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After Luisita massacre, more killings linked to protest
02/11/2010 | 02:51 PM
Fourth of a series
(Part 4 of this special report on Hacienda Luisita begins in December 2004, the month after the Luisita massacre. Recognizing that Luisita will be a major campaign issue this year and has divided even presidential candidate Sen. Noynoy Aquino’s own allies, GMANews.TV has been researching the issues surrounding the Cojuangco-owned hacienda for the past three months. Editor-in-chief Howie Severino has been working closely with the author in producing this report.)
The massacre did not put an end to the workers’ protest. Nor did it put an end to the violence.
After the wake for the victims, the picket lines were reestablished at various points around the hacienda. Soon after, however, eight people who supported the farmers’ cause or had evidence supporting their case were murdered one by one.
The killings began on the night of December 8, 2004, when Marcelino Beltran, a retired army officer turned peasant leader who was about to testify on bullet trajectories at the Senate and Congress on December 13 and 14, 2004, was assassinated in his house. Beltran’s 18-year-old son Mark said in a December 10, 2004 report of the Philippine Daily Inquirer that his father stepped out of the house to see why the dog was barking. Mark said he heard his father call out “Who’s there?” but there was no answer. Seconds later, he heard gunshots.
Beltran was rushed to the hospital by family members in a tricycle, but he bled to death along the way. Beltran was home on the day he was killed spending his birthday in advance with his family, because he was set to join a march on December 10, Human Rights Day, the actual date of his birthday.
Noynoy escorts tagged in shooting
Less than a month later, on January 5, 2005, picketers George Loveland and Ernesto Ramos were shot at the west gate of Las Haciendas subdivision inside Hacienda Luisita, where they were manning a checkpoint. Both survived, but suffered gunshot wounds to the chest and stomach.
In his sworn testimony on January 12, 2005 at the Senate hearing on the shooting, Loveland said he recognized his assailants as plainclothes security men who were with then-Congressman Noynoy Aquino’s convoy when Aquino entered Las Haciendas subdivision three days before (January 2, 2005).
Something else Loveland said in his testimony seemed immaterial at that time, but is worth noting now in light of the SCTEx (Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway) issue hounding Senator Aquino.
Noynoy ‘s “superhighway”
Before entering Las Haciendas on January 2, 2005, Loveland said, Aquino alighted from his vehicle and addressed the picketers about a “superhighway”.
Loveland’s account of what Aquino said is in the transcript of the Senate hearing.
LOVELAND: Sinasabi niya po yung hinihingi daw po niyang pabor yung sa superhighway na hinihingi niya . . . (He was talking about a favor for the superhighway that he was asking for . . .)
SENATOR OSMEÑA: Ano tungkol sa superhighway (What about the superhighway)?
LOVELAND: Project niya daw po, sir . . . (He said it was his project . . . )
OSMEÑA: Ano ang hiningi ni Congressman Aquino (What did Congressman Aquino ask for)?
LOVELAND: Yung ipatupad, sir, yung kuwan expressway, sir (To let it happen, sir, the expressway, sir).
OSMEÑA: Yung galing sa Subic at Clark (The one from Subic and Clark)?
Long before the rest of the country had even heard of SCTex, the farm workers back then were protesting the construction of the Luisita interchange of the highway, and had even tried blocking it with their bodies. The construction led to the loss of a large tract of the hacienda’s land, which the farm workers were claiming, to non-agricultural use.
In his testimony, Loveland said one of the men who were with Aquino went up to him and said the picketers should agree to a settlement. He warned them to be careful, then entered the subdivision.
Three days later, Loveland said, the man and some companions figured in an altercation with the picketers and opened fire on them at the gate.
The January 5, 2005 Shooting at the West Gate of Las Haciendas Subdivision
On January 5, 2005 (or nearly two months after the Luisita massacre), some 20 picketers were manning the picket point at the west gate of Las Haciendas subdivision inside Hacienda Luisita.
