoon Santi destroyed the palay (rice grains). With a heavy heart, we took footage of Florida Sibayan or Ate Pong trying to save what was left: stalks of palay almost kissing the earth, her ankle submerged in water. She thought they would be lucky if they could sell half of the palay, which had to be sun-dried before milling.

After a few weeks, monsters came next. I realized I had been denying the possibility that they would come to prevent Hacienda Luisita farmers from realizing their dream – that of tilling their own land, feeding their family, sending their children to school and living a simple, peaceful life.

The monsters came with bulldozers, assisted by the local police and soldiers, and they flattened to the ground the once erect palay stalks, vegetables, fruit-bearing trees and last, they uprooted the farmers themselves from their own land.

Knowing the hacienda’s history, I told myself: ‘I should have known this will happen.’ The overlords would not easily give up control of the land. For more than five decades, the clan has done everything – twist the law, use violence, deceive the public – to keep Luisita in their claws. They’re still clutching at it.

The farmers have gone to the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) and even to the Department of Justice (DOJ) to stop the destruction of their livelihood. These agencies have not lifted a finger. Why antagonize their boss in favor of the farmers who have long been impoverished by the same clan? The names of their agencies have become the greatest irony. What agrarian reform? What justice?

Still, there is hope.

Hope is there because the farmers are not taking all of these sitting down. They have been struggling for so long and they refuse to stop now. The sight of old women facing the bulldozers, of little children joining protest actions, these should send shivers down the spine of the overlords.

The okra made me emotional. It reminded me of Hacienda Luisita farmers still fighting for social justice. They deserve all our support. (

Share This Post