Luisita Magsasaka

Why Sen. Aquino must give a substantial response to the Luisita conflict

repost from:

November 8, 2009

Different news reports have shown the seeming indifference of Senator Noynoy Aquino to the issue of the Hacienda Luisita Massacre and the continuing land dispute in the sugar estate.

One line of thinking is that the demand for justice being articulated by militant groups is dismissed as mere leftist propaganda”. Coming from the Arroyo regime, such a line wouldn’t be surprising anymore. But coming from a presidential aspirant who promises “change”, well, that’s something else. One Aquino supporter even went on to say that those raising the issue of Luisita now are just “sour-graping” because of their failure to get a senatorial slot in Aquino’s Liberal Pluisitaarty.



Propaganda and sour-graping? Tell that to families of the victims who up to now know no justice for the deaths of their loved ones. The last one is just plain insensitive and idiotic.The demand for justice and land distribution is a legitimate issue that has been ignored by the Arroyo regime and the owners of Hacienda Luisita.





Another line of reasoning we often hear is that Sen. Aquino is a mere minority stockholder in HLI and is thus in no position to influence management decisions. This is a total cop out and reinforces the perception that the presidential front-runner remains indifferent, to say the least, to the land conflict. Sen. Aquino is being confronted with the question of Luisita not just because he’s a stockholder of the hacienda, but also because he is seeking the highest position of the land. People want to know how he will handle an agrarian reform conflict involving his close relatives. It is again a legitimate test of his leadership and stand on issues. To hide behind the mantle of “minority shares” is to totally miss the gravity of land reform problem confronting this and all previous governments. Even if Sen. Aquino does divest of all his holdings in HLI, that doesn’t really answer the farmers’ demands for land. He would just be washing his hands of any involvement in the land conflict, which is perhaps the most politically expedient thing to do during election season.

Another way of looking at it, if Noynoy becomes president, what exactly will he do to the Hacienda, aside from divesting his shares? Will HLI be spared from land distribution for another six years? The position of president carries the legal and moral responsibility of ensuring that social justice is achieved, especially for the most oppressed. Will Sen. Aquino’s relations with the owners of HLI stand in the way of that mandate?

We must add that other presidential bets must also make clear their stand on Luisita. This is not just a problem of Sen. Aquino, though he apparently carries the greater burden of explaining his position. We also want to know, are the other presidential aspirants willing to implement genuine land reform and bring to justice the perpetrators of the extrajudicial killings?

We must also expose the blatant lie that the farmers in Luisita are happy with and supportive of the stock-distribution option and that there are, technically, no more tenants in HLI. Historical data will show, particularly the pay-slips of the farm workers, how oppressive the stock-distribution option has been the past two decades. Under this scheme, farmers are made to believe that they are stockholders in a corporation where management control still resides with the Cojuangco family. To get their “share” of the profits, they are required to work a certain number of man-days a year. Over time, mechanization and other schemes gradually reduced the man-days allowed the farm workers. They will not only NOT GET their share in the profits but will also be reduced to abject indebtedness to the Cojuangco estate.

Malulubog sila sa utang dahil ang kanilang pagkain, gamot, transportation at iba pang pangangailangan ay kinukuha o binibili nila sa mga tindahang pag-aari din ng mga Cojuangco. It is this oppressive situation which makes workers receive only P9.50/day. The stock distribution option merely gave a new face to semi-feudal exploitation. As we said, the payslips will bear this out.

The Presidential Agrarian Reform Council has revoked the SDO of Luisita. This should have paved the way for land distribution to the farmers. However, the HLI management filed for an injunction before the Supreme Court. The “status quo” prior to the PARC order is now being observed.

Is it inappropriate for Sen. Aquino to comment on the land dispute at this point when a case is pending before the Supreme Court? Certainly not. Now is the best time for him to speak out because he has the whole nation’s attention. To invoke sub judice is again another cop out. November 16 marks the 5th anniversary of the Luisita Massacre. It has been five years since the deaths of strikers and their supporters that included union president Ric Ramos, Tarlac City councilor Abel Ladera, regional peasant leader Marcing Beltran and Aglipay priest William Tadena.

While the nation awaits Sen. Aquino’s long-delayed substantial response to the issue he has unsuccessfully tried to evade, the farm and azucarera workers will continue to rely on their own collective strength to pursue their legitimate demands.

The farmers and workers know too well the limits of the laws of the elite. And they know too that it is their collective action, more than anything else, which has allowed them to plant rice and food on more than 2,000 hectares of the sprawling sugar estate. It is their assertion to till the land which has given them a measure of social justice no government land reform program could ever provide.

This victory of collective action is a lasting monument to the sacrifices made by the martyrs of Luisita.



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