According to Police Chief Superintendent Angelo Sunglao of the Tarlac City PNP, at about 10:40 pm, a Nissan Patrol drove up to the gate from inside the subdivision, and an altercation ensued between the picketers and the men on board the vehicle. Continue reading
Sen. Aquino declined through his staff to be interviewed. Questions sent to him about the above incident went unanswered. But GMANews.TV combed the web and newspaper archives for any statements he made about the incidents in this series of reports. His staff also emailed to GMANews.TV several statements of Sen. Aquino on other Luisita-related issues. These statements were included below and other parts of the series.
Noynoy denies link to SCTEx project
In November 2009, an investigation into the SCTEx project was launched in Congress by Aquino’s political rivals. Cavite Rep. Crispin Remulla, an ally of Senator Manny Villar, accused Aquino of lobbying for the Luisita interchange of the SCTEx, saying the government paid Hacienda Luisita, Inc (HLI) an inflated amount of P83 million for the road right of way, and assumed the cost of building a P170-million interchange to connect the Central Techno Park inside his family’s hacienda to the SCTEx.
The SCTEX Issue
The 94-kilometer Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway (SCTEx) is presently the longest highway in the Philippines. It connects the Subic Bay Freeport, the Clark Freeport, and Tarlac City.
The Bases Conversion Development Authority (BCDA) was the government arm that oversaw the implementation of the project. According to the BCDA, 85% of the P27 billion cost to build the SCTEx was financed through funds borrowed by the government from the Japan Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC). Continue reading
In a November 12, 2009 report of GMANews.TV, Aquino denied he had anything to do with the project. He attributed the reports linking him to the SCTEx issue to character assassination because he was leading surveys for the presidential elections.
Loveland’s statements about Aquino and the superhighway, however, were recorded five years ago, before anyone had an inkling Aquino would run for president.
City councilor murdered
On March 3, 2005, Councilor Abel Ladera, the man who led the mourners’ procession during the wake for the massacre victims, was killed in broad daylight by a sniper bullet to the chest while buying spare parts at an auto shop.
Ladera was a former sugar mill worker who grew up in one of the barangays of Hacienda Luisita. He became an engineer, then a city councilor. Ladera was at the forefront of the fight against land conversion.
He was also scheduled to make a presentation on March 8, 2005 to an assembly of barangay captains to disprove the claim of the Philippine National Police (PNP) that the violent dispersal on November 16, 2004 occurred because shots were fired from the ranks of the strikers.
The day before he was killed, March 2, 2005, Ladera accessed critical documents regarding Luisita’s Stock Distribution Option (SDO) and Land Use Conversion Plan from the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR). The documents were sealed from the public, but Ladera was able to access them because he was a government official.
In its March 4, 2005 report on the shooting of Ladera, the Philippine Daily Inquirer said Ladera told the paper in an interview a few days before he was killed that resolving the conflict in Hacienda Luisita was going to take time because management did not want to settle matters. The Inquirer reported that Ladera, who was supporting the hacienda’s two labor unions, had earlier sponsored resolutions in the Tarlac city council calling for a congressional review of Luisita’s SDO and other issues.
Rep. Noynoy Aquino denounced Ladera’s murder in the report, saying, “Although he was a leftist, he was willing to talk. He shouldn’t have been killed. Even though we had differences, he believed in dialogue rather than in taking up arms to achieve their goals.”
The murder of Abel Ladera
Tarlac City Councilor Abel Ladera, who was murdered on March 3, 2005, was a former sugar mill worker who grew up in one of the barangays of Hacienda Luisita. He became an engineer, then a city councilor.
Because of his background, Ladera was very active in issues involving human rights and labor and employment. He played a key role in negotiations between the management of Hacienda Luisita and the two unions, ULWU (United Luisita Workers’ Union) and CATLU (Central Azucarera de Tarlac Labor Union). Ladera was also at the forefront of the fight against land conversion. Continue reading
Priest and peasant leaders shot dead
On March 13, 2005, Father William Tadena, an Aglipayan priest who had mobilized his parish to regularly donate rice and groceries to the workers at the picket line before saying a weekly mass for them, was shot dead in his owner-type jeep on the provincial highway in La Paz, Tarlac while on his way to his next mass.
