When harvests grow on bloodied fields

“Thirteen years after Hacienda Luisita massacre, no one has been arrested, put to trial and punished for the carnage that killed seven farmworkers on November 16, 2004.”

(Photo by Ruth Lumibao/Bulatlat)


HACIENDA LUISITA, Tarlac City – It was November 2004, and some 5,000 sugar farm workers and sugar mill workers had been on strike and had camped out at the gates of the Central Azucarera De Tarlac for days. They were calling for the reinstatement of 327 union leaders who were laid off by the Cojuangco-owned Hacienda Luisita, Incorporated (HLI).

Thousands of farmers also joined the rally to demand genuine agrarian reform, after agricultural land declared under the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) remained undistributed to the farmer-beneficiaries.

Related story: The Hacienda Luisita massacre: how it happened

As the number of police and armed soldiers increased, so did the number of supporters. Nearby residents and members of other sectors joined the picket line. When tensions heightened between the police and the rallyists, then Bayan Muna Representative Satur Ocampo stepped in to talk to Jose Cojuangco Jr. in Makati.

While the dialogue was ongoing, Ocampo and other leaders found out that the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), then led by Secretary Patricia Sto. Tomas, already issued an Assumption of Jurisdiction (AJ) order to compel workers to return to work so the company could resume its operations. Apparently, the labor secretary’s AJ included a directive for the Philippine National Police (PNP) and Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) to dismantle the barricades and disperse the protesters.

Despite the ongoing dialogue, 300 soldiers boarded 19 military trucks and went to the hacienda. At around 3:10 p.m. on November 16, 2004, state security forces hit the protesters with water cannon, followed with a rain of 200 tear gas canisters, and then came bullets.

Seven workers were killed: June David, Jesus Laza, Jhaivie Basilio, Juancho Sanchez, Jaime Pastidio, Adriano Caballero, Jr., and Jessie Valdez. Some 200 were injured. Soldiers even blocked those who were bringing the wounded to the hospital.

After 13 years, the memory of the massacre still haunts the farmers, residents, and workers of Hacienda Luisita as justice remains elusive. Every drop of blood spilled, every action the Cojuangco-Aquino clan takes to hold on to their power and control over the hacienda — all serve to strengthen the resolve of the Hacienda Luisita farmers and the peasantry to fight the deep-seated culture of feudalism in the country.

Cultural performances during the solidarity night in Balete village, Hacienda Luisita, Tarlac city on Nov. 15, 2017. Luisita farmers and other groups commemorate the Hacienda Luisita massacre through song, honoring the martyrs, and short plays. (Photo by Ruth Lumibao/Bulatlat)

Greed for money, power, control

The Cojuangco-Aquino clan has been in control of Hacienda Luisita for around six decades, despite former President Corazon Aquino’s “commitment” to agrarian reform with the enactment of CARP.

On April 24, 2012, the Supreme Court unanimously decided that the Hacienda Luisita should be distributed to about 6,000 farmer-beneficiaries. Of the total 6,534 hectares covered by the Hacienda Luisita, about 4,000 hectares was supposed to be distributed. Later, the Court would also declare that the farmers should be paid a total of P1.33 billion ($26 million) as compensation for parcels of lands affected by land use conversions, such as the construction of the Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway (SCTEX).

In 2013, the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) distributed Certificates of Land Ownership Award (CLOA) through a tambiolo, (lottery drum) from which farmers picked random lot allocations. This pitted the farmers against one other, as it awarded lands that were not originally the plots of land that they tilled, or were located in another village, far from their residence. The Hacienda covers a total of 10 barangays in Tarlac province.

Despite a Supreme Court decision, the Cojuangco-Aquino family still employed schemes to keep their control of the hacienda. In 2014, private guards hired by the Cojuangco-Aquino-owned Tarlac Development Corporation (Tadeco), along with police, tried to evict farmers from Balete village, and bulldozed their farms that were up for harvest.

In 2004, right after the massacre, the Cojuangco-Aquino clan sold 500 hectares of land to the Rizal Commercial Banking Corporation (RCBC). According to RCBC, this was in payment of a loan valued at P432 million ($8.5 million).

Rudy Corpuz, vice chairperson of the Alyansa ng Magbubukid sa Asyenda Luisita (Ambala), said farmers were able to plant on the land given to RCBC, through their cultivation campaign, bungkalan. In 2012, Ambala filed a complaint with DAR to ask for the distribution of the land to the farmers pursuant to Section 65 of CARP. The law provides that if the land has been idle for five years, it should be distributed to the farmers.

In February this year, then Agrarian Reform Secretary Rafael Mariano cancelled the land use conversion petition by RCBC and declared the land up for distribution to the farmers.

