KASAMA Vol. 18 No. 4 / October-November-December 2004 / Solidarity Philippines Australia Network

Killing of poor farmers typifies Philippine social injustice

by Father Shay Cullen

STRIKING Filipino agriculture workers, including two small children were killed when police and military opened fire during a strike at a sugar plantation in Tarlac, Central Luzon. It typifies the situation in the Philippines. The vast Hacienda Luisita owned by one of the most powerful and wealthiest families were gunned without compassion or mercy. They were protesting injustice and demanding land reform.

It highlights all that is wrong with the Philippines, massive wealth and crushing poverty side by side. A few wealthy elite perhaps two hundred families have more land, assets and money between them, some 70 percent of the national wealth, according to some estimates, than the rest of the 84 million Filipinos together.

Is it any wonder that millions have fled to the slums and streets of the cities their children begging and living in cartons, or are pimped to brothels to satisfy the rich? Those Filipinos with education and skills have fled abroad to escape the social injustice, low wages and abysmal unemployment. The protest at Hacienda Luisita was because of low wages, land rights and the harsh working conditions on the vast feudal like estate.

Protests are on the rise again. In Chile, at the APEC summit meeting thousands demonstrated last week to highlight these very same issues. The social injustice that leaves millions suffering hunger while the elite wallow in sumptuous wealth and luxury cannot be ignored. The APEC summit of the rich nations that are held responsible for the global inequality, agriculture subsidies, unfair trade policies and the old age oppression of the poor is epitomised by George W. Bush and his cronies. It may sound like a well-worn cliche, it is, but nevertheless true and we need constant reminding that is the way it is.

It is so sad that in this terrible killing of farmers in the Philippines where the military and police opened fire on demonstrators without restraint or tolerance happened on the huge land holdings of the Cojuangco-Aquino families. The late Benigno Aquino, the martyred husband of former president Corazon Cojuangco-Aquino is turning in his grave as his son is embroiled in this fiasco. When he was assassinated by the cronies of the Dictator Ferdinand Marcos, his wife Corazon Cojuangco-Aquino came to prominence and led a peoples Power movement in 1986 to topple the tyrant. She had the power, the opportunity, and the moral enlightenment to initiate a powerful agrarian reform programme but she was assailed by military coup attempts backed by vested business and landed interests.

The great Spanish-Filipino families were allowed to continue owning the land and industry (with American partners) during the American colonial administration (1899-1945). Today they remain in the seats of power. They form family dynasties and clans, forge interlocking directorates in industry by marriage and alliances and do political battle with each other over the presidency, congress and senate.

With the levers of power in hand they legislate, approve appointments, give themselves huge funds for pet projects and generally act to benefit themselves and their cronies. They place family members in the police and military where corruption is equally prevalent and they are only too ready to suppress protest and unrest.

The greater public good is at the bottom of the agenda if they're at all. Education, health, social services are in the dumps. Schoolbooks are, by law provided by private suppliers and are found full of inaccuracies. Huge profits are made from this junk.

Unless this strangle hold of dynastic driven corruption is broken there can be no end to the corruption, oppression and poverty. Small changes and improvements can be made to the operation of government by international bodies and local non-government agencies pushing for good governance but they are fleas on an rogue elephant's back.

While the families of the striking sugar plantation workers bury their dead, including two small children, and dress their wounds, there is little hope that the blood will change anything other than harden the hearts of the wealthy elite and blame militants for the bloodshed.

Instead of genuine land reform, the hacienda in Tarlac was reorganised into a corporation with shares held by the workers. The impoverished workers say this is a sham, yet most farmers working in the hacienda either out of fear, intimidation or debts vote with the major stockholders who are in fact still the de facto owners.

Congressman Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III the son of much admired former president says he will abide by the vote of the majority. Jigs Clamora spokesperson for human rights organisations under the banner of KARAPATAN Alliance for the Advancement of Human Rights said: "Obviously, the striking workers have no gainful employment and are not receiving equal pay and the Hacienda Luisita have not met their workers' needs. We understand that this is what impelled them to go on strike. We also call for an impartial investigation and justice for the victims of human rights violations committed by the AFP and PNP. They must be held accountable for this dastardly act." To that we can only say, "Amen".


FR. SHAY CULLEN, is a Columban missionary who in 1974 established the PREDA Foundation in Olongapo, Philippines to help the victims of torture and military oppression by the Marcos martial law regime. For more information visit the PREDA website at

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