Original work of Lani Puri (8th Gawad Emman Lacaba Recipient, 1st Place)
|“16 November 2004, twelve picketing farmers and two children were killed and hundreds were injured when police and soldiers dispatched by then Labour Secretary Patricia Santo Tomás, stormed a blockade by plantation workers. The protesters were pushing for fairer wages, increased benefits and, more broadly, a greater commitment for national land reform.”|
It has always been such a joy for us when my brother, sisters and I reminisce how we counted the trucks of sugarcane pile up in front of our big, old, 2-storey and Spanish-style house. Those enormous trucks had always blocked our drive way, caused traffic jams and had always disturbed our sleep. Those trucks also gave my father a hard time entering our gate and we would laugh at how he struggled and waited for the trucks to move along. Those sugarcane trucks have caused our house helpers 4 hours in a day just to clean the outsides and street-sides of our gate. Those trucks have been our little source of entertainment; they were like our playground as we were playing hide and seek and were running in circles between each enormous truck. And with those trucks, our family had a form charity, just by unendingly waving at the drivers and handing them over some water and biscuits.
Those sugarcane trucks have caused us fortune.
Those sugarcane trucks have given my family a living.
Those sugarcane trucks have put wonderful colors to my childhood.
Those sugarcane trucks made different stories. Life changing stories.
I was born in 1992, June 24th to be exact. And by the time I was born, my father had already been working in the Metal and Machinery Warehouse of Central Azucarera de Tarlac for 18 long years. And as loyalists and true-blooded “tiga-Central”, my family and all of our clan, had been in the service of CAT for many years. My father, along with my two other uncles and an aunt worked in different warehouses inside of the Central Azucarera de Tarlac. A few of my cousins were also office clerks. Some of our neighbors worked as factory employees. And a lot of our relatives were labor forces in the sugarcane fields.
It was in year 1996, when I reached 4 years old and had vivid memories of the Central atmosphere. “Central”, is how we call our barangay where the CAT was erected. I still remember in my memories, of how vibrant and huge the factory was. It was designed with little squares and was in bright color yellow. There were a dozen and if not a dozen, double dozens of acacia trees covering the sides of the factory, if the view was from the windows of our enormous and old-fashioned house that was standing just in front of the CAT side gate. We were very lucky to have that house. My father only walked as he goes to work, but sometimes rode his slender mountain bike like all other CAT employees. They were all in yellow shirt- that was their uniform. At that time, I had no idea why it was yellow though.
I had a lot of questions. I was always wondering about so much stuff and so many things in my head. Like, how does it look like inside (CAT factory) and if what do they do in there. But my father never let us in the factory. He was afraid we would love the factory so much, that we would eventually want to work there as well. He always said that we should explore and get out of our comfort zone. And the CAT is not a perfect place for our dreams. I was in huge wonder why he kept on telling us that. It was hard to figure it out. Seeing how the people smile and laugh along entering and exiting the CAT gates, I was intrigued and I really wanted to know what was it with CAT that made them feel that way.
It was in year 1997, when I reached 5 years old. I remember those days when my sisters and brother went to school, they were then, in elementary. I would kiss them goodbye and wave while I was standing on the house gate. A few moments after, my father’s workmates and my mom’s friends would come up to me and kiss me as they go to work. I was the neighborhood’s apple of the eye. I was their doll. I was their little supplier of morning joy. I was their toll before going to the insides of the factory. It was such a splendid feeling. I loved it then.
It was year 1998, when I reached 6 years old. As the vice president of the worker’s union (CATLU: Central Azucarera de Tarlac Laborers Union), my father had faced a lot of endeavors. There were pecuniary matters and there were envious co-workers. We were then, in the hot seat and were under the monitoring eyes of a few money-minded CAT officials.
Politics. My father was a victim of the inside politics in CAT.
Year 1997, a mass retrenchment blew out. The CAT management had to cutback employees and expenditures. The CAT management had reduced huge number of employees. And my father was one of them.
