25-vehicle caravan off to Hacienda Luisita to demand re-opening of massacre case
MANILA, Philippines- Leaders of Hacienda Luisita farm workers together with supporters from the National Capital Region (NCR) on Tuesday kicked off a 25-vehicle caravan from Quezon City to Tarlac to commemorate the 6th year anniversary of the infamous massacre inside the hotly contested 6,453 hectare sugar estate.
The labor and agrarian dispute that culminated in the general strike at the main gate of Luisita resulted to the bloody dispersal of strikers and led to the death of 7 farm workers and the wounding of over 100 other striking agricultural workers.
Organizers led by the leftist peasant alliance Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP), the Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA) and the umbrella group Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) said the caravan will banner the demand for the re-opening of the Hacienda Luisita massacre case investigation by the Philippine Senate and the House of Representatives.
In a joint statement KMP secretary general Danilo Ramos and Lito Bais, UMA chair and acting president of United Luisita Workers Union (ULWU) said they will pursue the re-opening of congressional inquiry in both Houses of congress which have yet to issue their respective findings on the massacre.
However, the Office of the Ombudsman dropped the case against civilian respondents implicated in the massacre—namely former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, former labor secretary Patricia Sto. Tomas and members of the Cojuangco-Aquino clan that includes President Benigno Simeon Aquino III, which KMP and UMA believed were done to render moot and academic whatever resolutions both chambers of Congress would pursue on the Luisita massacre case.
Ramos recalled that during the December 1, 2004 senate inquiry on the Hacienda Luisita massacre, a report was filed that shortly before to the Nov.16, 2004 massacre, around 700 policemen, 17 truckloads of military men in full battle gear, two tanks equipped with heavy weapons, a payloader, 4 fire trucks with water cannons and snipers positioned in at least five strategic places were seen and deployed near Gate 1 of Hacienda Luisita, indicating that something bloody would happen on that day.
The massacre led to the bloody killing of 7 farm workers and the wounding of 121 others. Of the 121, 32 suffered gunshot wounds, 11 were children or in their teens and 4 were senior citizens. Also during the Senate hearing, it was revealed that around 1,000 rounds of ammunition were used by the military and police in dispersing the farm workers.
“In the name of truth and justice, we appeal to Senate President Juan Ponce-Enrile and House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte to cross party lines and re-open the Hacienda Luisita massacre case. We also challenge President Aquino, and his family and officers of HLI to submit their selves to investigation regarding their individual and collective role in the massacre of Luisita farm workers.
The demand for accountability should also extend to former President Arroyo and her military, police and civilian officials who were implicated as principal players along with the Cojuangco-Aquino fiefdom in the Nov.16 massacre,” Ramos of KMP and Bais of UMA added.
Aside from demanding justice and accountability, caravan participants also urged President Aquino and the HLI management to immediately withdraw before the Supreme Court their objection to the decision of the Presidential Agrarian Reform Council (PARC) to have the 6,453 hectare distributed to over 10,000 farm worker beneficiaries. The KMP and UMA are supporting the call for urgent and free distribution of the sugar estate which has been under control of the Cojuangco-Aquino family since 1957.
The groups said HLI management should refrain from pursuing evil schemes like the P 150-million compromise agreement, the Luisita referendum on Stock Distribution Option (SDO) and the Supreme Court sanctioned mediation committee, adding these maneuvers were effectively exposed and opposed by the farm workers. KMP and UMA also urged the Luisita management to refrain from entertaining exploratory and Mafia-like talks regarding the outright sale or lease of Luisita to foreign investors namely the Wahaha group of China and Lotte of South Korea which previously expressed interest in sourcing sugar cane supply from the disputed sugar plantation.
KMP, UMA and other groups likewise reiterated their demand to Malacanang and the Department of National Defense (DND) to scrap a reported deal between the Palace and the US military command in charge of the RP-US Balikatan exercises to hold joint military exercises inside Hacienda Luisita.
The militant groups revealed that on March 2010, a councilor of Barangay Bantug was informed that US troops will set up an evacuation center and will conduct medical mission inside the 6,453 hectare sugar estate by this month. Last August, US military officials also went to Hacienda Luisita to talk to barangay officials and informed village about plans to put up evacuation centers and conduct medical and humanitarian mission inside Hacienda Luisita.
Luisita farm workers and residents said vehicles marked with RP-US Balikatan Exercises were seen last month conducting “surveys”, which farm workers and Luisita residents said were related to the plans of US troops to put up military infrastructure and evacuation centers inside the sprawling sugar estate.
“The American officials in charge of the Balikatan exercises will exploit the usual humanitarian and medical mission activities as entry point for joint military exercises, counter-insurgency operations and US instigated war on terror. In fact, the conduct of medical and civic actions is clearly stipulated in the US guideline on counter-insurgency drafted in January 2009,” KMP and UMA stressed.