BACK STORY| Hacienda Luisita Workers: Bloodied but Unbowed

Union grieves for murdered Hacienda union chief
Originally posted Oct. 30, 2005

“Ganun si kapitan. He would risk everything for us. It can only be those who feel threatened by him and the union who would want to kill him.” Thus said a Hacienda Luisita worker of murdered union leader Ricardo Ramos.

BY DABET CASTAñEDA
Bulatlat.com

HACIENDA LUISITA, Tarlac – While rain poured all day on Thursday, Oct. 27, majority of the remaining officers of Hacienda Luisita’s Central Azucarrera de Tarlac Labor Union (CATLU) met at the village hall of Barangay Mapalacsiao. It was a gloomy day indeed as the meeting was called to discuss the union’s plans of action after the murder of their president, 47-year old Ricardo Ramos.

Ramos, who was also on his second term as village chair of Mapalacsiao, was shot at the head around 8 p.m. of Oct. 25. He died on the spot.

Treacherous

Romeo Sarate, CATLU director for the medical department and one of the newly-elected union spokespersons, called the murder of Ramos as “another treacherous act by the Cojuangco-Aquino clan.”

He said they were on the verge of sealing a deal with the CAT management after several backdoor negotiations with Ernesto Teopaco, vice president for operations.

Around 700 mill workers belonging to the CATLU staged a simultaneous strike with about 5,000 plantation workers of the Hacienda under the United Luisita Workers’ Union (ULWU) Nov. 6 last year. The 6,443-hectare Hacienda Luisita estate is owned and operated by the family of former President Corazon Cojuangco-Aquino of the powerful Cojuangco clan in Tarlac.

CATLU president Ricardo Ramos, slain Oct. 25, speaks in a protest action in Manila shortly before his death

On Nov. 16, seven striking workers and supporters were massacred in the most violent picketline dispersal recorded in history.

After almost a year of on-and-off negotiations, Sarate said both union and management have finally agreed to defy the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) order and give the workers a P15 wage increase and a P13,000 signing bonus, among others. The DOLE earlier ordered a measly P12 wage increase and P12,500 signing bonus.

Sarate said the negotiations with Teopaco should have led to the signing of a Memorandum of Agreement (MoA) and could have been part of the union’s triumph over the strike.

But prior to the backdoor negotiations with management, the union has petitioned DOLE for the release of their earned wages prior to the strike, including their 13th month pay and Christmas bonus for the year 2004. The DOLE should have confiscated some eight thousand bags of sugar amounting to P8.8 million as early as the last week of September so the workers could receive their back wages.

But Sarate said the CAT management lobbied for time and promised to release the workers’ earned wages on Oct. 21. The next day, Oct.22, the DOLE confiscated the bags of sugar. In the morning of Oct. 25, Ramos, assisted by the DOLE-Region III, led the release of the earned wages, with each worker receiving around P25,000 each.

Together with friends and some village officials, Ramos was celebrating the union’s victory when he was shot dead that same night.

Hard stance

Ramos was “Kap” (short for barangay captain) to his constituents or simply “Pres” (short for president) to union members. Either way, Ramos was known to the people of the hacienda as a firm and dependable leader.

In the course of their 11-month strike, Sarate said their president proved he was for the welfare of the workers and the hacienda people in general.

On several occasions, Ramos proved he could neither be cowed nor bribed.

A few days before the DOLE confiscated bags of sugar from the mill, Sarate said Teopaco called on Ramos to sign a document stating that the union was already settling its issues with management, therefore, the levying of CAT property was not necessary. Sarate said Ramos declined to sign it.

Sarate added that what could have made Ramos a bigger pain in the neck for the Cojuangcos was the condition he imposed before any MoA could be signed between the union and the management – that the Cojuangcos should also settle the labor issues between CAT’s sister company, Hacienda Luisita, Inc., which operates the plantation, and the ULWU.

