Union grieves for
murdered Hacienda union chief
“Ganun si kapitan.
He would risk everything for us. It can only be those who feel
threatened by him and the union who would want to kill him.” Thus said a
Hacienda Luisita worker of murdered union leader Ricardo Ramos.
BY DABET CASTAñEDA
Tarlac – While rain poured all day on Thursday, Oct. 27, majority of the
remaining officers of Hacienda Luisita’s Central Azucarrera de Tarlac
Labor Union (CATLU) met at the village hall of Barangay Mapalacsiao. It
was a gloomy day indeed as the meeting was called to discuss the union’s
plans of action after the murder of their president, 47-year old Ricardo
CATLU president Ricardo
Ramos, slain Oct. 25, speaks in a protest action in Manila
shortly before his death
BULATLAT FILE PHOTO
Ramos, who was also
on his second term as village chair of Mapalacsiao, was shot at the head
around 8 p.m. of Oct. 25. He died on the spot.
Romeo Sarate, CATLU
director for the medical department and one of the newly-elected union
spokespersons, called the murder of Ramos as “another treacherous act by
the Cojuangco-Aquino clan.”
He said they were on
the verge of sealing a deal with the CAT management after several backdoor
negotiations with Ernesto Teopaco, vice president for operations.
Around 700 mill
workers belonging to the CATLU staged a simultaneous strike with about
5,000 plantation workers of the Hacienda under the United Luisita Workers’
Union (ULWU) Nov. 6 last year. The 6,443-hectare Hacienda Luisita estate
is owned and operated by the family of former President Corazon
Cojuangco-Aquino of the powerful Cojuangco clan in Tarlac.
On Nov. 16, seven
striking workers and supporters were massacred in the most violent
picketline dispersal recorded in history.
After almost a year
of on-and-off negotiations, Sarate said both union and management have
finally agreed to defy the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) order
and give the workers a P15 wage increase and a P13,000 signing bonus,
among others. The DOLE earlier ordered a measly P12 wage increase and
P12,500 signing bonus.
Sarate said the
negotiations with Teopaco should have led to the signing of a Memorandum
of Agreement (MoA) and could have been part of the union’s triumph over
But prior to the
backdoor negotiations with management, the union has petitioned DOLE for
the release of their earned wages prior to the strike, including their 13th
month pay and Christmas bonus for the year 2004. The DOLE should have
confiscated some eight thousand bags of sugar amounting to P8.8 million as
early as the last week of September so the workers could receive their
But Sarate said the
CAT management lobbied for time and promised to release the workers’
earned wages on Oct. 21. The next day, Oct.22, the DOLE confiscated the
bags of sugar. In the morning of Oct. 25, Ramos, assisted by the
DOLE-Region III, led the release of the earned wages, with each worker
receiving around P25,000 each.
Together with friends
and some village officials, Ramos was celebrating the union’s victory when
he was shot dead that same night.
Ramos was “Kap”
(short for barangay captain) to his constituents or simply “Pres” (short
for president) to union members. Either way, Ramos was known to the people
of the hacienda as a firm and dependable leader.
In the course of
their 11-month strike, Sarate said their president proved he was for the
welfare of the workers and the hacienda people in general.
On several occasions,
Ramos proved he could neither be cowed nor bribed.
A few days before the
DOLE confiscated bags of sugar from the mill, Sarate said Teopaco called
on Ramos to sign a document stating that the union was already settling
its issues with management, therefore, the levying of CAT property was not
necessary. Sarate said Ramos declined to sign it.
Sarate added that
what could have made Ramos a bigger pain in the neck for the Cojuangcos
was the condition he imposed before any MoA could be signed between the
union and the management – that the Cojuangcos should also settle the
labor issues between CAT’s sister company, Hacienda Luisita, Inc., which
operates the plantation, and the ULWU.