On March 17, 2005, “Tatang” Ben Concepcion, a 67-year-old peasant leader of party-list group Anakpawis in Pampanga, who supported the strikers in Luisita despite his old age and lung and heart ailments, was shot dead in his daughter’s house in Angeles City (40 minutes from Tarlac City). He had just been released from the hospital and was recuperating in his daughter’s house.
On October 15, 2005, Flor Collantes, the secretary general of party-list group Bayan Muna in Tarlac, was killed while cleaning fish in his carinderia.
Union president killed
On October 25, 2005, Ric Ramos, the president of the union of the sugar mill workers (Central Azucarera de Tarlac Labor Union or CATLU), was killed by an M-14 sniper bullet in his hut where he was celebrating with some companions.
Hours before he was killed, Ramos finished distributing cash benefits to the sugar mill workers after he successfully got the sheriff to confiscate sugar from management a few days before, says Lito Bais, current acting president of the union of the farm workers (United Luisita Workers Union or ULWU). According to Bais, management had been claiming it had no money to pay wages and benefits due to the workers.
“Pumunta si Ric Ramos sa DOLE (Department of Labor and Employment), pina-sheriff niya ang bodega ng mga Cojuangco kung may mga asukal pa. Nakita puno ng asukal. Nagkasundo na ibebenta ng DOLE ang asukal, pagkatpos ibibigay ang pera sa mga manggagawa (Ric Ramos went to the Department of Labor. He asked the sheriff to inspect the warehouse of the Cojuangcos. It was full of sugar. An agreement was made for the Department of Labor to sell the sugar, with the proceeds to be given to the workers).”
After the sugar was sold, management tried to take charge of the distribution of the proceeds, says Bais. “Ang sabi ng mga Cojuangco, ‘andito ang payroll, dito na natin ipapamahagi ang pera ng mga manggagawa. Yung mga may utang sa amin, ipe-payroll deduction namin’ (The Cojuangcos said, ‘The payroll is here. We should give out the workers’ money here. We have to make payroll deductions for workers who have loans’).
But, Bais says, Ramos refused. “Sabi ng DOLE, ’Bigay niyo sa amin ang payroll, kami ang bahala. Kami ang gumawa ng paraan, kami ang gumawa ng pera, kami ang kailangan mangasiwa’ (The Department of Labor said, ‘Give us the payroll, we’ll take care of it. We were the ones who found a way, we made the money, so we should be the ones to administer’).”
It was agreed that the distribution of wages and benefits would be done at the barangay hall of Mapalacsiao, one of the villages inside Hacienda Luisita where Ramos was the barangay captain. “October 25 yun, masaya ang mga manggagawa ng sentral dahil natanggap nila ang benepisyo nila (That was October 25. The workers of the sugar central were happy because they got their benefits),” says Bais.
Ramos then held a small thanksgiving celebration. “Meron siyang kubo na ganito kataas. May lamesa sa gitna, nag-iinuman sila (He had a small hut that was about this high. There was a table in the middle, they were drinking),” says Bais. “October 25, mga 8 pm o 9 pm, binaril si Ramos ng sniper doon sa kubo nila. Makikita mo ang pinagdaanan ng M-14. Tamang-tama sa ulo niya. Kaya sumabog ang utak niya sa bubong niya (October 25, between 8 pm and 9 pm, Ramos was shot by a sniper in his hut. You could see the path of the M-14 bullet. It was aimed squarely at his head. That’s why his brain splattered all over his roof).”
Another version of the story
Another version of the story came out in the news. Ramos was said to be on the side of management, for which he was killed by leftists.
On October 27, 2005, two days after the murder of Ramos, Rep. Noynoy Aquino’s statement was reported in the Philippine Star: “I am shocked. My mother even more so. Ricardo Ramos has always treated me fairly, even at the height of the Luisita problem. The timing was also shocking, at a time when an agreement had been reached with two unions of the hacienda. In fact, Ramos was at a celebration when he was killed. It had been close to two years since the strike, and he was celebrating the end of a problem.” In the same report, the PNP said leftists were suspected of killing Ramos because he was cooperating with management.
