Luisita Magsasaka

Hacienda Luisita ghosts back to haunt Noynoy candidacy

Hacienda Luisita ghosts back to haunt Noynoy candidacy


11/16/2009 | 08:04 PM

First of two parts

Would you like your Noynoy sweetened or sugar-free?

Until Senator Noynoy Cojuangco Aquino decided to run for President on September 9, 2009, the massacre of farm workers exactly five years ago today at the Cojuangco family’s disputed sugar plantation Hacienda Luisita seemed destined to fade from foggy Filipino memory.

Since that announcement, however, the dead farmers’ fight to make the senator’s family give up the Luisita sugar lands in the name of land reform is back in the headlines.

Why are the ghosts of the Luisita massacre now haunting Senator Aquino, who, by his own estimate, holds only 1/32 share of the hacienda, and has no direct hand in its operations?

In search of answers, GMANews.TV traveled to Tarlac and spoke to some farm workers and one of Luisita’s union leaders. A separate interview and review of court documents was then conducted with one of the lawyers representing the workers’ union in the Supreme Court.

What follows is their side of the Luisita saga. Recaps of relevant historical events have been included by GMANews.TV for added perspective.

The workers’ story begins way before the first shot was fired on November 16, 2004. For them, the seeds of conflict in Luisita were already there as early as the 1950s, and always seemed to be linked to the mood of whoever occupied Malacañang.

Remnant of colonialism

Before the Cojuangco family took over Hacienda Luisita in the 1950s, the plantation belonged to the Spanish-owned Compaña General de Tabacos de Filipinas (Tabacalera). Tabacalera acquired the land in 1882 through a royal grant from the Spanish crown, which had a self-appointed claim on the lands as the Philippines’ colonial master. Luisita was named after Luisa, the wife of the top official of Tabacalera.

Tobacco used to be the main crop planted in Luisita, but in the 1920s the Spanish owners shifted to sugar. Sugar production in the Philippines had become more profitable because demand was guaranteed by the US quota. In 1927, the Spaniards built the sugar mill Central Azucarera de Tarlac to accompany their sugarcane plantation. Around the same year, the wealthy Cojuangco family also put up a small sugar mill in Paniqui, Tarlac. The Paniqui sugar mill was headed by Jose “Pepe” Cojuangco, Sr., father of former President Corazon Cojuangco Aquino.

hacienda_luisita 265

In 1958, Jose Cojuangco Sr.’s new company, the Tarlac Development Corporation, bought Hacienda Luisita and Central Azucarera de Tarlac from its previous Spanish owners. Noynoy Aquino’s father, Ninoy, was its first administrator after it was bought. Scott Kho

Dollars, Ninoy, and the purchase of Luisita

By the 1950s, aggravation over the Hukbalahap rebellion made the Spaniards decide to sell Hacienda Luisita and leave the Philippines. Meanwhile, in 1954, Corazon “Cory” Cojuangco married Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino, Jr. , with President Ramon Magsaysay as one of the ninongs (sponsor) at the wedding.

In 1957, President Magsaysay and Ninoy Aquino are said to have discussed the possibility of Ninoy’s father-in-law, Jose Cojuangco, Sr., buying Central Azucarera de Tarlac and Hacienda Luisita from the Spaniards. The Spaniards, however, wanted to be paid in dollars because they were leaving the country for good.

During those days, dollars were tightly regulated. But with assistance from friends in government, Jose Cojuangco, Sr. was able to get a 10-year loan from the Manufacturer’s Trust Company in New York. The Central Bank of the Philippines permitted the loan under several conditions. One of these was the eventual distribution of the hacienda to small farmers “in line with the government’s social justice program”.

Jose Cojuangco, Sr. contracted another loan with the GSIS (Government Service Insurance System) for P7 million to further finance the purchase of Hacienda Luisita and miscellaneous equipment. The GSIS granted the loan, also tacking on a condition that Hacienda Luisita should at some point be distributed among its tenants at reasonable cost.

