Much of the Philippines’ sugar supply comes from Hacienda Luisita Incorporated (HLI) and its sugar mills. Comprising 6,453 hectares, the Hacienda occupies two municipalities in the province of Tarlac. There are 11 barangays within the Hacienda, and it is the second largest single piece of contiguous land in the country. The estate was purchased in 1957 by the Cojuanco family, which named the estate after its second generation daughters Carmen, Corazon, Josefine, Pacita and Teresita. Besides the sugar cane fields and the sugar mills, HLI also includes the Luisita Golf and Country Club, individually titled lots, a fully operational sports complex, multi-purpose community clubhouse, function room, swimming pool and picnic area.
In 1986 then-President Corazon C. Aquino launched the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law (CARP) as the centerpiece program of her administration. She promised to put Hacienda Luisita under the land reform, but in 1989, instead of having the land distributed, Aquino implemented the Stock Distribution Option (SDO) program under which the 5,000 farm workers were given shares of stock in the company instead of individual titles to the hacienda land. This was widely viewed as an attempt to skirt the CARP redistribution of the hacienda.
Before the implementation of the Comprehensive Agrarian Program in 1986, farm workers received very low wages. When the SDO was offered to them, they were told the SDO would improve their livelihood and welfare. The opposite happened. Under the SDO, the work days were reduced and so did their wages.
Before the SDO, farm workers worked seven days, with overtime. By 1989 , these work days were reduced to five, the four, three until many were working only one day out of every week. This reduced their wages to P9.50 a week because workers were given only P9.50 for every day of work, and they worked only one day every week.
The farm workers petitioned the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) in November 2003 to revoke the SDO and distribute the land to the farm workers. They formed the Alyansa ng mga Magbubukid sa Hacienda Luisita or AMBALA, and eventually the United Luisita Workers Union (ULWU). They put together a collective bargaining agreement (CBA) wherein they sought higher wages and better benefits, and called for negotiations with the HLI management.
The management turned a deaf ear to the calls for negotiations and instead said that the company was losing money.
AMBALA filed a case against the management at the National Conciliation and Mediation Board (NCMB) Region III office. They were met with the company lawyer and the DOLE Representative, as well as officials of the ULWU and the Central Azucarera de Tarlac Labor Union (CATLU).
At the NCMB they discussed the management’s counter-proposal t the workers’ demand for a wage increase and additional days of work which was to lay-off 326 permanent and seasonal workers. There was a deadlock, and the management also fired seven members of the union’s Board of Directors, as well as the ULWU president Rene Galang and the vice president. The union proceeded to file a notice of strike against the management’s refusal to uphold the CBA and its attempts to bust the union.
The workers launched their strike on November 6, 2004. Two unions led the strike, ULWU and CATLU.
On the first night, the police attempted to destroy the picketline and disperse the strikers with water cannons and teargas. Many were hurt.
The same happened the next day, as well as on November 6, 7 and 15. On November 15, the strikers were forced to contend with the biggest number of police and military. They stood their ground against tear gas and chemical-laced water that stung when it hit their skin.
Elements of the military and the police were deployed to help destroy the picketline.They were there upin the request of the Cojuangcos. On November 15, estimates of the number of police went around 2,000. They coordinated with the Hacienda security guards in attacking and beating up the workers. Despite their best efforts, however, they failed to disperse the strikers and put an end to the strike.
The next day, November 16, the workers sent a delegation to the house of former congressman Jose ‘Peping’ Cojuangco, HLI’s director. They were accompanied by Bayan Muna Rep. Satur Ocampo and Tarlac Councilor Abel Ladera to discourage Cojuangco’s security guards from attacking the delegation and the picket they held in front of the house. ULWU and CATLU officials sought to dialogue with Cojuangco and call for an end to the police and military attacks against the picketline. The ULWU president was not allowed inside the house on the grounds that the management had already fired him, and only Ocampo, Ladera and CATLU officials were admitted.
The dialogue took an hour, but nothing was resolved. Cojuangco said that the matter was already of his hands and that the decision on the strike lay with the DOLE.
Soon information came in that trucks filled with soldiers were on their way to the Hacienda The delegation quickly decided to return to the picketline. They left Cojuangco’s house at 12nn and arrived at the picketline at 3:00pm. When they reached the picketline, the Gate 1 of the Hacienda sugar mill, they saw a large number of police and soldiers milling about, two armored personnel carriers and four fire trucks. Estimated number of combined police and military was around 2,000 or more.
