Luisita farmers, groups demand justice for victims of massacre

FARMERS, human rights advocates and other sectoral groups renewed their call demanding justice for the victims of Hacienda Luisita massacre, as well as the series of extra-judicial killings and rights abuses.

This coming November 16 would be the eight anniversary of the massacre, which the groups considered as “eight years of injustice.”

“We challenge the Aquino government to prosecute those responsible for the massacre, and finally order his family to surrender their interest of Hacienda Luisita lands,” Joseph Canlas said, Amgl chairperson and Anakpawis-Central Luzon regional coordinator.

The groups said that justice has yet to be served to the victims of the massacre, namely Juancho Sancho Sanchez, 20 years old of Brgy. Balite, Jhayvie Basilio, 20 of Brgy. Mapalacsiao, Jesus Laza, 34 of Brgy. Parang (Concepcion town), Jhune David, 27 of Brgy. Cut-cut, Jaime Fastidio, 47 of Brgy. Motrico (La Paz town),  Jessie Valdez, 30 of Brgy. Balite and Adriano Caballero, 23 of Brgy. Balite.

“The whole world witnessed this massacre, but justice remained elusive.  The connivance between the Cojuangco-Aquinos and Arroyo was essentially the root cause of this onslaught, through the issuance of assumption of jurisdiction by then labor sec. Patricia Sto. Tomas, but no one in the military or police, nor Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has been held accountable,” Canlas said.

Attack continues

The groups said that after the massacre on November 16, 2004, Hacienda Luisita has been subjected to a de facto martial law during the implementation of Oplan Bantay Laya, the counter-insurgency program of the Arroyo government.  Adding to the terror was the command stint of the ‘butcher’ retired Major General Jovito Palparan, who lead the 7th Infantry Division based in Fort Magsaysay, Nueva Ecija from September 2005 until his retirement on September 2006.

The groups said that aside from the massacre victims, farmers, workers and supporters fell victims of extra-judicial killings during the implementation of Oplan Bantay Laya and Palparan’s command.   Barely a month after the massacre, peasant leader Marcelino Beltran, chairperson of Alyansa ng Magbubukid sa Tarlak (AMT) was killed on December 8, 2004; Tarlac City councilor and former sugar mill worker Abel Ladera was killed on March 3, 2005; Iglesia Filipina Independiente (IFI) priest Fr. William Tadena was killed on March 13, 2005 in La Paz town; peasant leader Victor “Tata Ben” Concepcion, leader of Aguman Dareng Maglalautang Capampangan (Amc Pampanga) who was active at the picketline was killed on March 17, 2005;  Florante Collante, Bayan Muna Tarlac coordinator was killed on October 15, 2005; Central Azucarera de Tarlac Labor Union (CATLU) president and Brgy. Mapalacsiao chair Ricardo Ramos was killed on October 25, 2005; Tirso Cruz, a leader of United Luisita Workers’ Union (ULWU) was killed on March 17, 2006; IFI Bishop Alberto Ramento who was actively supporting the farmworkers was killed at his church located at the center of Tarlac City on October 3, 2006.  AMT and AMC are provincial chapters of Amgl, while ULWU and CATLU were the workers’ unions who launched the strike on November 6, 2004.

AMGL and Ambala said that amidst the fascist attack of the Arroyo government and Cojuangco-Aquinos, farmworkers and their supporters continued their campaign for the revocation of the stock distribution option (SDO) and distribution of Hacienda Luisita lands.  Massive protests coincided the oral arguments at the Supreme Court in 2009 to 2011, which prevented the Cojuangco-Aquino family to influence the high court.  Finally on November 22, 2011 and April 24, 2012, the Supreme Court decided to junk the SDO, decided for land distribution and setting of prices at 1989 level.

“When Aquino became president in 2010, nothing has changed in Hacienda Luisita, as well as in the region.  Human rights abuses continued and he simply rehashed Oplan Bantay Laya with Oplan Bayanihan,” Florida Sibayan, Vice- Chairperson, Ambala said.

The group said that nearly 10 days after Aquino’s inauguration, farmer leader Pascual Guevarra was killed in Fort Magsaysay Military Reservation, Nueva Ecija, making him the first peasant activist killed during the Aquino administration.  On January 2011, Aquino implemented Oplan Bayanihan which made Hacienda Luisita an experiment of its civilian-military and pyschological warfare operations.

“On 2011, the military maintained the detachments in 10 barangays inside Hacienda Luisita, they recruited local residents as CAFGU members.  They played nice and worked primarily for information gathering such as identifying the leaders and members of Ambala and Ulwu and their activities,” Sibayan said.

