Luisita farmers vow to continue struggle for land, justice and peace

Despite harassments and murders against their ranks, the farmers of Hacienda Luisita till the soil and raise their crops as part of their struggle to reclaim the land that has been decided to be theirs all along.

Last November 15, the farmers invited youth and other organizations to a “bungkalan” (tilling) where they were taught basic farming as well as the importance of land reform in several locations in Hacienda Luisita.  The bungkalan was part of a three-day people’s Cultural Caravan for Land, Justice and Peace to commemorate the 12th year anniversary of the Hacienda Luisita massacre.

The bungkalan is a land cultivation project by Luisita farmers on parts of the estate that are unused and unproductive to make the most out of them, in spite of antagonism by the local landlords.

“We must plant and use the land. This is the best way for us to fight back,” said Angie Ipong of Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura, citing Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) secretary Rafael Mariano’s recent pronouncements that peasants will not be evicted from the land they are farming.

On November 16, as a culminating event of the people’s caravan, the farm workers were joined by cultural performers and supporters from different organizations at the Central Azucarera de Tarlac’s Gate 1, the actual site of the massacre.

The artists performed a theatrical re-enactment of the massacre as a tribute to the martyrs of Luisita, and condemned the landlord Cojuanco-Aquino clan and their cronies.

“Their clan is answerable not only for the Hacienda Luisita massacre, but also for the rights abuses against Luisita farm workers and the bogus distribution in Hacienda Luisita during the term of the last Cojuanco-Aquino president,” said Renato Mendoza, secretary-general of Alyansa ng Manggagawang Bukid sa Asyenda Luisita (AMBALA).

The massacre

On November 15, 2004, Philippine National Police elements defending the Cojuanco-Aquino clan violently dispersed a strike at Gate 1 in what became known as the Hacienda Luisita massacre.

Seven protesters were killed, while various survivors and supporters of the peasants’ cause later became victims of human rights violations, such as extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, and illegal arrests.

None of the perpetrators have been persecuted.

Other issues

In 2012, the Supreme Court ruled that the Cojuanco-Aquino clan must distribute the land.

While the clan and the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) did give away Certificate of Land Ownership Awards (CLOA’s), they gave away random patches of land through a raffle system that displaced farmers and created conflict among residents due to land already occupied being given away or farmers receiving titles far from their communities.

Farmers were also violently forced out of their lands, their crops were bulldozed and their homes were burned by armed elements allegedly hired by the Cojuanco-Aquinos.

“My sister was about to harvest her rice crops when her land was given away to someone else because of the raffle,” recalled Rey Ocampo, a farmer from the Mapalacsiao area.

“The new owner and the Cojuanco-Aquinos did not listen to her pleas. She could only weep as they destroyed her crops and evicted her,” Ocampo said.

“They did the same with my land, where I was growing fruit trees,” Ocampo added.

Ipong further added that the raffle system was rigged to force the peasants out of their lands as fast as possible.

“The CLOA’s were only for over half a hectare of land, which is unfair. In addition to that, there is no support awarded to those who did receive land, which means that they are left to deal with issues like irrigation, pests and other problems alone,” she said.

“At some point, many farmers end up with no choice but to either rent their lands or sell their title altogether.  And who else do they have to sell and rent to but the Cojuanco-Aquinos?” Ipong asked.

“The Cojuanco-Aquino clan hasn’t even put up all of Hacienda Luisita for distribution at this point,” Ipong added.

“There are plots of land that are suspiciously taken out of the raffle, such as those near roads. They clearly still intend to profit from land that isn’t theirs,” she added.

The struggle continues

The peasant groups emphasized that they will continue their struggle for land and justice as they hope for the best with the appointment of former Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas chairperson Rafael Mariano as DAR secretary.

“Ka Paeng is just one man in the government. He cannot single-handedly bring genuine land reform when many of his fellow president’s men are going against it,” Ipong said.

“While we hope we can make the most of this opportunity when DAR is more than willing to take actions for us, we still have to take actions ourselves,” Ipong said.

“We will still keep struggling, even though Ka Paeng is in DAR to rectify the actions of his predecessors,” Mendoza said.

“We will not stop organizing and mobilizing, because this is what is needed to achieve true peace and justice,” Mendoza added. (Abril Layad B. Ayroso)

= = = = = = =

Here is a video on the Hacienda Luisita massacre by Kodao Productions.