November 16 2014 marks the 10th anniversary of the Hacienda Luisita Massacre. November 16 is now a global day of protest against trade union repression.
The main Philippines trade unions involved with Hacienda Luisita are the KMU (May First Movement) Labor Center, the Union of Agricultural Workers (UMA), and their local affiliates, the sugar mill workers union (CATLU), the United Luisita Workers Union (ULWU) and the Alliance of Farm Workers of Hacienda Luisita (AMBALA). www.kilusangmayouno.org
Here is the story of their struggle.
Hacienda Luisita has 6,453 hectares in Tarlac Province, and its farmworkers have been entitled to land distribution since 1967. Originally a Spanish-owned tobacco farm, Hacienda Luisita was converted to sugar in the 1920s, and sold to the Cojuangco family as a combined sugar plantation and sugar mill in 1958.
The current President of the Philippines, Benigno S Aquino III, is the grandson of Jose Cojuangco, who acquired the hacienda in 1958, and the son of former President Corazon Aquino.
When land distribution did not emerge in 1967, farmworkers and mill workers began to organise. When Marcos declared Martial Law in September 1972, one of the first of his opponents arrested was Senator Benigno Aquino, father of the current president, and husband of President Corazon Aquino. Marcos pressed for land distribution at Hacienda Luisita as part of his campaign against the Aquinos, but never forced it through. Farmworkers were very active in the anti-Marcos resistance, including in the communist-led New People’s Army.
When Marcos was overthrown by People Power in February 1986, the wave of progressive reform included a new democratic constitution and a commitment to genuine agrarian reform. However, the Mendiola massacre of January 1987, in which 13 farmers were killed and many more wounded, demonstrated that President Aquino would not deliver genuine land reform. At Hacienda Luisita, her Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program was manipulated to deliver Stock Distribution Options to farmworkers, allegedly making them owners of the hacienda while her family company TADECO (Tarlac Development Corporation), maintained control. Under this plan, the workers would get options for 33 per cent of Hacienda Luisita Incorporated, while the family would hold 67 per cent. And the Options would take 30 years to fully distribute!
Anti-union repression under President Corazon Aquino and her successor President Fidel Ramos, was suffocating, and at Hacienda Luisita, it meant that union organisers had to work in a clandestine way. However, by 2004, they succeeded in winning elections for the farmworkers United Luisita Workers Union (ULWU), and Central Azucarera de Tarlac Labor Union (CATLU), the union of the sugar mill workers. ULWU had 5,000 members, and CATLU 700 members.
Strike and massacre. During negotiations in October 2004, management sacked 327 farmworkers, including all the ULWU union officers. At the same time, wage negotiations with CATLU went into deadlock.
They launched a strike on November 6, 2004, with ULWU blocking Gate 1 of the sugar mill, and CATLU blocking Gate 2.
Four days later, the Department of Labor and Employment declared Assumption of Jurisdiction and ordered the strike to cease. After five days, this would authorise the use of force. The strikers held to their pickets and called on their communities and supporters to provide a human shield. Thousands came, and so did 400 members of the Philippines National Police. The police attacked, but did not break through. Greater forces were brought in the next morning.
By 3pm, the place looked like a war was about to begin. Near Gate 1 of the sugar mill were 700 policemen, 17 truckloads of soldiers in full battle gear, two tanks equipped with heavy weapons, a frontend loader, four fire trucks with water cannons, and snipers positioned in at least five strategic places.
One of the tanks and the frontend loader rammed through the sugar mill gate that management had previously locked. The protesters were pelted with tear gas and sprayed with water spiked with chemicals from the fire trucks. They fought back by burying the tear gas canisters in soil, and flinging rocks at the fire trucks and tanks using slingshots. Eventually, the tear gas and fire hoses ran out.
The farm workers cheered and surged through the gate, waving sticks and throwing rocks at the tank.
Then, gunfire erupted. 1,000 rounds of ammunition were used. The first spray of bullets lasted for almost a full minute, as men, women, and children ran for their lives. This was followed by a series of rapid spurts. The presidents of the two unions narrowly missed being shot by snipers while running to get behind some sugarcane trucks. Other protesters were beaten and dragged into army trucks and placed under arrest, regardless of gender or age.
There were seven dead and at least 121 injured. Of the 121 injured, 32 suffered gunshot wounds, 11 were children or in their teens, and four were over sixty years old.
After a funeral and wake for the victims, the workers re-established their picket lines, and the military occupied all the barangays in the Hacienda.
Eight more assassinated after the massacre
The killings began on the night of December 8, 2004, when Marcelino Beltran, a retired army officer turned peasant leader who was about to testify on bullet trajectories at the Senate and Congress on December 13 and 14, 2004, was assassinated in his house.