In 1958, Jose Cojuangco, Sr.’s new company, the Tarlac Development Corporation (TADECO) became the new owner of Hacienda Luisita and Central Azucarera de Tarlac. Ninoy Aquino was appointed the hacienda’s first administrator.

Ang pagkakaintindi ng mga ninuno naming manggagawang-bukid ng Hacienda Luisita noon, within 10 years, babayaran na ng mga Cojuangco ang utang nila sa gubyerno. Pagdating ng 1967, ang lupa ay sa magsasaka na

Lito Bais, United Luisita Workers Union

Birth of a senator and a labor union

“Ang pagkakaintindi ng mga ninuno naming manggagawang-bukid ng Hacienda Luisita noon, within 10 years, babayaran na [ng mga Cojuangco] ang utang nila sa gubyerno. Pagdating ng 1967, ang lupa ay sa magsasaka na (The way our elders, the farmers of Hacienda Luisita, understood things at that time, within 10 years, the Cojuangcos were going to pay back the money they borrowed from the government. By 1967, the land would belong to the farmers),” says Lito Bais, one of the present-day leaders of the United Luisita Workers Union (ULWU). He was born on the hacienda in 1957, the year before the Cojuangco family took over. His mother was also born on the hacienda.

When 1967 came and went with no land distribution taking place, the farm workers began to organize themselves to uphold their cause. This led to the creation of the United Luisita Workers Union. 1967 was also the year Ninoy Aquino became the Philippines’ youngest senator, marking the start of his bitter rivalry with President Ferdinand Marcos.

After President Marcos declared Martial Law in 1972, his most voluble critic Aquino was one of the first people arrested. Aquino remained in jail until 1980, when he suffered a heart attack. He was allowed by the Marcos government to go to the US for treatment, accompanied by wife Cory and their children Ballsy, Pinky, Noynoy, Viel, and Kris.

Marcos ejects Ninoy, eyes Luisita

As the Aquino family left for the US (where they would remain in exile for the next three years), a case was filed by the Marcos government against the Cojuangco company TADECO for the surrender of Hacienda Luisita to the Ministry of Agrarian Reform, so the land could be distributed to the farmers in accordance with the provisions of the loans given to the late Jose Cojuangco, Sr. in 1957. Cojuangco had died in 1976.

Outside Luisita, this lawsuit was seen as an act of harassment against Ninoy Aquino’s family by the Marcos government. Inside the hacienda, however, the farmers thought luck had finally turned in their favor and land distribution was coming. (Whether or not the Marcos government really intended to distribute the hacienda to the farmers is a matter for conspiracy theorists to decide.)

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SUGAR AND POLITICS. Truckloads of newly harvested sugarcane await delivery to the Luisita’s sugar mill. For the hacienda’s farm workers, the seeds of conflict were already there as early as the 1950s, and always seemed linked to the mood of whoever occupied Malacañang. Scott Kho

According to Bais, the widow of Jose Cojuangco, Sr., Demetria Sumulong Cojuangco, fought to keep the hacienda. “Inilaban ni Doña Metring, yung nanay nila Cory, na wala raw silang inabutan na tao [sa hacienda], kaya wala raw benipesyaryo, kaya ang lupang ito ay sa kanila (Doña Metring, the mother of Cory, said there were no tenants in the hacienda when they took over, therefore there were no beneficiaries, therefore the land belonged to them),” he says. “E, tignan mo naman ang lupang ito. Paano mapapatag ang lupang ito? Paano makapag-tanim kung walang taong inabutan? (But look at this land. How else could this land have been tamed? How could it have been cultivated if there were no people here when they took over?)”

In the meantime, vague rumors of a planned conversion of the hacienda into a residential subdivision or airport, or both, cropped up among the farm workers. (This was possibly due to the decline of the sugar industry in the Philippines after the US quota ended in the 1970s. Conversion became a buzzword among big landowners all over the country. In Negros, for instance, landlords were mulling conversion to prawn or bangus farms.)