A few days later, these statements were debunked by Nestor Arquiza, an officer of CATLU, the union headed by Ramos. In an October 31, 2005 report of the Philippine Star, Arquiza said three soldiers were seen running away from the scene of the crime immediately after Ramos was shot and were suspected of killing him.
Arquiza also belied the claim that Ramos had crossed over to the side of management, or that a final agreement had been concluded between Luisita management and the two labor unions. He said Ramos had negotiated with Ernesto Teopaco (uncle of Senator Noynoy Aquino) on October 20, 2005 to have some CATLU officers reinstated, but Ramos maintained that management should sign a simultaneous settlement with the other union ULWU before the strike could be declared resolved.
(The loyalty between the two unions, CATLU and ULWU, was key to the strength of their bargaining position. The strike that began in November 2004 and climaxed in the deadly dispersal was launched jointly by the two unions, and CATLU head Ric Ramos had also sent contingents to support the ULWU members in their protests against the construction of the SCTEx interchange, even though the sugar mill workers under CATLU had no claim on Hacienda Luisita’s land unlike the farm workers under ULWU.)
“(The Department of Labor and Employment) levied 8,000 bags of sugar from the sugar mill last October 22 because the company refused to pay the workers’ earned wages,” Arquiza reiterated in the Star report. “Proceeds from the sale of the sugar were used to pay the workers.” He said that the distribution of earned wages just before Ramos was killed was based on a DOLE order, not a directive of the hacienda’s management.
Meanwhile, in a November 2, 2005 report of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, Ramos’s widow Lily said that before her husband was killed, he frequently warned her that he would be the next target for elimination after Councilor Abel Ladera’s muder in March 2005.
Luisita killings in impeachment complaint
The murders of Marcelino Beltran, Abel Ladera, Father William Tadena, Ben Concepcion, Flor Collantes, and Ric Ramos, as well as the shooting of George Loveland and Ernesto Ramos “by unidentified bodyguards of Rep. Benigno ‘Noynoy’ Aquino”, were part of the list of human rights violations described in the impeachment complaint filed against President Gloria Arroyo in Congress in October 2008. In the complaint, Arroyo was accused of turning a blind eye to the Hacienda Luisita killings “in collusion with the hacienda owners”. (Arroyo and the Cojuangco-Aquinos were close allies until the latter half of 2005.)
“The Cojuangco-Aquino family, in conspiracy with the military, the police, the paramilitary groups such as the Civilian Armed Forces Geographical Units (CAFGU), and other hired agents/gunmen, has continued to harass, threaten and violate the rights of the hacienda people,” the impeachment complaint stated.
“Hello Garci” and Luisita
The year 2005 was a crucial turning point in the farm workers’ struggle in Luisita, and once again demonstrated the transcendental link between the hacienda and Malacañang that has been manifesting since the time of President Ramon Magsaysay.
Under pressure from public outrage over the November 2004 massacre, the Arroyo administration, through the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR), formed Task Force Stock Distribution on November 25, 2004 to study the causes of the workers’ strike. The Task Force was later renamed Task Force Luisita. In March 2005, teams were sent by the DAR to Luisita’s 10 barangays to investigate the SDO.
Three months later, while the investigation was ongoing, “Hello Garci” hit the country—and possibly turned the tide in Luisita.
Cory and Noynoy defend Gloria
In early June 2005, tapes of wiretapped phone conversations between President Gloria Arroyo and Comelec (Commission on Elections) official Virgilio Garcillano surfaced. This led to accusations that Arroyo cheated during the 2004 presidential elections, and a clamor rose up for her to resign.
The late former President Cory Aquino and son Noynoy initially defended Arroyo.
Even after Arroyo delivered her famous “I am sorry” speech on TV on June 27, 2005, which the public took as an admission of guilt, and which prompted Susan Roces, widow of Arroyo’s 2004 election opponent Fernando Poe, Jr., to deliver her own famous “not once, but twice” speech, Mrs. Aquino defended Arroyo, saying: “I am glad the President has broken her silence. Her admission of judgment lapses leading to improper conduct on her part is a truly welcome development. Tonight the President has made a strong beginning and I hope she will continue in the direction of better and more responsive governance. Let us pray for her and for all of us Filipinos.”