On January 5, 2005, picketers George Loveland and Ernesto Ramos were shot at the west gate of Las Haciendas subdivision inside Hacienda Luisita, where they were manning a checkpoint. Both survived, but suffered gunshot wounds to the chest and stomach. They identified the shooters as part of Noynoy Aquino’s security group.
On March 3, 2005, Tarlac City Councillor Abel Ladera, the man who led the mourners’ procession during the wake for the massacre victims, was killed in broad daylight by a sniper bullet to the chest while buying spare parts at an auto shop.
On March 13, 2005, Father William Tadena, a Philippines Independent Church priest who had mobilized his parish to regularly donate rice and groceries to the workers at the picket line before saying a weekly mass for them, was shot dead in his owner-type jeep on the provincial highway in La Paz, Tarlac while on his way to his next mass.
On March 17, 2005, “Tatang" Ben Concepcion, a 67-year-old peasant leader of party-list group Anakpawis in Pampanga, who supported the strikers in Luisita despite his old age and lung and heart ailments, was shot dead in his daughter’s house in Angeles City (40 minutes from Tarlac City). He had just been released from the hospital and was recuperating in his daughter’s house.
On October 15, 2005, Flor Collantes, the secretary general of party-list group Bayan Muna in Tarlac, was killed while cleaning fish in his local eatery.
On October 25, 2005, Ric Ramos, the president of CATLU, was killed by an M-14 sniper bullet in his hut where he was celebrating with some companions after distribution of company funds to workers.
During 2005, there was a rift between the then President, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, and the Aquino family, linked to the determination of President Arroyo to abolish the Stock Distribution Options and to distribute the lands of Hacienda Luisita.
Direct action farming – more repression
The workers, organised through AMBALA (Alliance of Farm Workers of Hacienda Luisita) then began to take possession of plots of land to grow rice and vegetables instead of sugar, and they were able to earn a much better income from the sale of these products than they could working for the Hacienda. At its height this direct action collective farming, known locally as bungkalan, took over 2,000 hectares.
However, farmers in Hacienda Luisita continue to struggle with landlessness. By mid-2014, more than a hundred farmers had been evicted or were under threat of eviction from foodcrop farms they have been tilling for nearly a decade. In fact, whole communities are under constant threat of being wiped out to make way for grand plans to convert the estate into a commercial hub, while the Cojuangco-Aquinos continue to control the sugar plantation and mill.
Out of the 6,453 hectare estate, only 4,915 were declared agricultural-in-use under the Hacienda Luisita, Inc (HLI) Stock Distribution Option scheme which the Supreme Court finally revoked in 2012. More than a thousand hectares of Luisita agricultural land have been withheld from agrarian reform since the time of the President’s mother in 1989.
These hidden agricultural lands resurfaced in July 2013, and have since been fenced and heavily-guarded by armed private personnel, police and military units beholden to TADECO, Luisita Realty Corporation (LRC) and the Central Azucarera de Tarlac (CAT).
On October 31, 2013, the body of Dennis dela Cruz, an AMBALA official, was found bludgeoned inside a hut he was fixing in Barangay Balete. Prior to dela Cruz’s murder, TADECO and the Luisita Realty Corp deployed armed guards to fence off 100 hectares of land in Barangay Balete and 400 hectares in Barangay Cutcut to drive out peasant farmers who have long been tilling the land in the area, under bungkalan.
In December 2013, the Department of Agrarian Reform issued a belated notice of land reform coverage (NOC) for some 358 hectares in two Luisita villages, but this NOC did not stop the Cojuangco-Aquino family from evicting farmers, bulldozing ready-to-harvest rice, and slapping trumped-up charges against hundreds of tillers. A full company of the 3rd Mechanized Battalion is even stationed within a 250-hectare area claimed by TADECO.
Unknown to the public – principally to most of the 52 survivors and relatives of victims who filed the complaints – criminal charges against perpetrators of the 2004 Hacienda Luisita massacre were dismissed in 2010, during the very first year of Benigno S Aquino III’s term as President.
Now more human rights violations are piling up in Hacienda Luisita.
Burning of farm huts and homes, destruction of crops, and looting of farm animals and tools have become common occurrence. Farmers are beaten, seriously injured, nabbed and detained in series of incidents involving private security men, police and the military.
Even the DAR has been directly involved in evicting tillers and destroying crops using government equipment and resources. Incidents in June 25, July 3 and 8, 2014 have resulted in the destruction of a farm hut and around 50 hectares of productive rice and organic food crop farms cultivated under the AMBALA’s bungkalan.
With the reign of terror and impunity perpetually hanging over Hacienda Luisita, farm workers can only pin their hopes in their solidarity, the widespread community support they have, and the campaign to oust President Benigno S Aquino III, exposed as a corrupt and despotic landlord.
A new video by the Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA), Tudla Productions and the Luisita Watch network narrates the saga of farmworkers and reports on the current state of land reform and human rights in Hacienda Luisita.
By: Peter Murphy, Philippines Australia Union Link, October 2014