Months after the order for distribution, the land remains barricaded and heavily guarded. The once productive agricultural land is now covered with weeds and tall grass. Corpuz said the Cojuangcos willingly gave the property to RCBC because the company was owned by Martin Lorenzo, now one of the biggest stockholders of HLI after he bought the Central Azucarera De Tarlac in 2012. Lorenzo is owner of Pancake House and a known business conglomerate, and a friend of Sara Duterte’s husband, Mans Carpio.

‘To serve and to protect’ the landlords

On Nov. 15, Ambala and other peasant support groups tried to enter the RCBC compound to cultivate a portion of the land, but they were met with violence from RCBC guards and police. In a dialogue, the policemen told the farmers to meet with their head, a certain Colonel Posadas, inside the barricaded area. The farmers declined, wary that the police were leading them to be arrested en masse.

(Photo by Ruth Lumibao/Bulatlat)

When Anakpawis Representative Ariel Casilao went inside the fence to have a dialogue with Col. Posadas, the latter, in turn, refused to meet with him. Farmers tried to explain to the police about the Supreme Court decision and a recent DAR order which awarded the RCBC compound, but these turned to be futile, as the police only told the farmers to talk to their higher officials.

Using sledgehammers and a farm machine, the farmers were able to remove at least three meters of the barricade. At this point, the RCBC guards turned on the electricity in the live wires surrounding the barricade. The police charged against the protesters, and seized Ambala chairperson Florida Sibayan and another young farmer. Two drones were seen flying and surveying the protesters. Members of the Special Action Force (SAF) carrying long firearms were also spotted. Several persons in civilian clothes and the Philippine National Police (PNP) other than the private security guards of RCBC were also seen on the other side of the fence.

In an interview with Bulatlat, “Fidel” (not his real name), the young man arrested with Sibayan, related what transpired.

Fidel said that as the situation was heating up, the police just randomly grabbed people. Sibayan and Fidel were taken and separated from each other. Fidel recalled that he saw policemen carry Sibayan “like a dog,” as they held her hands and her feet so she could not escape.

“Noong nahila ang kasama namin, nabigla talaga kami. Hinila siya hanggang sa leeg, sa kamay, pinagbibitbit siya, (When our fellow farmer was dragged by the police, we were shocked. She was grabbed by the neck and arms, she was carried away from the protest area.),” Fidel described Ka Pong’s arrest.

Thinking it was a life-or-death situation and fearing torture, Fidel was able to escape from his captors. He ran inside the barricaded area and looked for an exit to the other side, to Cutcut village, where Ambala’s bungkalan lots are located.

Sibayan spent a night in jail and was released on Nov. 16, the day of the massacre commemoration, after posting bail.

Up to this day, military troops and police are seen inside Hacienda Luisita. The presence of state security forces create a climate of fear and danger among the farmers and residents of Hacienda Luisita, and circumstances only reinforce the viewpoint that no one, not even those who vowed “to serve and to protect” the people would ever choose their side.

“Wala tayong mapapala kung ang gobyerno ay hihintayin. Okupahin, bungkalin ang mga lupang iyan dahil iyan ay sa atin, (Nothing would happen if we wait for the government to act in our favor. Let us occupy and till the land because these are ours.)” Corpuz said.

Even after the protest, battalions of members of PNP also arrived in the area.

Thirteen years after the bloody dispersal and massacre of farmers, sugar mill workers, and thousands of protesters, the scales of justice remain the same — tilted in favor of the landlords, big businessmen, and cronies of the Cojuangco-Aquino clan. In fact, no one has been held accountable, or even at the least, put to trial, for the Hacienda Luisita massacre. The change in administrations and continuous pleas of farmers for justice remain ignored and possibly purposefully forgotten.

Cultural groups reenact the Nov. 16, 2004 Luisita massacre at the very site where it happened,
in front of the main gate of the Central Azucarera de Tarlac (Photo by Ruth Lumibao/Bulatlat)

Similar with other human rights violations committed in the Philippines, the culture of impunity prevails. Any proof or legal document in favor of the marginalized and oppressed – even orders from DAR or a Supreme Court decision – is treated as a mere piece of paper.

“For rabid Duterte supporters who are against the so-called Yellowtards and the Liberal Party, today is the best day to rant, rage and direct all your expletives at the Cojuangco-Aquinos. Thirteen years after Hacienda Luisita massacre, no one has been arrested, put to trial and punished for the carnage that killed seven farmworkers on November 16, 20114. We dare all of Duterte’s loyal disciples to remember and demand justice for Luisita,” Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) Chairperson Danilo Ramos said. (https://www.bulatlat.com)

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