Is the Supreme Court deliberately avoiding the farmworkers of Hacienda Luisita?
This was the question posed by Alyansa ng Magbubukid sa Gitnang Luzon (AMGL) chairman Joseph Canlas during a rally led by the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP), the United Luisita Workers Union (ULWU) and Unyon ng Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA) and AMGL in Mendiola recently.
The farmworkers had been holding weekly protest actions in front of the Supreme Court (SC) offices in Padre Faura st. in Manila since January to press the high court to issue the decision on their case against the management of the Hacienda Luisita regarding the revocation of the Stock Distribution Option (SDO).
Every week, too, the Supreme Court disappointed them.
The farmworkers have time and again said the Hacienda Luisita case and how it would be resolved would be a precedent to how other agrarian disputes in the region will be settled. The high court’s decision, they insist, is of grave significance to farmers.
“The SC cannot evade this issue forever; it must take a stand and issue a decision. We have been hearing rumors that the justices have already prepared a decision but have been holding back against announcing it because of pressure from Malacañang itself,” Canlas said.
The justices of the SC are scheduled to hold their en banc sessions every Tuesday, but this last Tuesday, they went to Baguio where the SC has offices. Canlas said it was too early for the SC justices to take a break as the Holy Week holiday is still weeks away.
“We have been regularly holding protest actions in front of the SC building these last three months and the justices are well aware of our demands. This week they must have intended to completely avoid us by going to Baguio,” Canlas said.
Peasant farmer Rodel Canlas, in the meantime, said that whatever the decision the SC makes on their case, the farmworkers of Hacienda Luisita would not stop their campaign. Canlas, UMA’s secretary-general, said they are well aware that the Cojuangco family would not give up easily.
“Let’s say that the SC decides in our favor, does that mean that we have won? No; it doesn’t work that way because we still have to contend with the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program extension with reforms (CARPer) scheme. Under the Carper, farmworkers will still have to prove the legitimacy of their claim to the land as rightful beneficiaries, and they will still have to pay the government for their land share,” he said.
“This is precisely why we are against Carper and why we demand that the SC issues a decision that completely exempts the Hacienda Luisita land dispute from Carper’s coverage. If the SC justices have any delicadeza and a true sense of justice, they will decide in our favor and order that the hacienda be turned over to us without strings attached and without having to go through Carper.”
Canlas said the SC should order the government and the Cojuangcos to give Hacienda Luisita to the farmers and farmworkers “free and clear.”
“This is the least the SC can and should do to remedy the decades of injustice the Cojuangcos have done to the farmers in Hacienda Luisita. The land must be returned to the farmers with no strings attached, no legal complications or further legal impediments,” he said.
No Choice But to Fight For Their Right to Own The Land
The farmworkers of Hacienda Luisita themselves say they would not back down from their fight for land and justice. It has been more than six years since the infamous massacre that claimed the lives of 14 farmworkers, and the survivors and their families are not about to let that blood sacrifice be wasted.“My parents lived and died waiting for Hacienda Luisita to be given to the farmworkers, and they always said that we have no other choice but to fight for our rights,” said Ramon Reyes, farmer and tricycle-driver living in Brgy. Balete inside the hacienda.
Ramon may be young, but poverty has made him look older than his 22-years. He was barely 15 when the HLI security forces along with elements of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and local police strafed the ULWU picketline area on November 16, 2004. His parents Baby and Miguel were farmworkers and active members of the union. All three of them were in the picketline area when the bullets began falling like rain.
Now, with his both parents gone – his mother succumbed to complications of diabetes in 2005 and his father to possible liver failure in 2007 (“He drank a lot after mother died, and he was suffered great despair when the Cojuangcos said they will never give up Hacienda Luisita to the farmworkers”) – Miguel has taken it upon himself to continue what they believed in. Whenever he can, he joins the activities sponsored by the ULWU and the KMP.
“I learn much from being an activist. I learn about why my family is poor and why so many others are trapped in poverty. I know how injustice works, its victims and who the perpetrators are. I believe in fighting for the land my parents also fought for,” he said.
Mrs. Juana Santiago, 44, also believes in defending her family’s own claim to the land. She and her husband and children have been living in Brgy. Bantog since the early 80s, and she says that she has never seen any of the Cojuangcos.