The Marcos government pursued its case against the Cojuangcos, and by December 1985, the Manila Regional Trial Court ordered TADECO to surrender Hacienda Luisita to the Ministry of Agrarian Reform. The Cojuangcos elevated the case to the Court of Appeals.

Cory ejects Marcos, keeps Luisita

That same month, December 1985, President Marcos announced snap elections would be held on February 7, 1986. Cory Aquino, now a widow after Ninoy Aquino was assassinated in 1983, was fielded by her late husband’s allies to run for president against Marcos.

The elections took place in February 1986 amid an atmosphere of violence and accusations of massive cheating. Marcos was declared winner, but was subsequently ousted by the People Power revolution. Cory Aquino was sworn in as president. Her revolutionary government dissolved Marcos’s 1973 constitution to pave the way for drafting a new constitution. Land reform, one of the pillars of Cory Aquino’s election campaign, was to be a highlight of the new constitution.

Mendiola, a portent of the Luisita massacre

On January 22, 1987, eleven months into the Aquino administration, the Mendiola massacre happened. Several thousand frustrated farmers marched to Malacañang demanding fulfillment of the promises made regarding land reform during the Aquino campaign, and distribution of lands at no cost to beneficiaries. Police tried to disperse the farmers, but the situation went out of control. At least one dozen farmers died on the spot. Many more were seriously injured.

President Cory is said to have fast-tracked the finalization of the land reform law because she was deeply affected by this tragedy. The new 1987 constitution took effect in February, the month following the Mendiola massacre, and five months later, on July 1987, President Cory signed an executive order outlining the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law. She expanded the coverage of land reform to include sugar lands.

The outline of the new law also included a provision for the Stock Distribution Option (SDO), a mode of complying with the land reform law that did not require actual physical transfer of land.

Stage is set for “SDO”

By May 1988, the Court of Appeals dismissed the case filed in 1980 by the Philippine government—under Marcos—against TADECO to compel the handover of Hacienda Luisita. It was the Philippine government itself—this time under Aquino—that filed the motion to dismiss its own case against TADECO, saying the lands of Hacienda Luisita were going to be distributed anyway through the agrarian reform law.

A month after the case was dismissed, in June 1988, the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law took effect. The provision for SDO that it included would be availed of by the management of Hacienda Luisita and about ten other haciendas around the country. Through the SDO, the requirements of the agrarian reform law can be addressed without a direct transfer of land to tenants.

Conflict over the SDO would trigger the November 16, 2004 massacre of farmers in Hacienda Luisita fifteen years later.


To be continued..


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(tweaked by Maria Elizabeth Embry)

Hacienda Luisita, 42 years Blowin’ in the Wind (1968-2010

How many more Hacienda Luisita farmers must die

Before we can call ’em owners of their land?

Yes, ‘n’ how many Laws they must passed

Before you can call it an Agrarian Reform Law?

Yes, ‘n’ how many more farmers the guards must slay

Before you can say it is enough?

The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind,

The answer, indeed is blowin’ in the wind.

How many times must Hacienda Luisita farmers fight

Before they can see the end of their plight?

Yes, ‘n’ how many ears must one man have

Before he can hear the farmer cry?

Yes, ‘n’ how many massacres will it take till Noynoy wakes up

That too many Hacienda Luisita sakadas have died?

The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind,

The answer, indeed is blowin’ in the wind.

How many years can the Hacienda Luisita farmer’s plea exists

Before it’s heard by y’all?

Yes, ‘n’ how many years can Hacienda Luisita farmers complain

Before they’re allowed to be right?

Yes, ‘n’ how many times can some people turn their heads,

Pretending they just do not see?

The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind,

The answer, indeed is blowin’ in the wind.

Comment by Maria Elizabeth Embry

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