Year 1997, it was a husky and heavy night, my father went home drunk. He was in despair. He was depressed. He was not in his sane self. He wanted to cry. He wanted to scream, but didn’t want to accept defeat and failure. He was jobless.
Year 1998, our big, old, 2-storey, Spanish-style house was demolished. Residents living alongside the CAT factory and were part of the retrenched workers, were relocated. The Cojuangcos had a housing development program for CAT loyalists and workers. It was the Don Pepe Cojuangco Homes, where we were given the choice of owning a house. DPCH, still there until now, divided between phases 1, 2 and 3, had approximately 400 average-sized houses and 200 sophisticated-style residences. Only workers of CAT and Hacienda Luisita were allowed to own a house there. (Still part of the Hacienda Luisita’s 6,435-hectare sugar plantation estate) And our family is one of the lucky few.
Year 1998, all I know was, we were moving. I had to leave our beloved old house. I had to say goodbye to my old friend, the CAT factory. I had to say goodbye to the sugarcane trucks. I had to say goodbye to the bad smell of the sugarcanes being processed in the factory. I had to say goodbye to the air pollution my nose was used to. I had to say goodbye to the loving people who made my every morning so jolly. I had to say goodbye to CAT; but not to Hacienda Luisita of course.
It was silly. It was funny. From being a “batang Central”, I was coined as “batang homesite” after moving to DPCH.
Years have passed and my father was still lingering through his CAT memories. He would still attend union meetings, he was still updated to what was happening in CAT and his companions were keeping him posted about the comings and goings in CAT.
It was still a CAT-filled life for us. Hacienda Luisita was such a territory for us.
A few years have gone. It was then year 2004, I was in 6th grade. We were having a regular day in school, not until there was a shocking news announcement for us, Hacienda Luisita residents. The principal didn’t allow us to go home without any parent or guardian. We were held in the school for hours. As young and naïve as we were back then, we had no idea what was going on. All we knew about was, at that time, going home in Hacienda Luisita was not a good idea.
After hours of waiting, we had finally known what was really going on. On news flash:
6 November 2004, twelve picketing farmers and two children were killed and hundreds were injured when police and soldiers dispatched by then Labour Secretary Patricia Santo Tomás, stormed a blockade by plantation workers. The protesters were pushing for fairer wages, increased benefits and, more broadly, a greater commitment for national land reform.
THE STRIKE of Hacienda Luisita farm and mill workers turned bloody when elements of the PNP Central Luzon Regional Command and 69th Infantry Battalion opened fire at striking farm and sugar workers blocking the main gate of Central Azucarera de Tarlac (CAT).
Initial reports of the United Luisita Workers’ Union (ULWU) and Central Azucarera de Tarlac (CAT) said that the violent dispersal took place from 3:17 to approximately 5 o’clock in the afternoon. They were dispersed by the elements of PNP [Philippine National Police] and Philippine Army, numbering roughly to 200 to 300. They were brought at the central by 12 six-by-six army trucks, accompanied by 2 armored personnel carriers.
Enough was said, we have known enough of what was going on.
7 died, 2 of them were children; Innocent children that had gone to be victims of violence, 2 young souls and 2 too soon deaths that could’ve been avoided, if and only if the strike did not end or controlled in an immensely violent way.
The government elements first bombarded the mob with water cannons, smoke grenades and tear gas, subsequently, opened fire at the farm workers, killing several of the helpless strikers. Initial details confirmed 4 dead, identified as Boy Verzola, Jun David, Neng Manalo, and a certain Sosa, all residents of Bgy. Balete (A barrio within Hacienda Luisita). Brgy. Balete was just a kilometer away from DPCH, a kilometer away from the confinements of our very own home.
A few days after the said incident, the whole of Hacienda Luisita was then, in grief. It seemed like death was in each and everyone’s faces. We were all devastated. Our patriotism and loyal hearts were murdered along with the precious lives of our neighbors. We were all dead inside.
