“What’s the use of my position if I could not defend the rights of my constituents? It’s better to die serving the people of the Hacienda Luisita than to die without meaning.” – Tarlac City Councilor Emily Ladera-Facunla
By RONALYN V. OLEA
HACIENDA LUISITA, Tarlac –In an assembly of hundreds of farmers, mostly women, Tarlac City Councilor Emily Ladera-Facunla was given a certificate of recognition for her all-out support to Hacienda Luisita farmers, March 6.
With her voice breaking, the woman leader said in Filipino, “This is the most important certificate I have ever received in my life. Thank you very much.”
Ladera-Facunla or Kagawad Emy as she is fondly called, is the only local official in Tarlac City known for her solidarity with the farmers.
“We all know that it has been decades since the Cojuangco Aquino clan grabbed the land from our ancestors and from us, the present generation. Many lives were lost, many families experienced pain because of their [Cojuangco-Aquinos] wresting control of Hacienda Luisita,” Kagawad Emy said.
“It is but right that in spite of all the hardships and sacrifices, we must fight for this land because it is a product of the sweat and blood of our ancestors. They cultivated this land to become productive long before the Cojuangco-Aquinos came. They should be the ones leaving this land. We should be the ones staying here,” Kagawad Emy said to the applause of the audience.
Nine years ago, Kagawad Emy said she never thought to be in such a situation. A tragic event has led her to what is she now.
On March 3, 2005, her oldest brother, then Tarlac City Councilor Abelardo Ladera was shot dead by unknown assailants. https://www.bulatlat.com/2005/03/12/abel-ladera-the-hero-of-luisita/ Kagawad Abel was instrumental in obtaining documents regarding the stock distribution option (SDO) scheme implemented then in the hacienda. A review of the SDO proved that the scheme enriched the Hacienda Luisita Incorporated owners but impoverished the farm workers.
Someone had to continue what Kagawad Abel had begun. Emy was hesitant at first. “I had no interest in running for public office. I was shy. Although I was Kuya’s staff for four years, I thought I could not take his role,” Kagawad Emy told Bulatlat.com in an interview. With the prodding of her family and Hacienda Luisita farmers, Emy took the risk. She ran for Tarlac City councilor with limited resources. “I believed it was part of our quest for justice.”
“During the campaign, I realized just how much the people of hacienda and of Tarlac City loved my brother,” Kagawad Emy said. “His sacrifice was never for naught.”
“The best way to honor him is to continue the struggle,” Emy said.
On December 21, 2013, when policemen arrested nine farmers at Balete village, Kagawad Emy tried to intervene. At that time, security guards and personnel of the Tarlac Development Corporation (Tadeco) started bulldozing the crops of the farmers. https://www.bulatlat.com/2013/12/23/they-were-like-monsters/
“No less than the city police chief and the provincial police chief were there,” Emy recounted. “I told them there is a pending case and they have no notice of eviction from the court to drive the farmers away.” She was brushed aside.
After the incident, she was slapped with criminal charges — coercion, usurpation of property and malicious mischief.
“Those charges are baseless,” Kagawad Emy said. “It is harassment. It is intended to make me stop doing my duty as a public official.”
Asked if she is not frightened, Kagawad Emy admitted there were times she felt fear. “I feel afraid too but I manage to overcome my fears. If I let it overwhelm me, what would happen? Logic dictates that I should not stop.”
She said her husband and her four children are worried about her. Their fears are not without any basis. Abel was not the only supporter of Hacienda Luisita farmers killed. Among them are Iglesia Filipina Independiente Supreme Bishop Alberto Ramento, Fr. William Tadena and peasant leader Marcelino Beltran.
“What’s the use of my position if I could not defend the rights of my constituents?” Kagawad Emy said. “It’s better to die serving the people of the Hacienda Luisita than to die without meaning.”