was taken from Bulatlat, the Philippines's alternative weekly
newsmagazine (www.bulatlat.com, www.bulatlat.net, www.bulatlat.org).
Vol. IV, No. 42, November 21-27, 2004
The Hacienda Luisita Massacre, Landlordism and State Terrorism
The public outrage ignited by the Luisita Massacre should also keep an eye on other potential flashpoints that could lead to similar acts of state terrorism. There are several other plantations, large estates as well as development projects and mining exploration areas in many parts of the country that have been militarized.
The violent dispersal of the strike of Hacienda Luisita farm workers on Nov. 16 that led to the death of 14 farmers including women and children and the wounding of 200 others was a massacre bound to happen.
The labor dispute that pitted, on the one hand, the hacienda’s 5,000 farmers and 700 milling workers who were demanding among others the reinstatement of 300 workers and on the other, the management that has rejected every inch of their demands was in a deadlock. With their families living on starvation wages and themselves threatened with a mass lay-off, there was no way by which the workers could push their cause except by staging a strike.
From the very beginning, it appeared that the only response that the powerful Cojuangcos – including former President Corazon Cojuangco-Aquino – had in mind was by military means. Most of the accounts that have been reported about the Nov. 16 massacre have overlooked the fact that the 6,000-hectare hacienda, known in the past as Asia’s largest sugar plantation, has been militarized since the beginning. The military detachment that was put up at the hacienda reportedly carried out harassment operations against union leaders particularly in the thick of the election of union officials. Union officials were accused as “NPA rebels” or “sympathizers” – a demonization campaign that, in the military’s counter-insurgency strategy, is usually the prelude to the summary execution of progressive activists.
Just across the commercial complex that adjoins the hacienda along the MacArthur Highway in Tarlac is the Philippine Army’s Camp Aquino. Camp Aquino, while serving as the headquarters of the Army’s Northern Luzon command, virtually guards the vast hacienda and its units are at the beck and call of the Cojuangcos and other powers-that-be in the region during times of labor unrest or during election.
Yet the public outrage that the Luisita massacre has generated should also keep an eye on other potential flashpoints that could lead to similar acts of state terrorism. We refer to the fact that there are several other plantations, large estates as well as development projects and mining exploration areas in many parts of the country that are under militarization. These are areas where the lands of farmers were either grabbed from them or where agricultural estates due for land distribution have been subjected to land conversion schemes.
These are also areas where communities of upland farmers and indigenous peoples are displaced to pave the way for so-called energy, irrigation or similar development projects and mining exploration activities. In these areas, landlordism and transnational corporate power cast a net of terror backed by government agencies, local officials and military and police forces and often also by paramilitary and private armies.
Thus, in Negros for instance, farmers and human rights groups have accused another Cojuangco – former Marcos crony Eduardo Cojuangco, Jr. – of using his political influence to use the military, police and even a gun-for-hire “rebel” group to protect his landholdings and corporate property. On Mindoro island over the last few years, scores of activists, community organizers including human rights volunteers have been killed reportedly by government troopers and their assets. Today the island has once again been opened for the entry of transnational mining corporations out to exploit Mindoro’s mineral deposits.
In Siocon, Zamboanga del Norte where the Arroyo administration has allowed the Canadian firm Toronto Ventures, Inc. (TVI) and Benguet Corporation to conduct mining exploration and production, military and paramilitary forces have been deployed to block attempts by the Subanons to stop the destruction of their communal and sacred lands.
In these and many other provinces, counter-insurgency has been used as a ploy by civilian and military authorities to suppress the resistance of hapless farmers and indigenous peoples. Too many cases of human rights violations have been committed against unarmed protesters in the name of counter-insurgency.
In the Tarlac massacre, government has said that the soldiers and police units deployed at the height of the strike were “outnumbered” by the protesters who were able to mass up 4,000-strong. And so sword had to be unleashed: an APC (armored personnel carrier) rammed through the workers’ picketline while machine gun and snipers’ bullets were fired into the crowd from several directions coming – so surviving victims and eyewitnesses said – from atop buildings of the hacienda. Apparently, the strike was violently broken to allow at least 50 truckloads of sugarcane to be milled, also inside the hacienda, and hence allow the Cojuangcos to continue reaping some more money.
The ghosts of the past have returned. The whole of Central Luzon – which includes Tarlac province – has probably the most number of massacres that have taken place in recent memory. The list takes you all the way from the Philippine-American war at the turn of the 20th century where whole communities were raided and pillaged and their inhabitants murdered without mercy by U.S. mercenary troops, to the massacres perpetrated by soldiers and constables under the command of then Defense Secretary Ramon Magsaysay and CIA operative Col. Ed Lansdale as well as during the Marcos dictatorship and until today.
One of the most gruesome cases was the massacre in Lupao, Nueva Ecija in the early part of the Aquino presidency, where 17 farmers including women and children, were killed by Marines on suspicion that they were NPA rebels. Before that in January 1987 – the second year of the Aquino presidency - 13 farmers were shot and killed by Marines and policemen as some 10,000 farmers from Central Luzon and Southern Luzon marched to Mendiola to demand genuine land reform.
Central Luzon used to host the biggest U.S. military bases outside the U.S. mainland – Clark Airbase in Angeles City, Pampanga which is some 20 kms from Tarlac, and Subic Naval Base in Olongapo City, Zambales. The military bases were there not only because of the vast valley’s strategic location but because their presence was supported by the powers-that-be, such as the Cojuangcos and Aquinos.
More important however is that Central Luzon has been historically dominated by traditional oligarchs with big landowners maintaining haciendas not only here but in other regions as well most especially in Pangasinan, Iloilo and Negros. Some of the country’s presidents – including the current one – come from here. Indeed the elite power that originates in Central Luzon casts its tentacles far and wide.
In Congress, landlord-representatives were the first to emasculate the much-touted Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP), reducing it, as organized farmers said, into a mere scrap of paper. At the village level, town and agrarian officials colluded with judges preventing large landholdings from being subjected to CARP through trickery and other machinations. The myth about President Aquino’s sympathy for the peasant masses through her “centerpiece” CARP quickly crumbled when she unleashed her total war policy where tens of thousands of peasant families bore the brunt of militarization and atrocities. She and her successors hyped about land reform while the sword of war was pointed against the peasantry.
Landlordism has made Central Luzon as having one of the biggest populations of tenants and farm workers and the displacement in the livelihood of many others is being made possible by the bulk importation of cheap rice, corn, vegetables and even salt, no thanks to President Arroyo’s trade liberalization policy. Probably the only flicker of hope that an ordinary family can grope for today is a contractual work abroad. The region is thus where many overseas Filipino workers now in Iraq and other Middle East countries come from. From them one can sense the strong will to survive despite the hopelessness they leave at home: “Di baleng mamatay sa Iraq hwag lang magutom ang pamilya sa Pilipinas” (It’s better to die in Iraq [by having a job] than see my family starve to death at home).
Widespread poverty, landlessness, union repression and state terrorism help fuel the armed revolutionary movement here. One cannot mourn of the Hacienda Luisita massacre without thinking that this would ignite some kind of a prairie fire that would engulf the entire region once again – as it has been in recent past. Bulatlat Analysis
© 2004 Bulatlat ■ Alipato Publications
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