The festering problem at Hacienda Luisita

By Carol Pagaduan-Araullo
Streetwise | BusinessWorld

Ten years is a long time to await justice for the massacre of striking farm and sugar mill workers at the Hacienda Luisita Incorporated (HLI) — the sprawling 6,435-hectare sugar plantation owned by the Cojuangco-Aquino clan — by a combined force of military, police and private security guards.

Peasant families who have lived and worked for generations at the hacienda, as well as militant peasant organizations and land reform advocates providing unwavering support, marked the 10th year of the brutal, premeditated killings with protest actions in front of Malacaang Palace and at the massacre site itself inside HLI. Their pained yet defiant cries for “Justice!” and “Land to the tillers!” reverberate together with demands for the ouster of President Benigno S. Aquino III, scion of the powerful and entrenched landlords of Hacienda Luisita.

The search for justice has reached a dead end, with the Ombudsman earlier on having thrown out the criminal complaints filed by the victims’ families. Seven strikers and their supporters lie dead and the official line then and now is that the victims attacked the phalanx of well-armed security forces, soldiers and police, provoking a defensive reaction from the latter. How it is that the dead and wounded only came from the ranks of the protesters strains credulity, but apparently this fact is immaterial to the state’s spineless investigators.

The land problem in Hacienda Luisita remains unresolved to this day despite the widely decried massacre and scores of related extrajudicial killings of supporters of the farm and mill workers, including Iglesia Filipina Independiente Obispo Maximo Alberto Ramento and Tarlac Councilor Abel Ladera. The Supreme Court’s final ruling, for the HLI land be distributed to its farmer-beneficiaries, has yet to be implemented properly and fairly.

This can only be because President BS Aquino III has been able to move Congress to impeach and convict a sitting Chief Justice who, while being a Gloria Arroyo holdover and point man in the Supreme Court, also had the temerity to lead the Court in making decisions favorable to the peasants of HLI.

This same President holds sway over the Department of Agrarian Reform that has embarked on means most foul to further dispossess the farmer-beneficiaries, break their unity and weaken their organizations in thinly veiled collusion with the HLI management. What comes to mind in the light of this brazen display of abuse of one’s position is the famous one-liner by Senate President Jose Avelino, a Liberal Party stalwart of old: “What are we in power for?”

To those who say that agrarian reform has been achieved by the series of land reform programs pre- and post-independence — think HLI. To those who say that the Philippine economy has progressed from the backward agricultural, in fact feudal, mode to that of a modern, manufacture-based one — again, think HLI.

To those who decry the deep, widespread and multi-generational poverty of our people and all the socioeconomic evils that go with it — open your eyes to the plight of the HLI peasants and their families.

To those who sing paeans to democracy in the Philippines — can this mean anything, so long as landlordism is alive and well, upheld by the law and protected by the state apparatus of coercion? And airbrushed as part of the heritage of the “old rich” and therefore not susceptible to charges of graft and corruption unlike the ill-gotten wealth of the “new rich?”

To those who believe the yarn that the New People’s Army (NPA) is the cause of the agrarian and labor unrest and that before the NPA and union organizers became active in HLI there was peace — think the peace of the graveyard and the peace of coopted yellow labor union leaders.

Isn’t it hypocritical that the pro-Aquino/Liberal Party camp and the yellow media make much ado about the alleged 150-hectare Binay hacienda and the plunder of Makati’s coffers, while turning a blind eye to the decades-old land problem in the Cojuangco-Aquino hacienda that Cory Aquino’s fake land reform program has perpetuated?

Is it coincidental that only when the ruling regime is not held by the Cojuangco-Aquinos but by their actual or eventual political rivals, that there are legal victories in the farmers’ struggles to retake the land that is historically, morally and legally theirs to begin with?

Hacienda Luisita, with its vast land area equivalent to Makati City and its adjoining two cities, stands out as a national symbol as well as actual stronghold of feudal exploitation and oppression in the 21st century.

It also showcases the abuse of the highest political office, the Presidency, to circumvent land reform, displace dirt-poor peasant families from their tenuous hold on the land, convert wide swathes of the hacienda for more profitable non-agricultural purposes, and quash any and all efforts and struggles of the peasantry to liberate themselves from their shackles. A President who is of cacique origin and continues to derive substantial wealth and privilege from being heir to his clan’s landholdings can never sympathize with, much less uphold, the rights and aspirations of the landless peasantry.

Hacienda Luisita is a microcosm of what ails Philippine society today. The social, including armed, conflicts that have been spawned by the social injustice in Hacienda Luisita is repeated many times over in the rest of the country. Which is why a radical overhaul of society brought about by the autonomous mass movement of the impoverished and disempowered provides the only remaining hope for true social emancipation.

Carol Pagaduan-Araullo is a medical doctor by training, social activist by choice, columnist by accident, happy partner to a liberated spouse and proud mother of two.

Published in Business World
November 16, 2014

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