Rep. Noynoy Aquino, for his part, said in a June 29, 2005 report of the Philippine Star that President Arroyo should be commended for admitting her mistake. He said her televised apology was “a good start” for her administration.
Two days later, on July 1, 2005, the Philippine Star reported, “Cory went on TV yesterday and… warned against using extra-constitutional means to oust President Arroyo.” The article quoted Mrs. Aquino as saying she had gone to see Susan Roces to congratulate her on “the passion of her speech and the sincerity of her convictions”, but also to stress that she would always stand by the Constitution.
Noynoy votes against playing Garci tapes
At the fifth Congressional hearing on the Garci issue on June 30, 2005, three days after Arroyo’s televised “I am sorry” speech, Rep. Noynoy Aquino voted against playing the “Hello Garci” tapes.
“Tarlac Rep. Benigno ‘Noynoy’ Aquino III disappointed his colleagues in the House when he voted on Thursday night against the playing of the audio tape, although an overwhelming majority had voted yes,” reported the Philippine Daily Inquirer on July 2, 2005.
“(Aquino’s actions) are no less than political payback” because President Arroyo was the “most powerful and influential patron” of the Cojuangco-Aquinos in the Hacienda Luisita dispute, Anakpawis party-list Rep. Rafael Mariano said in the July 2, 2005 Inquirer report. Mariano said Arroyo knew what really happened during the Luisita massacre, and that was why Rep. Noynoy Aquino played “guardian angel” to Arroyo.
(Arroyo, whose candidacy in the 2004 presidential elections was supported by Noynoy and Kris Aquino, and who originally ascended to the presidency in 2001 after Cory Aquino and various groups led the campaign to oust President Joseph Estrada from office in EDSA 2, was suspected of aiding the Cojuangco-Aquinos during the November 2004 strike in Hacienda Luisita because of the involvement of the military in the dispersal and the Assumption of Jurisdiction that was declared by the Department of Labor.)
Unfazed by the criticism, both Noynoy and Cory Aquino continued to stand by Arroyo.
Cory and Noynoy drop Gloria
But on July 8, 2005, just a little over a week after Rep. Noynoy Aquino voted not to play the Garci tapes and Mrs. Aquino lauded Arroyo for her “I am sorry” speech before admonishing Susan Roces, the Aquinos dropped their support for Arroyo.
“I ask the President to spare our country and herself . . . and make the supreme sacrifice of resigning,” Mrs. Aquino said in statement issued to the press.
The day before she gave this statement, Mrs. Aquino met with President Arroyo in Malacañang. There were rumors of a shouting match, which Mrs. Aquino denied. “Yes, we met last Thursday, but there was no shouting,” she said in a July 12, 2005 report in the Philippine Daily Inquirer. “We just kissed each other goodbye.”
From then on, she and son Noynoy actively joined the calls for Arroyo to either resign or be impeached, and to this day the scorching rift between the Aquinos and Arroyos continues to rage.
Luisita—the reason behind Aquino-Arroyo rift?
Luisita farm workers that GMANews.TV spoke to believe the Aquinos’ abrupt withdrawal of support for Arroyo had something to do with the hacienda.
The Aquinos broke ties with Arroyo in July 2005, the same month the DAR’s Task Force Luisita submitted the findings and recommendations of its investigation. This formed the basis for the government’s decision a few months later to revoke Luisita’s Stock Distribution Option (SDO) and order the distribution of the hacienda’s land to the farmers.
The farm workers believe widespread condemnation of the involvement of the military in the massacre pressured the Arroyo government into taking action to absolve itself, causing the breakdown of its ties with the Cojuangco-Aquinos. The original petition the farm workers submitted (mentioned in Part 2 of this series) lay dormant at the DAR since it was filed in December 2003, but began to move after the November 2004 massacre.
