SPECIAL REPORT: “Every time I see him (President Benigno Aquino III), my heart is overwhelmed with grief and anger.”
By RONALYN V. OLEA
HACIENDA LUISITA, Tarlac – Standing in the middle of the crowd, 68-year-old Rosita silently wept as an ecumenical mass was being offered for the victims of the Hacienda Luisita massacre, Nov. 16.
Rosita’s son, Jesus, the fifth of her ten children, was among the seven farmworkers killed as state security forces opened fire at the striking farmworkers ten years ago. Jesus was 27 years old when he left behind his wife and two daughters. When approached for an interview, Rosita let out a moan. “It’s still painful, especially that his father has been gone,” she said, wiping her tears with a light blue veil.
Rosita’s husband, Federico or Ka Pedring to fellow farmworkers, was among the most active leaders of Alyansa ng Magbubukid sa Asyenda Luisita (Ambala). Federico died from an acute kidney disease three years ago. In his dying hours, Rosita said, Federico called on his fellow farmers to continue the struggle for land.
No one has been charged for the massacre that took place in the vast sugar plantation controlled by the clan of President Benigno Aquino III. Worse, the struggle for land of Hacienda Luisita farmers is far from over.
Like Rosita, Violeta Basilio, 47, still mourns for the death of her only son, Jhaivie.
At that time, Jhaivie was a sugar worker at the Central Azucarera de Tarlac (CAT). At night, he attended classes in a vocational school in Tarlac City. When the Central Azucarera de Tarlac Labor Union (Catlu) and the United Luisita Workers Union (Ulwu) staged simultaneous strikes, the 20-year-old Jhaivie joined in.
For days, Jhaivie stayed in the picketline at the CAT’s Gate 1. After the first incident of dispersal, when water cannon and tear gas were used by police forces against the workers, Violeta told her son to go home. But Jhaivie was determined.
On that fateful day of Nov. 16, 2004, Jhaivie sustained two gunshot wounds from an M-14 high-powered rifle. Violeta did not intend to make true her son’s wish that soon – to play the love song Jhaivie composed for his own funeral.
Isagani Pastidio watched the footage of the Nov. 16, 2004 incident when it was shown at the Balete village covered court on the eve of the tenth year of the massacre. For Isagani, the flashback was too much to bear. He and his father, Jaime, were at the picketline that day.
Teary-eyed, Isagani, 32, related that when shots were fired, he ran to the direction of the sugarcane. He did not know that his father was hit by bullets.
Days before the incident, Isagani recalled his father telling him to look after his four siblings. Jaime served as both the father-and-mother inside their home. Isagani’s mother had been working as a domestic worker in Manila to help augment the family’s income.
To this day, Rosita, Violeta and Isagani still cope with the loss of their loved ones. Their pain is compounded by the absence of justice.
After the massacre, all of them joined the filing of administrative and criminal charges against military and police officials and civilian respondents. The Office of the Ombudsman dismissed all their complaints.
Violeta said they were not summoned even for one hearing and were surprised to find out that the charges have been junked.
Still in misery
Despite the April 21, 2012 Supreme Court decision ordering the distribution of land to the farmworkers, the families of Hacienda Luisita martyrs and other farmworker-beneficiaries still live in misery.
Rosita said she was forced to lease the piece of land her family got as farmworker-beneficiaries. She was paid P24,000 ($500) for three years rent of their land in Parang village, Concepcion, Tarlac. She gave the money to her children who, like her, have no source of income.
To survive, Rosita picks up palay (rice grains) every harvest season. From dawn until dusk, Rosita would be in the rice fields owned by her neighbors.
Isagani also leased out their piece of land in Motrico village, La Paz, Tarlac for three years at a rate of P7,000 ($150) per year. He said he and his siblings would have wanted to till the land but all of them had no money to invest in the production. They get by from selling tinapa (smoked fish).
The Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR), mandated by the high court to implement the ruling, issued photocopies of certificate of land ownership awards (CLOA) to farmworker-beneficiaries. Sugar planters rent out the land.
Gil Palaganas, a leader of Ambala and one of the hundreds wounded during the massacre, said those who leased the land from the farmworkers are connected with the Cojuangco-Aquinos. “If not, why are they so emboldened to offer lease contracts with the farmworkers? Where do they get the money?”
Meanwhile, Violeta has joined the Ambala’s collective tillage (bungkalan) campaign in Mapalacsiao village. However, security guards hired by the Cojuangco-Aquinos had repeatedly destroyed their crops, Violeta said.
“Instead of being able to rise from poverty, we sink deeper,” Violeta said.
After the high court’s final ruling, corporations owned by the Cojuangco Aquino such as the Tarlac Development Corporation, Luisita Realty Corporation and CAT have been claiming ownership of hundreds of hectares of land in Hacienda Luisita.
Violeta called on President Aquino to let go of Hacienda Luisita. “Let us have our own land,” she said.
When asked if she has a message to Aquino, Rosita’s crying turned into a wail. She could not speak for a few minutes. Then, with her face filled with tears and her shoulders shaking, she managed to say in Filipino, “Every time I see him (Aquino), my heart is overwhelmed with grief and anger.”