The public outrage ignited by the Luisita Massacre should also keep an eye on other potential flashpoints that could lead to similar acts of state terrorism. There are several other plantations, large estates as well as development projects and mining exploration areas in many parts of the country that have been militarized.
By Bobby Tuazon
MANILA — The violent dispersal of the strike of Hacienda Luisita farm workers on Nov. 16 that led to the death of 14 farmers including women and children and the wounding of 200 others was a massacre bound to happen.
The labor dispute that pitted, on the one hand, the hacienda’s 5,000 farmers and 700 milling workers who were demanding among others the reinstatement of 300 workers and on the other, the management that has rejected every inch of their demands was in a deadlock. With their families living on starvation wages and themselves threatened with a mass lay-off, there was no way by which the workers could push their cause except by staging a strike.
From the very beginning, it appeared that the only response that the powerful Cojuangcos – including former President Corazon Cojuangco-Aquino – had in mind was by military means. Most of the accounts that have been reported about the Nov. 16 massacre have overlooked the fact that the 6,000-hectare hacienda, known in the past as Asia’s largest sugar plantation, has been militarized since the beginning. The military detachment that was put up at the hacienda reportedly carried out harassment operations against union leaders particularly in the thick of the election of union officials. Union officials were accused as “NPA rebels” or “sympathizers�� – a demonization campaign that, in the military’s counter-insurgency strategy, is usually the prelude to the summary execution of progressive activists.
Just across the commercial complex that adjoins the hacienda along the MacArthur Highway in Tarlac is the Philippine Army’s Camp Aquino. Camp Aquino, while serving as the headquarters of the Army’s Northern Luzon command, virtually guards the vast hacienda and its units are at the beck and call of the Cojuangcos and other powers-that-be in the region during times of labor unrest or during election.
Yet the public outrage that the Luisita massacre has generated should also keep an eye on other potential flashpoints that could lead to similar acts of state terrorism. We refer to the fact that there are several other plantations, large estates as well as development projects and mining exploration areas in many parts of the country that are under militarization. These are areas where the lands of farmers were either grabbed from them or where agricultural estates due for land distribution have been subjected to land conversion schemes.
These are also areas where communities of upland farmers and indigenous peoples are displaced to pave the way for so-called energy, irrigation or similar development projects and mining exploration activities. In these areas, landlordism and transnational corporate power cast a net of terror backed by government agencies, local officials and military and police forces and often also by paramilitary and private armies.
Thus, in Negros for instance, farmers and human rights groups have accused another Cojuangco – former Marcos crony Eduardo Cojuangco, Jr. – of using his political influence to use the military, police and even a gun-for-hire “rebel” group to protect his landholdings and corporate property. On Mindoro island over the last few years, scores of activists, community organizers including human rights volunteers have been killed reportedly by government troopers and their assets. Today the island has once again been opened for the entry of transnational mining corporations out to exploit Mindoro’s mineral deposits.
In Siocon, Zamboanga del Norte where the Arroyo administration has allowed the Canadian firm Toronto Ventures, Inc. (TVI) and Benguet Corporation to conduct mining exploration and production, military and paramilitary forces have been deployed to block attempts by the Subanons to stop the destruction of their communal and sacred lands.
In these and many other provinces, counter-insurgency has been used as a ploy by civilian and military authorities to suppress the resistance of hapless farmers and indigenous peoples. Too many cases of human rights violations have been committed against unarmed protesters in the name of counter-insurgency.