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.
The government elements first bombarded the mob with watercannons, smoke grenades and tear gas, subsequently, opened fire at the farmworkers, 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. Balite, a barrio within the Hacienda Luisita.
Moreover, the number of dead is increasing, as of now, ULWU and CATLU have confirmed that 7 have been killed, including 2 children. Along with this, 26 were wounded and as many as 170 have been arrested. It is believed that more are critical at several hospitals, because the provincial hospital was not able to accommodate all of the wounded farmworkers.
Even after the said dispersal, government elements conducted manhunt operations, searching for the leaders and supporters belonging from other places. The president of the ULWU, Rene "Boyet" Galang, relayed that he was unable to rush back to the other strikers because the police and military are looking for him at the vicinity.
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 farmworker-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, farmworkers 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.
The strike began at noon of November 6, with the farm and mill workers calling for the implementation of the CBA [Collective Bargaining Agreement], wage increase and 2-month gratuity pay for long-time farmworkers and reinstatement of retrenched farmworker-beneficiaries. In addition, they are calling for the junking of the SDO and the moratorium of land use conversion, as 500 hectares were already converted by the HLI management without farmworker-beneficiaries consultation. #