It has been 13 years since the Hacienda Luisita massacre happened on November 16, 2004. It was indeed a historic occasion when the protesting agricultural workers were forcibly dispersed through gunshots fired by the military and police, resulting to 7 persons dead and hundreds injured.
The Massacre was the culmination of more than a year of mass actions by the plantation workers who were protesting against the unfair Stock Distribution Option (SDO), land use conversion, and the failure of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP). The workers were only asking for just wages and additional jobs but their pleas were ignored by the landlord Cojuangco-Aquino. They were thus left with no choice but to hold pickets all over the Hacienda. Their efforts proved successful in paralyzing the production of the sugar plantation. But through the Assumption of Jurisdiction (AJ) by the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) under former Secretary Patricia Sto. Tomas, the bloody dispersal of the picket lines ensued.
It was because of these picket lines that the bungkalan was conceived. The farmers started planting rice, vegetables, and other food crops in order to feed the rallyists and sustain their fight to own the lands they are tilling. Through the Alyansa ng mga Manggagawang Bukid sa Asyenda Luisita (AMBALA), the campaign for land occupation and cultivation was sustained. Sadly, they faced many challenges, among them, the continued harassment and killing of agricultural workers and their supporters by suspected military agents. Our beloved Archbishop Reverend Alberto Ramento (Iglesia Filipina Independiente) was a staunch defender of the rights of the HLI farmers and was found brutally murdered right in his own church. There were also numerous instances when the farmers’ crops were ordered to be bulldozed by the Cojuangcos. It was then that the peasants realized the importance of a strong and united people’s organization in their fight for genuine agrarian reform, food security, and social justice.
In order to further advance the initiatives of AMBALA, they sought the help of various organizations specializing in sustainable agriculture and socio-economic projects. Thus, the Inter-NGO Cooperation for Food Security Programs (INCFSP) was conceived earlier this year with the primary aim of providing assistance in determining, designing, and implementing appropriate and effective development and economic projects for the HLI farmer beneficiaries. It is composed of Alay Bayan-Luson (ABI), Magsasaka at Siyentipiko para sa Pag-unlad ng Agrikultura (MASIPAG), Sibol ng Agham at Teknolohiya (SIBAT), Philippine Network of Food Security Programmes (PNFSP), Assert Socio Economic Initiatives Network of the Philippines (AscentPH), Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA), Iglesia Filipina Indipendiente Diocese of Tarlac, and the Ramento Project for Rights Defenders (RPRD).
Among the projects already undertaken were a trial farm, rice and vegetable production, and seed dispersal. Future activities include trainings on soil fertility and Diversified Integrated Farming System (DIFS). A solar-led water system will also be constructed. Aside from these, organizing and mobilization of the rural youth is also given importance. They are encouraged to understand further the various agrarian reform issues in order to realize their significant role in the continuing peasant struggle for land. They are, after all, the hope of our nation.
With the 13 years that have passed since the Massacre, justice has remained elusive to the relatives of the victims. In a way, Hacienda Luisita is a microcosm of how agrarian reform has been implemented in the whole country. The landlords can easily order state security forces to harass and intimidate protesting farmworkers, and they can also use the bureaucracy and its laws to serve as tools for them to maintain their dominion over the poor and marginalized sectors of society.
We must, thus, never forget the significance of the Hacienda Luisita massacre and to always remember the people who sacrificed their lives fighting for social justice.
BISHOP DINDO RANOJO, Diocese of Tarlac, Iglesia Filipina Independiente (IFI)
Convenor, Inter-NGO Cooperation for Food Security Programs (INCFSP)