“Let us show the injustice that they did to us. And let us show that we are unbowed and still fighting.”
By DEE AYROSO
TARLAC CITY – Calls for land and justice for the Hacienda Luisita farmers echoed from Manila to Tarlac today, Nov. 14, as a cultural caravan kicked off the commemoration of the 2004 massacre of striking farm workers in the Cojuangco-Aquino-owned hacienda in Tarlac province.
The “Hacienda Luisita massacre” — in which seven men were killed when police and soldiers opened fire on the picketline of striking farm workers at the gates of the Cental Azucarera de Tarlac on Nov. 16, 2004 — is considered the bloodiest attack in the continuing struggle for land of Hacienda Luisita peasants.
In spite of the lives lost and the Cojuangco-Aquino clan’s tightening grip on the land in the past 12 years, Hacienda Luisita farmers are now even more eager to assert their rightful ownership of the land, as they continue their bungkalan or land cultivation campaign.
Dubbed the People’s Cultural Caravan for Land, Justice and Peace, the commemoration serves to remember and bring justice to the martyrs of the struggle for land, as they push for its turnover to the hacienda farmers.
Activists on board at least 21 vehicles took off from the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) this morning, and traveled through the provinces of Bulacan and Pampanga, holding short cultural programs before finally stopping in Tarlac City.
“Let us show the injustice that they did to us. And let us show that we are unbowed and still fighting,” said a peasant leader of the Alyansa ng Magbubukid sa Asyenda Luisita (Ambala), at the gate of the Northern Luzon Command (Nolcom) in Tarlac City, as the cultural group Tanghalang Balen ning Luisita (Tablu) performed a reenactment of the massacre.
The 6,000-hectare lands had been ordered for distribution by the Supreme Court in 2012 during the term of President Benigno Simeon Aquino III, but peasant groups lament that the order remains unimplemented.
“Twelve years have passed, yet no land were distributed,” said Danilo Ramos, secretary general of the Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (Uma). “Instead, the DAR led by Virgilio delos Reyes used a tambiolo to pick the names of beneficiaries,” he said. “Only in the Philippines –ano ‘yon, lotto?”
Ramos noted that the military officials accountable in the bloody dispersal are yet to face justice, and were even promoted to top positions, such as now retired Lt.Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang whom Aquino appointed as Armed Forces of the Philippines chief of staff, and Lt.Gen. Ricardo Visaya, whom President Duterte appointed in the same position.
Ramos, however, said that in spite of the sacrifices and difficulties of the farm workers, they have literally reaped the fruits of the struggle through their bungkalan, in which they harvested rice, vegetables and fruits from the former sugarlands.
“May bukas pa (There’s hope for tomorrow),” he said.
The seven union members killed were: Jhune David, Jhaivie Basilio, Jesus Laza, Jessie Valdez, Juancho Sanchez, Adriano Caballero Jr. and Jaime Pastidio.
Eight more leaders and their supporters were killed and one was disappeared in the succeeding period after the massacre.
Caravan welcomed in Bulacan
In Balagtas, Bulacan, the call for land was echoed by hundreds of urban poor residents from relocation sites led by Kadamay-Bulacan, who welcomed the cultural caravan. When the caravan passed through Malolos city, students of the Bulacan State University added their call for the right to education and jobs.
At the Malolos Sports and Convention Center, Malolos Vice mayor Gilbert Gatchalian welcomed the caravan and expressed support to the Hacienda Luisita farm workers call for land and for justice to their maryrs.
The caravan also made short stops in Capas town and in front of the Nolcom headquarters in San Miguel, Tarlac, where they met up with Luisita farm workers.
The day was capped by concert by various progressive musicians and bands at the Maria Cristina Park in front of the Tarlac provincial capitol, where delegates camped out to spend the night.