REMEMBERING THE SEVEN FARMER- MARTYRS OF HACIENDA LUISITA

REMEMBERING THE SEVEN FARMER- MARTYRS OF HACIENDA LUISITA

HACIENDA LUISITA, TARLAC CITY — For Pastor Gabriel Sanchez, November 16 is just another anniversary of bitterness against the callous government of President Aquino, whose family along with the Cojuangcos own and manage Hacienda Luisita.

Exactly 11 years ago, Pastor Sanchez’ son Juancho, then 20, was hit by a bullet in the chest and died on the spot  in front of Gate 1 of the Central Azucarera de Tarlac. Juancho was then part of the more than 5,000 workers, mostly Hacienda Luisita farmers, that staged a lock-out demanding for higher wages and additional working hours.

 “After 11 years of seeking justice, nothing has come out,” Pastor Sanchez said, holding back his emotions.

In 2004, Central Luzon saw the bloodiest strike against a sugar company when more than 5,000 thousand peasants joined the lock-out of the Central Azucarera de Tarlac Union and the United Labor Workers Union mostly, composed of peasant farmers inside Hacienda Luisita .

The whole Hacienda Luisita operation was then paralyzed as workers complained of low wages and reduced working hours and many of them received a take home daily pay of P90.00.

The combined forces of the Aquino-Cojuangco private army, the Philippine National Police and the Armed Forces of the Philippines protected the Hacienda Luisita Estate. The PNP said it received an intelligence report that kadres of the New Peoples’ Army were out to sabotage the strike. It also cited reports that the Communist Party of the Philippines influenced the workers to strike.

A Hacienda Luisita farmer lights a candle in front of the gates of Camp General Servillano Aquino amidst improvised coffins of the seven farmers killed during the Hacienda Luisita lock-out in 2004. The militant peasants accused elements of the Philippine National Police and the Armed Forces of the Philippines for the deaths of their fellow farmers. Homer Teodoro/NorthboundPH
A Hacienda Luisita farmer lights a candle in front of the gates of Camp General Servillano Aquino amidst improvised coffins of the seven farmers killed during the Hacienda Luisita lock-out in 2004. The militant peasants accused elements of the Philippine National Police and the Armed Forces of the Philippines for the deaths of their fellow farmers. Homer Teodoro/NorthboundPH

On the seventh day, the workers were ordered to disperse. Somebody fired a shot in their direction. It was then followed by intense volley shots fired from various guns and firearms. There was a commotion and workers scampered like rats in every direction. When the smoke cleared, seven workers died, their bodies lying on the ground. Hundreds were injured and taken to the hospital.

The seven fatalities were identified as June David, Jesus Laza, Jhaivie Basilio, Juancho Sanchez, Jaime Pastidio, Adriano Caballero, Jr. and Jessie Valdez.

An inquiry of the incident was made in Congress  but nothing came out of the investigation. Nobody was charged before the courts, nobody was convicted for the slaughter of the farmers.

This, despite the hundreds of slugs and empty bullet shells fired from different calibers that were recovered at the crime scene in Central Azucarera de Tarlac. This, despite the  ballistic tests done on the guns and firearms of the police and the military that were assigned that day of the massacre at the Hacienda Luisita.

The victims families pointed accusing fingers at the Aquino-Cojuangco  clan as responsible for the untimely deaths of their loved ones.

Violy Basilio, mother of one of the seven victims of the brutality, said her only son Jhaivie only wanted a little salary increase but they killed him instead of giving in to his simple demand. She said it was not easy to lose an only son who would guide her in her old age.

Basilio was one of the speakers of a group commemorating the day of the peasants’ massacre in front of Camp General Servillano Aquino. She criticized the policemen and soldiers barricading the camp’s gates.

In her speech, Mila Valdez lambasted the military and the police, telling them they were lap dogs of President Aquino. She cried as she hugged a mock coffin where a large picture of his son Jessie was placed, as if he has just died minutes ago.

Flor Sibayan, chair of AMBALA, the peasant farmer organization, narrated the incident when a soldier fired at her but missed as she dived under a sugarcane truck.

In its report, the Luisita Watch tagged November 16, 2004 as the day of the Hacienda Luisita Masaker and declared the seven victims as martyrs.

Will the the seven slain  hacienda workers get justice? When the Aquino-Cojuangco oligarchies are no longer in power?   Homer Teodoro/NorthboundPH