A few days after the Hacienda Luisita massacre, another tragedy that made our hearts arise with anger was the death of my uncle, Abel Ladera. Tito Abel, a city councilor and known for being one of the supporters and confidantes of the CAT labor unions, was ambushed days after the Hacienda Luisita Massacre. There were many allegations to whom might have ordered or plotted to assassinate him, but there were no concrete proofs and witnesses to claim such.
I have been asking my parents about it, and if what was the reason behind all of it. My parents were so distraught; they couldn’t even say a thing about it. A was so young back then, I was just a grade-schooler. But since I have been a school writer (I started writing at the age of 10, I was in grade 4), there were article assignments and I was always asked to write the editorial page. I was obligated to write, in respect to the talk-of the-town during those times, about the HACIENDA LUISITA MASSACRE.
I was handed over a stack of newspapers to read and get information from.
The Hacienda Luisita case has been the acid test of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP), former president Cory Aquino’s cornerstone program. However, the hacienda’s sugar lands were not handed over to farm worker-beneficiaries, instead, they were given “stocks” of the Hacienda Luisita, Inc., supposedly entitling them with 33% of the total stocks. Thus, the Cojuangcos maintained control of the 6,500-hectare lands through the Stock Distribution Option (SDO) provision of CARP.
Recently, farm workers have been protesting against the declining man-days work, depriving them of their source of income. They also account that the lands should have been distributed long ago, since, Jose Cojuangco, Sr. never paid for the acquisition of the lands. The BSP [Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas/Central Bank of the Philippines] and GSIS [Government Service Insurance System] paid for the lands with the condition that these were to be distributed to legitimate small planters as part then of the government’s social justice program in 1957. As these were paid for by the people’s money, the Cojuangcos should have no little rights of the lands, thus, should be distributed to the farmworkers.
It was that easy to understand, I have read between the lines. My flaming heart, ever been loyal and faithful to my beloved homeland, sunk in disgust and anger. So many innocent people had lost fathers, brothers, cousins, neighbors, co-workers and loved ones just because of nothing else but, “GREED”- the unending and undying voracity for money, power and ruling over people. I was so young and was drowning in anger, despair and had no choice but to sit there and write about how my home land, my home sweet home was put into crisis and how my neighbors died fighting for what is rightful to them.
Writing has always been helpful in so many ways. And on that moment, writing was my only escape to voice myself out and to shout how desperate and frustrated the Hacienda Luisita people were. I had to write about it, cause that was the only thing left to do, instead of whining and sinking myself in sorrow and desolation.
Being a writer bursting in anger, the feeling of wanting to do something about it is still in my veins and pure-Hacienda Luisita blood until now. I wanted to fight for those taken lives. I wanted to act on how children were killed and how innocent people shouting for justice had suffered.
Years have consequently passed. Years have already killed the Hacienda Luisita Massacre buzz. Years have seemingly done nothing but forget all the lives that were sacrificed, destroyed homes and families and have left the Hacienda Luisita lands nurtured with noble and justice-screaming blood.
I had no doubt about how non-sense the justice system is here in the Philippines and only the powerful, rich and influential get all the rights of being right.
And us the poor, the average, the farm workers, the squatters and the little people always get to sacrifice our lives and get nothing but INJUSTICE.
Going home with the smell of blood all over the lands of Hacienda Luisita, seeing faces in trouble and grief, having to hear silence in a vastly dead land and having to feel the lifeless atmosphere; THAT WAS NOT MY HOME SWEET HOME.
But one good thing had me hanging on to this issue, one good thing had my flaming heart and one good thing was etched in my blood and veins; that in my own ways, no matter how little I am, no matter how useless I may be in the society, no matter how silent my voice is, no matter how weak I may seem and no matter how pointless it may get, I WILL NEVER STOP SEEKING FOR JUSTICE.