Based on a fact-finding mission held by Ambala, Amgl and Karapatan last March, military continued to operate within the hacienda and conducted patrolling, interrogation, coercion and vilification.  On August 2011, a military squad under the 7th Infantry Division of the Philippine Army (IDPA), interrogated a farmworker at his hut near the Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway (SCTEx).  The soldiers asked about the leaders and activities of Ambala.  Also, Ambala leaders from Brgy. Balite and Mapalacsiao has been accused by the military, led by a certain Sgt. Corpuz of being members of the New People’s Army (NPA) and subjected to surveillance.   On October 2011, a farmworker family at Brgy. Balite was harassed by unidentified armed men which they believed to be elements of the military, subsequently, their hut was burned.  Also, units under the 31st Infantry Battalion held clean-up drive and CAFGU recruitment among local residents.

“The 7th IDPA commander Maj. Enrico Gil Ileto admitted that Hacienda Luisita is under Oplan Bayanihan, also the 3rd Mechanized Infantry Battalion is commanded by Lt. Col. Ernesto Torres, a former AFP Public Affairs spokesperson in 2009,” Canlas said.
Amgl and Ambala said that Torres is a psy-war expert who served as an official in the national level hierarchy of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).  His assignment at the 3rd Mech IB is controversial as it is unlikely for a military official of such background unless it is a special operation such as intelligence gathering and psy-war operations.  Recently, Ambala leaders monitored a vehicle that followed them came from the 3rd Mech IB camp.

On January 2012, military officials boasted an affidavit supposedly signed by 10 barangay chairpersons supporting military deployment in Hacienda Luisita.  The farmworkers believed that aside from Brgy. Balite chairperson Renato Luna, the other chairpersons were coerced in a way as this has been the “style” of the Cojuangco-Aquino family since the 2004 strike.  Those who would refuse would be subjected to harassment or intimidation, such as what happened to Brgy. Mapalacsiao chair and CATLU president Ric Ramos.  The farmworkers also claimed that that affidavit is an illegal document as there were no consultations held among their constituents.

“The AFP announced that there are NPA inside Hacienda Luisita.  Even at the command-level, they engage in systematic red baiting and isolation where they are actually targetting leaders and members of Ambala and Ulwu,” Canlas said.

“We firmly believe that the extra-judicial killing of Dutch Willem Geertman  on July 3 was connected to the issue of Hacienda Luisita, as he has supported the farmworkers campaign since he became executive director of Alay Bayan Luson, Inc. (Abi),” Canlas said.

Since February this year, armed guards of Rizal Commercial Banking Corp. (RCBC) has been harassing farmworkers, as they intend to fence the disputed 184-hectares agricultural lands located at Brgy. Balite.  Armed guards opene fire at the farmworkers, but local police did no arrest.  The RCBC-claimed parcel is part of the 500-hectare land the Cojuangco-Aquino family applied for conversion.

At present, elements of the military still base at detachments in 10 barangays of Hacienda Luisita and conduct patrolling.

Genuine land reform

“It has been known that the attack on the farmworkers are based on their struggle for genuine land reform, particularly the distribution of Hacienda Luisita,” Lito Bais, Chairperson, Ulwu said.

AMGL said that the November 2004 strike was primarily due to the economic hardship brought about by the SDO which coined the Cojuangco-Aquino family’s feudal control over the 6,456-hectare hacienda.  As the SDO put the farmworkers into deep poverty and misery, reflected by the “P9.50 take-home pay,” they launched the strike on November 6, 2004.  It was led by ULWU and Catlu.

Though massacred and under attack, their resolute campaign forced the Supreme Court to decide in favor of land distribution of the 4,915-hectares remaining agricultural land to the 6,296 farmworker-beneficiaries (FWBs).

As there exist no genuine land reform program but the pro-landlord Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program Extension with ‘Reforms’ (CARPer), the decision is being facilitated by the Dept. of Agrarian Reform using the program’s framework and processes.

“DAR is clearly under Aquino’s direction, they are now on the process of making a new list, a clear violation of the SC decision.  They are bloating the list with Cojuangco-Aquino family’s paid lackeys, those who used to oppose land distribution and campaigned for SDO,” Canlas said.

“Ambala is demanding that DAR should base their list on the 1989 original signatories of the Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) of the SDO, the 2004 petitioners submitted to their office, those who fought for land distribution and against SDO and actually tilling lands,” he added.

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