“The reign of impunity is coterminus with the Aquino-Cojuangcos and Daang Matuwid (Righteous Path)”
This is the observation made by activists, agrarian reform and human rights advocates from all over the world as they remembered the life and struggle of Luisita farmworkers in a solidarity action to commemorate the 11th year of the Hacienda Luisita massacre today.
On November 16, 2004, seven farmworkers were killed while hundreds of others were wounded and detained after state forces opened fire on their picketline and violently dispersed sugar workers led by the United Luisita Workers Union (ULWU) and the Central Azucarera de Tarlac Labor Union (CATLU) both then on strike.
Filipino activist groups such as the Anakpawis, Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP), and Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA), led the action which was participated in by delegates of the 5th International Assembly of the International League of Peoples’ Struggles or ILPS, also held in Quezon City.
“It pays to be in power – this best exemplifies why justice still eludes Hacienda Luisita massacre victims,” according to Ranmil Echanis, UMA secretary general.
“Since President BS Aquino assumed power five (5) years ago, the Ombudsman dismissed all the remaining charges against the perpetrators of the massacre,” he said. Recently retired Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang, one of the ground commanders during the violent dispersal in Luisita eleven years ago, was even promoted by BS Aquino to the top AFP post.
“Aquino’s electoral promise to implement land reform was just for show,” said Echanis. When Aquino assumed power in June 2010, Aquino-Cojuangcos immediately maneuvered to impose one evil scheme after another.
At first, the Aquino-Cojuangcos even pushed for a “compromise deal” to revive the oppressive Stock Distribution Option (SDO) scheme in the 6,453-hectare estate. This was eventually rebuffed by the farm workers and even by the SC itself when it ruled to revoke the 16-year-old SDO scheme in November 2011.
In 2011, “Oplan April Spring” was also hatched by the Aquino-Cojuangcos and RCBC. This strategy aimed to destroy the farmers’ opposition to RCBC’s claims within a 500-hectare property disputed by farmworkers. The Oplan utilized massive propaganda and mass deception, state violence, underhanded legal maneuvers, and even corruption and bribery of community leaders.
The HLI’s sale of the above-mentioned property is mired in dispute as the auditing and payment of the P1.33 billion share of farm worker beneficiaries (FWB’s) have been effectively stalled. Presently, a solar power plant is even being set-up in the disputed property which traverses other disputed lands being grabbed by Tarlac Development Corp. (TADECO), another Aquino-Cojuangco firm.
“When the SC ruled with finality for total land distribution of Luisita in April 24, 2012, BS Aquino vented his ire on Chief Justice Renato Corona. The latter was found guilty by the President’s allies in the Senate who were purportedly awarded with huge sums through the illegal Disbursement Acceleration Program, (DAP),” he added.
Landlord compensation awarded to the Aquino-Cojuangco clan amounting to P451.7 million was also allegedly sourced from DAP. Still, the landlords reportedly want to jack up further the value of the property and demand more payment from government funds.
So-called land distribution in Luisita was practically implemented by the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) at gunpoint, through a rather unorthodox “tambiolo” or raffle draw scheme. The Alyansa ng Manggagawang Bukid sa Asyenda Luisita (AMBALA), UMA’s local affiliate in Tarlac, says that this was done to pit farmers against each other and to destroy and undermine the bungkalan or land cultivation campaign that farmers initiated in 2005.
Other than that, the DAR deliberately excluded more than one thousand hectares for land distribution despite the SC order and its own mandate to cover agricultural lands in Luisita for land reform. This resulted in a series of violent evictions, bulldozing, and filing of trumped-up charges against farmers and advocates alike.
As for the beneficiaries allocated individual 6,600 sqm. farmlots, most of them have been coerced to lease to HLI dummies likeVirginia Torres, a known Kabarilan of the President. Leaseback or the “aryendo” aims to reconcentrate land reform areas back to the control of the Aquino-Cojuangcos. Torres was recently implicated in a sugar smuggling scandal but no charges were ever filed against her.
The Central Azucarera de Tarlac (CAT) was also sold to businessman Martin Lorenzo, but 49% of its shares are still owned by the President’s kin. This resulted in the retrenchment of all the 700 or so regular workers and supervisors, turning those to be rehired as contract workers. The sale of CAT is seen as a ploy to exempt the property from being pried upon by the auditors ordered by the SC to look into HLI’s assets.
“The reign of panloloko, pangangamkam and pandarahas (deception, violence and landgrabbing) in Hacienda Luisita is not a surprise,” said Echanis.
“BS Aquino, after all, is a haciendero (landlord) president and is the main agent of US imperialism, feudalism, and bureaucrat capitalism. He employs fascist attacks against the people to ensure that neoliberal policies are implemented in the country,”
UMA will join people’s protests against imperialist globalization and the APEC meetings this November.