In the press conferences held at the picket line, Ramos was always heard saying, “Kung hindi maayos ang problema ng ULWU, hindi kami papayag na mag-operate ang mill. Hanggat nandito ang ULWU sa Gate 1, hindi rin kami aalis dito. Mahal naming mga manggagawa ang mga tao ng asyenda.” (Unless the problems of ULWU are settled, we will also not allow the mill to operate. As long as ULWU is in strike, we will stay here with them. We, workers, care for the hacienda farm workers.)

Against militarization

Witnesses to the killing of Ramos have said two military men inquired about him a few hours before his murder.

Police investigators named the two as Army Sgts. Roderick “Joshua” dela Cruz and Romeo Castillo Jr. The two have been summoned for questioning but Supt. Bienvenido Manga, chief of the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) of the Philippine National Police (PNP), said it was not yet necessary to put them under arrest.

Maj. Gen. Jovito Palparan, commander of the 7th Infantry Division of the Philippine Army (ID PA), has denied that the two suspected soldiers are from their ranks.

But Sarate said the rest of the union officers and members have no doubt that it was soldiers who gunned down their leader because Ramos went against the presence and operations of the military in the hacienda.

Around 300 soldiers from Nolcom were deployed inside the hacienda when the strike started last year. There are military detachments in all 11 villages inside the hacienda except in two – Mapalacsiao and Balete. As village chief, Ramos frowned on the establishment of a detachment inside his village. It was the same with Barangay captain Rodel Galang of Balete. Ramos also did not allow soldiers to rent a house inside their village.

Expressway

On two separate occasions, Ramos led his constituents in a barricade to stop the construction of the Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway Project (SCTEP). This 90-kilometer government project will stretch through six villages in the hacienda, eating up at least 77 hectares. The project is the sixth in Pres. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s 10-point program.

In recent Bulatlat news articles, it was reported that the human barricades against the expressway construction were being harassed by soldiers deployed in the hacienda. But Sarate said that since the presence of the military could not frighten the people, the contractors or the SCTEP belonging to the Bases Conversion and Development Authority (BCDA) tried to bribe Ramos the amount of P1.2 million just so he would allow the project to continue.

Ramos refused the amount, Sarate said.

Earlier, Director Ibra Omar, executive director of Bureau of Agrarian Legal Assistance (BALA) and Center for Land Use Planning, Policy and Implementation (CLUPPI), issued a hold order to the expressway project. This was in response to the ULWU petition that the project should be stopped because it had no conversion orders.

Killing spree

Sarate blamed the Cojuangcos for allowing the military inside the hacienda.

In a separate interview, Tarlac Rep. (second ditrict) Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino, third generation heir to the sugar estate, said the presence of the military is to protect the people of the hacienda from the “bad elements of the society.” The estate has been declared a “national security threat” after the Nov. 16 massacre when the Cojuangcos and the military claimed that members of the New People’s Army (NPA) were among the strikers.

But Sarate said it was clear to them that it is the interest of the Cojuangcos that the military protects. He said the soldiers would go on house-to-house campaigns and tell the hacienda workers, “Hindi naman sa inyo yung lupa bakit nyo inaangkin?” (The land is not yours, why are you stealing it?)

This military campaign, Sarate said, actually intensified after the DAR recommended the revocation of the Stock Distribution Plan (SDP), a provision under the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) that allowed landlords to operate their landholdings as corporations.

Sarate further said the Cojuangcos have actually allowed the military to use the facilities in the hacienda. A tour around the estate would show that the military are stationed in the office of HLI operations manager Rocky Lopa and that detachments have been put up beside the Aqua Farm near Barangay Balete, the HLI offices and other company buildings.

Sarate said their union also holds Macapagal-Arroyo responsible for the killing of Ramos and the intensified military operations in the hacienda. “As Commander in Chief of the armed forces, she gives orders to the soldiers. The way the military is operating in our area and the whole region of Central Luzon, it’s as if she has given the military a blanket authority to execute those who are fighting for their rights and livelihood,” he said. ()

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