“They say that they own the land, but we have never seen them work there. We have given our lives to make the land productive, but we were given crumbs and abuse in return,” she said.
Juana used to work in the sugar cane fields pulling out weeds to make sure that they do not stifle the sugar cane plants. She worked eight hours a day, three times a week and she received P9.50 ($0.22) for every day of work.
“I have heard it said that the Cojuangco-Aquinos have insisted that they were kind and humane to us farmworkers, but I never experienced any kindness from them. My own children were never able to finish high school, and we have lived a hand-to-mouth existence all these years. The benefits the Cojuangcos said that they gave us farmworkers never existed – we had to pay for everything, the schools, the health center services, housing,” she insisted.
Now, with the case still pending at the SC, Juana and her husband remain chained to poverty. Disregarding the Cojuangco’s declaration that they own the entire land, they have “sequestered” a little more than a hectare of it and planted it with rice and a few vegetables. Every four months they harvest rice and sell some of it, but in between harvests they survive on loans from relatives.
“The Leprosy of Money”
Supporters of the farmworkers of Hacienda Luisita and their struggle for land and justice have in the meantime been consistent in their commitment to help the farmworkers.
Last March 28, a mass was held at the Sta. Cruz Church in Binondo Manila specifically for the Hacienda Luisita farmers as well as all Filipino farmers who remain neglected by the government. The Promotion of Church People’s Response (PCPR) and the ecumenical community led by the National Council of Churches of the Philippines (NCCP) joined the farmworkers in the mass where 10 priests officiated. The main celebrant was Fr. Wilfredo Dulay, MJ and convenor of the National Clergy Discernment Group. The other celebrants were Fathers Antonio Cibuan, Gerson Afuea, Joseph Matipu, Eugene Canete, Efren Reyes, Oliver Estor, Efren de Guzman, Greg Obejas and Tito Maratas.
In his homily, Fr. Dulay said it was most unfortunate that those who have wealth are most unwilling to share what they have, and that they are “afflicted” with a kind of leprosy, “a leprosy caused by money.”
“The greed and injustice of those afflicted with ‘leprosy of money’ will be met by the most severe punishment . Exploiting the poor and the powerless will be punished with justice, and God’s justice is different from that of men: it is certain, it will not be denied,” he said.
Fr. Dulay expressed hope that the farmworkers of Hacienda Luisita would never lose hope and continue their struggle for land and justice. “May your hope be unlike the flickering lights of candles; may it be strong and may you all remain steadfast. We must not weaken in our struggle for justice and instead remain strong in our faith that the day will come that we will prevail and true change will happen,” he said.
PCPR secretary-general Nardy Sabino said it was very easy for the PCPR to convince the priests to offer mass for the farmworkers.
“They didn’t even require convincing, they merely asked when we wanted the mass to be held. They have been most supportive of the cause of the Hacienda Luisita farmworkers, the same way that they fully supported the campaign of the former Morong 43,” he said.
After the mass, the farmworkers and their supporters held a torch parade from Sta. Cruz Church to the cathedral of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente (IFI) along Taft Avenue fronting the Philippine General Hospital (PGH). In the IFI’s back parking lot where there was also a basketball court, the organization of poets ‘Kilometer 64, the Luisita Peasant and People’s Alliance held a cultural program.
The farmworkers slept there overnight and came daylight, they again took to the streets and marched toward Padre Faura to the SC building where they were told that the justices would be holding their en banc session in Baguio.
Undaunted, they proceeded to Mendiola, and there called out to Malacanang and its main resident President Benigno Aquino III to stop feigning objectivity and relinquish his family’s immoral and illegal claim to Hacienda Luisita.
“This is an issue of life and death for us, we will not be discouraged or ever dissuaded into giving up. Every Tuesday the justices would see the farmers of Hacienda Luisita hold protests in front the High Court building, and they would hear our demands for justice. As for President Aquino, he is fooling no one when he says that he is keeping his hands off this issue. He is the president, and it doesn’t matter if it’s his family that’s involved – if he is truly a man of justice and honor, he would have given up the hacienda long ago,” said ULWU’s Rodel Mesa.#