“US troops have no business in Hacienda Luisita except to join the armed forces in stepping up the militarization and perpetuate a climate of fear as protesting farm workers persist in their demands for land,” Gabriela Rep. Luzviminda Ilagan said, “We want the US troops out of Luisita and out of the Philippines.”
By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
MANILA — Following the proverb “if there is smoke, there is fire,” peasant organizations strongly believe that “Washington DC and the Manila government under the helm of the Aquino administration are hell bent on holding the RP-US Balikatan joint military exercises inside Hacienda Luisita.
Danilo Ramos, secretary general of Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas, said the Balikatan exercises inside the 6,453 hectare hacienda, where President Benigno S. Aquino is a co-owner, will push through in the “name of counterinsurgency and to stop the rising tide of protest and heightened militancy” as the Cojuanco-Aquino family “continuously denies the land rights of farm workers and disposes the land to the highest bidders among HLI’s corporate clients and investors.”
“We cannot let (Balikatan) to take place in (Hacienda Luisita) as the Supreme Court has yet to decide on the case,” United Luisita Workers’ Union acting president Lito Bais said in a press briefing, “We cannot allow the Cojuanco family to use our land.”
Balikatan, which literally means ‘shoulder-to-shoulder,’ is a joint military exercise between the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the US military by virtue of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) and the Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT).
In its website, the US military has confirmed that they have already discussed the itinerary of Balikatan 2011 with the Philippine Army Northern Luzon Command. While there is no specific statement by the Philippine military affirming or denying whether the Balikatan exercises will take place in Hacienda Luisita, Armed Forces of the Philippines Nolcom Comman Chief Lt. Gen Gaudencio Pangilinan was quoted in a report saying that the joint military exercises will be held in Tarlac, where Hacienda Luisita is.
Residents have reported to the United Luisita Workers’ Union ( ULWU) that they have seen US soldiers within Hacienda Luisita. They were first sighted sometime in March 2010 when US soldiers asked village official Greg Gardanoso who their barangay captain was. The “visit” of US soldiers was followed up in August. Gardanoso confirmed through a text message that the entire village council had a meeting with 15 US soldiers.
During this meeting, US soldiers discussed the construction of a three-story building, which will serve as an evacuation and health center. In Barangay Bantog, the building will be constructed beside the village basketball court. Bais said two more three-story buildings will be constructed in Barangays Mapalacsiao and Parang.
Bais, in a statement, added that ULWU is also receiving reports that vehicles marked with “RP-US Balikatan Exercises” were seen in October, conducting “surveys.”
Bais said they also noticed how the soldiers deployed in Hacienda Luisita are seemingly “preparing” for the arrival of US troops for the Balikatan exercises. For one, the recruitment of CAFGUs have intensified since June or July.
He added that the militarization in Hacienda Luisita has continued and is also intensifying. For one, Barangay Asturias, the smallest among the 76 villages in Tarlac, home to an estimated 300 households, has a 600 square-meter military detachment of the 70 Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army. The same village also have five nipa huts that serve as resting places of Citizens Armed Force Geographical Units (CAFGU).
During the last week of October, two more truckloads of Filipino soldiers have arrived in Barangay Asturias. They had to add four more nipa huts for their accommodation.
The military has also been conducting patrols at night. Bais said on two occasions, the most recent on November 2, white vans bearing the sign ‘military police’ passed by his house between 10:00 to 11:00 p.m. He related what he saw to peasant leaders from other villages and was told that Barangays Mapalacsiao and Montrico also saw the said vans.
Bais said they have received a report from a reliable source that US soldiers would come back sometime this month, which could be probably “just in time for the anniversary of the Hacienda Luisita massacre” on November 16.
“We will wait until December for the construction of the buildings and for the military exercises,” Bais said, “We will never put this issue aside.”
The KMP would lead a delegation of farm workers from Hacienda Luisita to seek an audience with senators and discuss the repercussions of the Balikatan exercises in the Hacienda Luisita and its immediate surroundings. They also urged Defense secretary Voltaire Gazmin to scrap the reported Balikatan exercises.
The peasants, during their press briefing, called for the scrapping of the Visiting Forces Agreement that paved the way for the Balikatan exercises. They also called for the passing of a genuine agrarian law that could put an end to the land dispute that has been going on since the 1950s.
“President Aquino, his defense chief and the HLI management are obliged to tell the truth and nothing but the truth about the joint military exercises,” Bais said.
Progressive partylist representatives, on the other hand, have already filed House Resolution 605, which directs the House of Representatives Committees on Foreign Affairs and National Security and Defense to investigate the presence of US troops in Hacienda Luisita.
“US troops have no business in Hacienda Luisita except to join the armed forces in stepping up the militarization and perpetuate a climate of fear as protesting farm workers persist in their demands for land,” Gabriela Rep. Luzviminda Ilagan said, “We want the US troops out of Luisita and out of the Philippines.” (Bulatlat.com)