By August 2005, a special legal team was formed by the DAR to review the report submitted by Task Force Luisita in July 2005. On September 23, 2005, the special legal team submitted its terminal report recommending the revocation of Luisita’s SDO agreement.
(It was reported in part one of this series that the Stock Distribution Option was included in the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law enacted during the Aquino administration. That crucial provision enabled landowners like the Cojuangcos to give farmers shares of stock instead of land.)
On October 1, 2005, the Philippine Daily Inquirer reported Mrs. Aquino’s reaction to the allegations that she only wanted Arroyo to resign because of the hacienda. “To underscore the point that Cory Aquino should start behaving in a politically correct manner,” Mrs. Aquino told a gathering of teachers and students at Miriam College, “the Hacienda Luisita [issue] was resurrected, a familiar refrain from the years of the Marcos dictatorship.” She added, “If Luisita were the reason, then shouldn’t I have made sipsip or at the very least kept quiet?”
Cojuangcos suffering from “withdrawal syndrome”—Miriam
A few days later, Senator Miriam Santiago, Aquino’s former DAR Secretary in 1989, the year the SDO was implemented on Hacienda Luisita, reinforced the belief that the hacienda was a major motivating factor in the Aquinos’ moves to unseat President Arroyo .
“The Cojuangcos are suffering from acute withdrawal syndrome over the hacienda,” Santiago said in an October 3, 2005 report of the Philippine Star.
The report said “Santiago, for her part, recalled that in 1957, Jose Cojuangco, Sr. purchased Hacienda Luisita with money partially borrowed from the Central Bank of the Philippines Monetary Board and the Government Service Insurance System (GSIS) on the condition that the land would be distributed to small farmers.”
In 1985, Santiago said in the report, the Manila regional trial court (under President Marcos) ordered the Cojuangcos to sell the land to DAR for distribution to farmers. The Cojuangcos elevated the case to the Court of Appeals. Then Congress (under President Aquino) passed the agrarian reform law that allowed the SDO option in lieu of actual land distribution.
“For heaven’s sake, give it up and store up treasures in heaven,” was Santiago’s concluding advice.
DAR orders Luisita SDO revoked
On December 23, 2005, the Presidential Agrarian Reform Council (PARC) formally ordered Luisita’s SDO revoked, and its lands put under compulsory acquisition.
Outside the hacienda, PARC’s order was seen as reprisal for the Aquinos’ call for President Arroyo to resign. Inside the hacienda, however, it was seen as justice served. Accustomed to political horse-trading deciding their fate, the farm workers rejoiced.
But the Cojuangco family would not give up the land without a fight. A Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) was obtained from the Supreme Court by June 2006 preventing PARC from revoking the SDO and distributing Hacienda Luisita’s land. This TRO has been in force for more than three years now.
Meanwhile, another union leader was killed on March 17, 2006. Tirso Cruz, one of the directors of ULWU, was walking home with his father and two brothers past midnight after attending a pasyon at a friend’s house when two men on motorcycles intercepted them and shot Cruz six times at close range.
In a report carried by the Philippine Star the next day, March 18, 2006, Cruz’s brother Ernesto said the gunmen, whose faces were covered with bandanas, made sure his brother was dead by shooting him one additional time after he already lay lifeless on the ground. In the same report, the Central Luzon chairman of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan, which Cruz was a member of, said that Cruz had been leading protest actions against the construction of the Luisita tollway of the SCTEx and the withdrawal of the military from the hacienda’s 10 barangays.
On October 3, 2006, Father Alberto Ramento, the Supreme Bishop of the Aglipayan church who took up the cause of the slain Father Tadena by tending to Luisita’s farm workers, was stabbed to death while asleep in the rectory of his church. The killing looked like a robbery, but persons close to Ramento believe it was related to Luisita.
By the end of 2007, the construction of the SCTEx was complete. The Subic-Clark segment was formally opened to the public in April 2008, cutting travel time from Subic to Clark to just 40 minutes. The Clark-Tarlac segment was opened in July 2008, enabling travel from Clark to Luisita in just 25 minutes.
– With additional reporting by Howie Severino, GMANews.TV
TO BE CONTINUED
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