Almost immediately the dispersal started. The combined security forces comprised of Hacienda guards, the police and the military trained water cannons and lobbed canisters of teargas at the main body of strikers which numbered 13,000 to 15,000.
There seemed to be no end to the teargas and the blasts from the water cannons continued. The security forces also threw middle-sized to big rocks. The workers put up strong resistance. They rushed to get water to wet towels with which they covered their heads and faces. They also threw up some of the rocks that were hurled at them.
The attack lasted over an hour , and soon the water cannons ran out. The APC began to move closer to Gate 1, as if to destroy it and run over the strikers. The strikers did not back down and instead gathered in front of the Gate 1 to block the APC if they could.
Seeing that the strikers refused to yield, the APC retreated. It was then that the strikers thought the dispersal operations were over. They had emerged victorious against almost two hours of continued attacks. They began to rejoice with many workers raising their fists in jubilation, or waving and clapping their hands.
Suddenly, guns were fired and there was a hail of bullets. The shots were continued, and the workers ran every which way, searching for cover, away from the source of the bullets which from behind Gate 1. They could see there were SWAT and military elements behind the Gate 1 because they were wearing fatigues and black uniforms.
Many were hurt. At the final count, 72 were badly injured, 27 sustained gun shot wounds, and 110 were arrested by the police. By early evening, it was also discovered that seven were killed. The Hacienda Luisita Massacre as the event would be called, was fully captured on video by an amateur documentarist .
Killed were Jhaivie Basilio, 20 years old; Juancho Sanchez, 20; Jessie Valdez, 30; Jaime Fastidio, 46; Jesus Laza, 34; June David, 28; and Adriano Caballero Jr. 23.
Among the 110 who were arrested were seasonal farm workers (sacadas) from Negros who were rounded up from their bunkhouses by the military after the assault on the picketline.
As for the rest of the strikers, they were forced to disperse and rush to their own homes. It was soon after revealed that during the melee, the police and security guards proceeded to destroy the picketline and everything in it. Many strikers retreated to the farther fields nursing various cuts and bruises.
When the dust had settled and the shooting stopped, the workers began returning to what was left of the picketline. They rushed the wounded to the hospitals and attended to the families of those were killed.
The next day, November 17, sympathetic people’s organizations and human rights groups conducted a fact-finding mission in the area. They were accompanied by many members of the media. They went through the entire area where the massacre took place, particularly focusing on Gate 1 where the shots that killed seven strikers were fired.
On November 18, the workers rebuilt the picketline and put up the barricades in front of Gate 1, ignoring the jeers and threats of the security forces. They brought the bodies of the slain to the picketline and held the wake there.
The harassment did not stop even then. The workers testify that drunken soldiers often paraded in front of the picketline, carrying with them loaded guns.
A month after the massacre, on December 4, 2004, four armed men were spotted near the Hacienda’s West gate, the entrance to the Hacienda Luisita Golf and Country Club, and the Cojuangco Villa. There were usually policemen stationed there, but it was also there that two unionists George Loveland and Ernesto Ramos were shot and wounded. The police station was only 15 meters away from where the strikers were attacked, but when questioned the police said that they neither saw nor heard anything. Even if they did see anything, they did nothing to arrest the gunmen.
In March 2005, the City Councilor who accompanied the strikers to the November 2004 dialogue with Pepin Cojuanco, Atty. Abelardo Ladera, was ambushed in Tarlac. He was a staunch supporter of the Hacienda Luisita strike and a firm advocate of agrarian reform. Prior to his assassination, the military had accused him of being a leader of the New People’s Army (NPA).
More killings followed. On March 14, Iglesia Filipina Independiente priest Fr. William Tadena was ambushed. He started a program to solicit rice donations for the strikers and also active supporter of the strike.
Next to be killed was CATLU president Ricardo Ramos. The ULWU and the CATLU had just won the negotiations for their members’ early wages and benefits. Ramos was gunned down as he was celebrating with fellow unionists inside a bamboo hut 50 meters away from his house. He was shot twice and died on the spot. A fact-finding team determined that found out that the perpetrator was only about 12 meters away from where Ramos was sitting inside the hut.
Some 10 soldiers also rented a house near the home of the ULWU union president Rene Galang. On September 5, armed men broker into the union president’s house. Thankfully, he wasn’t there as he was attending a wake for a fellow union president who has been gunned down, Diosdado ‘Ka Fort’ Fortuna of the Nestle workers union. Otherwise, he would have met the same fate as Ramos.