In the press
conferences held at the picket line, Ramos was always heard saying, “Kung
hindi maayos ang problema ng ULWU, hindi kami papayag na mag-operate ang
mill. Hanggat nandito ang ULWU sa Gate 1, hindi rin kami aalis dito. Mahal
naming mga manggagawa ang mga tao ng asyenda.” (Unless the problems of
ULWU are settled, we will also not allow the mill to operate. As long as
ULWU is in strike, we will stay here with them. We, workers, care for the
hacienda farm workers.)
Witnesses to the
killing of Ramos have said two military men inquired about him a few hours
before his murder.
named the two as Army Sgts. Roderick “Joshua” dela Cruz and Romeo Castillo
Jr. The two have been summoned for questioning but Supt. Bienvenido Manga,
chief of the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) of the
Philippine National Police (PNP), said it was not yet necessary to put
them under arrest.
Maj. Gen. Jovito
Palparan, commander of the 7th Infantry Division of the
Philippine Army (ID PA), has denied that the two suspected soldiers are
from their ranks.
But Sarate said the
rest of the union officers and members have no doubt that it was soldiers
who gunned down their leader because Ramos went against the presence and
operations of the military in the hacienda.
Around 300 soldiers
from Nolcom were deployed inside the hacienda when the strike started last
year. There are military detachments in all 11 villages inside the
hacienda except in two – Mapalacsiao and Balete. As village chief, Ramos
frowned on the establishment of a detachment inside his village. It was
the same with Barangay captain Rodel Galang of Balete. Ramos also did not
allow soldiers to rent a house inside their village.
In two separate
occasions, Ramos led his constituents in a barricade to stop the
construction of the Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway Project (SCTEP). This
90-kilometer government project will stretch through six villages in the
hacienda, eating up at least 77 hectares. The project is the sixth in
Pres. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s 10-point program.
In recent Bulatlat
news articles, it was reported that the human barricades against the
expressway construction were being harassed by soldiers deployed in the
hacienda. But Sarate said that since the presence of the military could
not frighten the people, the contractors or the SCTEP belonging to the
Bases Conversion and Development Authority (BCDA) tried to bribe Ramos the
amount of P1.2 million just so he would allow the project to continue.
Ramos refused the
amount, Sarate said.
Ibra Omar, executive director of Bureau of Agrarian Legal Assistance (BALA)
and Center for Land Use Planning, Policy and Implementation (CLUPPI),
issued a hold order to the expressway project. This was in response to the
ULWU petition that the project should be stopped because it had no
Sarate blamed the
Cojuangcos for allowing the military inside the hacienda.
In a separate
interview, Tarlac Rep. (second ditrict) Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino, third
generation heir to the sugar estate, said the presence of the military is
to protect the people of the hacienda from the “bad elements of the
society.” The estate has been declared a “national security threat” after
the Nov. 16 massacre when the Cojuangcos and the military claimed that
members of the New People’s Army (NPA) were among the strikers.
But Sarate said it
was clear to them that it is the interest of the Cojuangcos that the
military protects. He said the soldiers would go on house-to-house
campaigns and tell the hacienda workers, “Hindi naman sa inyo yung lupa
bakit nyo inaangkin?” (The land is not yours, why are you stealing it?)
campaign, Sarate said, actually intensified after the DAR recommended the
revocation of the Stock Distribution Plan (SDP), a provision under the
Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) that allowed landlords to
operate their landholdings as corporations.
Sarate further said
the Cojuangcos have actually allowed the military to use the facilities in
the hacienda. A tour around the estate would show that the military are
stationed in the office of HLI operations manager Rocky Lopa and that
detachments have been put up beside the Aqua Farm near Barangay Balete,
the HLI offices and other company buildings.
Sarate said their
union also holds Macapagal-Arroyo responsible for the killing of Ramos and
the intensified military operations in the hacienda. “As Commander in
Chief of the armed forces, she gives orders to the soldiers. The way the
military is operating in our area and the whole region of Central Luzon,
it’s as if she has given the military a blanket authority to execute those
who are fighting for their rights and livelihood,” he said. Bulatlat
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