In the Tarlac massacre, government has said that the soldiers and police units deployed at the height of the strike were “outnumbered” by the protesters who were able to mass up 4,000-strong. And so sword had to be unleashed: an APC (armored personnel carrier) rammed through the workers’ picketline while machine gun and snipers’ bullets were fired into the crowd from several directions coming – so surviving victims and eyewitnesses said – from atop buildings of the hacienda. Apparently, the strike was violently broken to allow at least 50 truckloads of sugarcane to be milled, also inside the hacienda, and hence allow the Cojuangcos to continue reaping some more money.
The ghosts of the past have returned. The whole of Central Luzon – which includes Tarlac province – has probably the most number of massacres that have taken place in recent memory. The list takes you all the way from the Philippine-American war at the turn of the 20th century where whole communities were raided and pillaged and their inhabitants murdered without mercy by U.S. mercenary troops, to the massacres perpetrated by soldiers and constables under the command of then Defense Secretary Ramon Magsaysay and CIA operative Col. Ed Lansdale as well as during the Marcos dictatorship and until today.
One of the most gruesome cases was the massacre in Lupao, Nueva Ecija in the early part of the Aquino presidency, where 17 farmers including women and children, were killed by Marines on suspicion that they were NPA rebels. Before that in January 1987 – the second year of the Aquino presidency – 13 farmers were shot and killed by Marines and policemen as some 10,000 farmers from Central Luzon and Southern Luzon marched to Mendiola to demand genuine land reform.
Central Luzon used to host the biggest U.S. military bases outside the U.S. mainland – Clark Airbase in Angeles City, Pampanga which is some 20 kms from Tarlac, and Subic Naval Base in Olongapo City, Zambales. The military bases were there not only because of the vast valley’s strategic location but because their presence was supported by the powers-that-be, such as the Cojuangcos and Aquinos.
More important however is that Central Luzon has been historically dominated by traditional oligarchs with big landowners maintaining haciendas not only here but in other regions as well most especially in Pangasinan, Iloilo and Negros. Some of the country’s presidents – including the current one – come from here. Indeed the elite power that originates in Central Luzon casts its tentacles far and wide.
In Congress, landlord-representatives were the first to emasculate the much-touted Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP), reducing it, as organized farmers said, into a mere scrap of paper. At the village level, town and agrarian officials colluded with judges preventing large landholdings from being subjected to CARP through trickery and other machinations. The myth about President Aquino’s sympathy for the peasant masses through her “centerpiece” CARP quickly crumbled when she unleashed her total war policy where tens of thousands of peasant families bore the brunt of militarization and atrocities. She and her successors hyped about land reform while the sword of war was pointed against the peasantry.
Landlordism has made Central Luzon as having one of the biggest populations of tenants and farm workers and the displacement in the livelihood of many others is being made possible by the bulk importation of cheap rice, corn, vegetables and even salt, no thanks to President Arroyo’s trade liberalization policy. Probably the only flicker of hope that an ordinary family can grope for today is a contractual work abroad. The region is thus where many overseas Filipino workers now in Iraq and other Middle East countries come from. From them one can sense the strong will to survive despite the hopelessness they leave at home: “Di baleng mamatay sa Iraq hwag lang magutom ang pamilya sa Pilipinas” (It’s better to die in Iraq [by having a job] than see my family starve to death at home).
Widespread poverty, landlessness, union repression and state terrorism help fuel the armed revolutionary movement here. One cannot mourn of the Hacienda Luisita massacre without thinking that this would ignite some kind of a prairie fire that would engulf the entire region once again – as it has been in recent past. (Bulatlat.com)