On December 8, 2005, the chairman of the Alyansa ng Magsasaka sa Tarlac and a witness to the massacre Marcelino Beltran was killed. He was shot in front of his own home. With his dying breath he told his family who rushed to his aid that it was the military who did it.
On March 17, 2006, Tirso Cruz, a member of the ULWU Board of Directors and Barangay Councilor of Pando in Tarlac was killed near a military detachment. Cruz was walking home when gunmen riding on a motorcycle shot him and killed him. He suffered six gunshot wounds. He had just attended a pabasa or Lenten reading of the Passion of Christ when he was killed.
Cruz was the 14th person to be killed in Hacienda Luisita. Prior to his killing, Cruz had received a number of death threats. He was also active in protests against the construction of the Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway project [SCTEP] and the deployment of soldiers inside the hacienda. He also led union members and residents in a protest calling for the withdrawal of soldiers deployed inside the hacienda and demanding that the SCTEP construction be stopped.
Seven case have been filed against the GRP at the Joint Monitoring Committee, with case number 343 to 349. Filed on May 4, 2005, the cases are on the crimes committed against the workers and farmworkers, namely assault at the picketline resulting to multiple murder (massacre and extrajudicial killings), multiple frustrated murder, multiple attempted murder, serious and less serious physical injuries, illegal arrests and arbitrary detention, theft, and malicious mischief. The labor dispute between the workers and the HLI management has also resulted in various violations against labor rights, including the right to unionize, collectively bargain and to strike. All these are serious violations of the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL), and the cases are more than sufficient both in substance and form. There are also hundreds of witnesses who can testify on what happened on the day of the massacre and the attacks that followed against the union leaders and officers.
Among those being charged as perpetrators and co-conspirators are Don Pedro Cojuangco, president of Hacienda Luisita Inc., former congressman Jose Cojuangco Jr; Ricardo Lopa, HLI general manager, Jose Manuel Lopa, resident manager of Central Azucarera de Tarlac and Ernesto Teopaco, chief negotiator for the management in the CBA negotiations with the workers from HLI. From the government, charged are former labor secretary Patricia Sto. Tomas; DOLE undersecretary for Labor Relations Manuel G. Imson and Francis Reyes, DOLE sheriff, and various officers of the Philippine National Police Region 3, the Northern Luzon Command (NOLCOM) of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), the 69th IB and the 33rd Light Armor Company of the Philippine Army (PA).
Cases have also been filed at the Office of the Ombudsman and the DOLE. The 13th Congress of the House of Representatives through the Committee on Human Rights and the Committee on Labor and Employment conducted a series of inquiries into the massacre, but yielded no satisfactory results because of the refusal of HLI officials to cooperate.
The Permanent People’s Tribunal (PPT) during its second session on the Philippines in March 2007 also delved into the massacre and declared the Arroyo government guilty for the massive human rights violations perpetrated against the workers.
For their part, the HLI management, the PNP and the AFP have made the ridiculous and incredible counter-allegations that the attacks against the picketline that culminated in the November 16 massacre was instigated by the New People’s Army.
In December 2005, the Presidential Agrarian Reform Council (PARC) and then Agrarian Reform Secretary Nasser Pangandaman issued an order revoking the SDO agreement, instead directing that the hacienda land be parceled among the tenant farmers. Many saw this however as politically-motivated attack against Cory Aquino for issuing a call to President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo Arroyo to resign following the ‘Hello Garci’ election controversy, and not so much as a response to the demand of the farmworkers.
In June 2006, the Supreme Court reversed the PARC order by issuing a temporary restraining order (TRO) against the PARC plan to parcel out Hacienda Luisita to farmer-beneficiaries.
In March 2007, the Supreme Court ruled that sugar lands remained within the coverage of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP.) In response, the Cojuangco family petitioned the court to honor the stock distribution option (SDO) scheme at the hacienda.
As of October 2007, there has been no significant movement in the legal cases surrounding Hacienda Luisita whether on the land dispute, the labor dispute, or the massacre. The Hacienda remains under the control of the Cojuangco family, and the strike of the farm workers continue even as they press for justice for the slain.
In the meantime, theHacienda Luisita Land Use Plan shows that Cojuanco family seeks to convert all its agricultural lands in Tarlac into commercial, industrial, residential and recreational parks. Several parts of the hacienda have already been converted to alternative uses since 1989: the Luisita Industrial Park 1 (120 hectares), the Aqua Farm and Homesite Phases I and II (50 hectares), the Luisita Business Park (20 hectares), the recently-converted Luisita Industrial Park 2 / Central Techno Park (500 hectares). #