“We must continue our struggle; only until we reclaim our land would there be genuine justice.” – Tarlac City Councilor Emily Ladera-Facunla
By RONALYN V. OLEA
HACIENDA LUISITA, Tarlac – In a short yet solemn ceremony, farmers of Hacienda Luisita and their supporters commemorated on March 13 the death anniversaries of four individuals whom they regard as their martyrs.
Iglesia Filipina Independiente (IFI) Bishop Joselito Cruz led the ecumenical service in memory of IFI priest Fr. William Tadena, Tarlac City Councilor Abelardo Ladera, farm worker Tirso Cruz and Anakpawis leader Victor Concepcion. All four were slain in separate incidents by unidentified men in the month of March. Prayers were also offered for the seven victims of Hacienda Luisita massacre that took place on November 16, 2004.
The commemoration coincided with the ninth death anniversary of Tadena who was gunned down on March 13, 2005. Ten days before the murder, on March 3, 2005, Ladera was shot dead by two men on board a motorcycle while he was buying spare parts for his car in Paraiso village, Tarlac City. Four days after the killing of Tadena, on March 17, 2005, Concepcion was also gunned down while he was resting in his daughter’s house in Angeles City. On the same day of the following year, Cruz, a member of the United Luisita Workers Union (Ulwu), was shot dead while he was walking home in Pando village, Concepcion, Tarlac.
Bishop Cruz said the killing of Fr. Tadena and the others “has caused pain but their sacrifices give hope and life to those who have been left behind.”
For struggle for land
Elsie Ricardo of the Alyansa ng Magbubukid sa Asyenda Luisita (Ambala) recalled that Tadena would provide them rice, vegetables and water during their strike in November 2004.
“On the first day of the strike, Nov. 6, 2004, he went to the picketline to support us,” Ricardo said.
That day, about 5,000 cane workers belonging to the United Luisita Labor Union (ULWU) and 700 mill workers of the Central Azucarrera de Tarlac Labor Union (CATLU) went on simultaneous strike after Hacienda Luisita Inc. management terminated 326 Ulwu officers and members and Catlu reached a deadlock in the negotiations for a collective bargaining agreement (CBA).
During the ecumenical service, Cruz recalled the words spoken by the late IFI priest, “Is it a sin to feed the hungry? To give water to the thirsty?”
Cruz said Fr. Tadena was “a good shepherd who did not abandon his sheep.”
Ricardo said that Tadena and Ladera were friends. “Even before we went on strike, Fr. Tadena would come here to talk to us.”
A day before he was killed, Ladera was at the provincial office of the Department of Land Reform (DLR) in Tarlac City to obtain documents on the controversial stock distribution option (SDO). The documents proved important. Years later, the SDO implemented for more than a decade in the sugar plantation controlled by the family of President Benigno Simeon Cojuangco-Aquino III was revoked.
“Until now, justice remains elusive,” Ladera’s sister, Tarlac City Councilor Emily Ladera-Facunla, said during the program. “We all know who is responsible for these killings but they have not been punished because of their power and money.”
Elizabeth Cruz, the widow of Cruz, also attended the activity.
Elizabeth said her husband, also a village councilor, bravely stood up against the Cojuangco-Aquinos. She said Tirso had no other enemy. “Our neighbors would come to him whenever they have problems.”
Tirso led the Ambala’s bungkalan (tillage) campaign in his village in Pando, defying the HLI management’s order prohibiting them to use the land. They planted vegetables, palay and corn on the land that used to be devoted solely to sugarcane.
Elizabeth lamented that after eight years since Tirso was killed, they have not achieved justice. Their youngest son was only eight months old when Tirso died. Now, Soren, their youngest, is eight years old.
“He grew up without his father,” Elizabeth said. “I explained to him why we lost his father and he knows that our struggle for land continues.”
Speaking to Hacienda Luisita farmers, Ladera-Facunla said, “We must continue our struggle; only until we reclaim our land would there be genuine justice.”
The service was followed by a symbolic “Jericho March” around the walls of the disputed agricultural lands in Balete now controlled by the Cojuangco-Aquino-owned Tarlac Development Corporation (Tadeco).
Alluding to the Old Testament account of a people who through their unity and thundering shouts set the walls of Jericho crumbling down, the “Jericho March” of Hacienda Luisita farmers showed their resolve to bring down the “walls of terror and impunity of the Cojuangco-Aquinos.”
The event also served as the launching activity of the HLM-X, a year-long campaign to compel concerned state agencies to finally prosecute and punish the perpetrators of the infamous Hacienda Luisita Massacre which happened in November ten years ago.