“To reopen the case is but to afford due process to the complainants.”
BACK STORY | The Hacienda Luisita massacre: How it happened
By RONALYN V. OLEA
MANILA – Violeta Basilio wiped her tears as she stood outside the Office of the Ombudsman, August 4. Beside her, a woman colleague was holding a tarpaulin bearing the picture of Violeta’s son, Jhavie.
Jhavie was one of the seven farmworkers killed in the violent dispersal of the strike of farmworkers on November 16, 2004, now known as the Hacienda Luisita massacre. He was 20 years old and the only boy among Violeta’s four children.
When reporters approached her for an interview, Violeta hesitated for a moment. When she mustered the courage to speak, she said in a faint voice, “Many have been killed among us but our situation remains the same.”
After the interview, Violeta’s body was shaking involuntarily. Florida Sibayan, chairwoman of the Alyansa ng Magbubukid sa Asyenda Luisita (Ambala), put her arms around Violeta’s shoulders to comfort her. They had come to the Office of the Ombudsman to seek justice for the murder of seven of their colleagues almost ten years ago.
All the criminal and administrative charges filed by 52 survivors and families of victims of Hacienda Luisita massacre in January 2005 have been dismissed by the Ombudsman. Through their lawyers, Violeta and her colleagues filed an omnibus motion for reconsideration and for the reopening of the case.
President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III, then representative of the second district of Tarlac, was among the respondents in the administrative charges of grave abuse of authority and conduct unbecoming of a public official. Other respondents include former Labor Secretary Patricia Santo Tomas and Jose “Peping Cojuangco Jr., among others.
On July 11, 2005, the Ombudman dismissed the charges against the civilian respondents for “lack of merit.”
Criminal charges of multiple murder were filed against police and military officials for the death of Jhavie, Juancho Sanchez, 20; Jessie Valdez, 30; Jaime Fastidio, 46; Jesus Laza, 34; June David, 28; and Adriano Caballero Jr., 23.
Among those charged were newly appointed Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief of staff Lt. Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang Jr., Maj. Gen. Romeo Dominguez, then commanding officer of the Northern Luzon Command (Nolcom), Police Chief Supt. Quirino dela Torre, then director of Philippine National Police (PNP)-Region 3, and Sr. Supt. Angelo Sunglao, then PNP-Tarlac provincial director and ground commander during the massacre.
Multiple frustrated murder, multiple attempted murder, serious and less serious physical injuries were filed for the wounding of at least 72 individuals, 27 of whom sustained gunshot wounds, including Sibayan.
On December 10, 2010, ironically the International Human Rights Day, the Ombudsman’s Military and Law Enforcement Offices (Moleo) dismissed all the criminal and administrative charges against military and police officials.
At the program outside the Ombudsman, Ranmil Echanis, deputy secretary general of the Unyon ng Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (Uma), said, “Is the Ombudsman telling us that the seven farmworkers committed suicide? That no one pulled the trigger? That no one was murdered?”
No due process
The lawyers of the Hacienda Luisita massacre from the Sentro para sa Tunay na Repormang Agraryo (Sentra), Public Interest Law Center (PILC), and Pro-Labor Legal Assistance Center (PLACE), questioned the two resolutions by the Ombudsman.
“There was no due process,” PILC lawyer Amylyn Sato told the media.
Sato said the sole basis of the decisions of the Ombudsman was the report of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), a copy of which was never sent to the complainants.
In their omnibus motion, the lawyers said that the complainants were not informed that the NBI conducted an investigation of the Hacienda Luisita massacre. The NBI did not even bother to interview the complainants.
“…[With due respect, the Honorable Office committed an error when it primarily considered and entirely based its resolution on the NBI investigation when it could have conducted its own independent evaluation and investigation of the Hacienda Luisita Massacre,” the lawyers said in the omnibus motion.
In their motion, the complainants said they were never notified of any hearing or of the fact-finding or preliminary investigation of these cases.
Sato further said that the complainants were not furnished copies of the counter-affidavits of the respondents.
The complainants were not furnished copies of the Ombudsman’s Joint Order dated July 11, 2005 and the Consolidated Joint Resolution dated December 10, 2010. The lawyers argued that the reglementary period to file the motion for reconsideration did not run.
The lawyers said it is but just proper to reopen the cases to give the complainants the opportunity to refute the findings of the NBI and the evidence and arguments submitted by the respondents. “To reopen the case is but to afford due process to the complainants,” the omnibus motion stated.
Noynoy should be held accountable
Hacienda Luisita farmers said President Aquino, then Tarlac second district representative, must be held accountable.
The lawyers recalled that Aquino defended the action of the military and the police in his speech at the House of Representatives on November 17, 2004, the day after the massacre. Aquino, then the House deputy speaker, said the police and military who dispersed the workers were ‘subjected to sniper fire coming from an adjacent barangay.’ He also claimed that there was strong evidence that the clash was triggered by gunfire coming from the ranks of the strikers and that when the police tried to break the barricade using an armored personnel carrier, they were fired upon by strikers. To date, however, no evidence to establish his claim was ever presented, according to the lawyers. Aquino also discouraged the Congress to hold any investigation on the massacre, saying it would ‘inflame the situation.’
“Aquino wanted to cover-up the truth behind the incident. That indicates he knew and consented to the bloody dispersal of the striking workers!” the motion stated.
The lawyers argued there was enough evidence submitted to the Ombudsman to show the culpability of the private and public respondents.
‘Give us our land’
Uma’s Echanis said the situation in Hacienda Luisita today is not unlike the period, which led to the bloody massacre nearly ten years ago.
Despite the Supreme Court decision to distribute Hacienda Luisita to the farmworkers, Ambala accused the President’s clan of efforts to reconcentrate lands back to the control of the Cojuangco-Aquinos.