Report of Team Visit to Hacienda Luisita
Pastoral Ecumenical Delegation Visit (PEDV)
Pastoral Ecumenical Delegation Visit (PEDV)
I. What we saw and heard
- Serious justice and human rights issues have attracted world-wide attention and must be addressed. These issues stem from long-standing labor and land issues, as follows.
- Killings of Workers at Hacienda Luisita, November 16, 2004.
This is the defining story in Hacienda Luisita (although it is grounded in long-term land and labor issues – see next point). Labor issues in the sugar cane fields and sugar processing plant at Hacienda Luisita came to a head in November 2004.
On November 6, 2004, two labor unions declared a strike against Luzon’s biggest sugar refinery: Hacienda Luisita’s Central Azucarera de Tarlac (CAT). The two labor unions are the Central Azucarera de Tarlac Labor Union (CATLU), representing more than 750 sugar mill workers and the Unitied Luisita Workers’ Union (ULWU), composed of more than 5,000 farmworkers of Hacienda Luisita. called a strike following the firing of 23 laborers, including several union officers, a strike was called. Local police (PNP) tried to disperse the strikers with tear gas and water cannon on November 6 and 7 following a ruling from the Dept. of Labor and Employment (actually issued days later on November 10) with no success. They tried again unsuccessfully on November 15 along with the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP). On November 16 combined forces of PNP and AFP again tried to disperse strikers with tear gas and water cannon. After an hour, guns were fired into the crowd, after which 7 unarmed individuals were killed and more than 100 others, wounded. The strikers stated that the deaths and injuries resulted from the firing of guns of the PNP. AFP and PNP officials claim that there was at least one gun spotted on the side of the demonstrators. Both AFP and the PNP officials believe the strike was instigated by the New People’s Army (NPA). To date enquiries by the PNP, AFP, the Commission on Human Rights, the Senate and House of Representatives have not produced any final reports. Police Senior Superintendent (PSSPT) Nicanor Bartolome has said that charges have been filed.
Hacienda Luisita – The People and the Land.
Farmers have tilled and occupied the land dating back to the Spanish occupation of the Philippines. In 1957 the Cojuangco family (Corazon Aquino’s family) bought the land from a Spanish company, financing the purchase with a government-supported loan. The loan and the guarantee were made on condition that after 10 years, the land would be distributed to the farmers who lived in the ten barangays (villages) within the property. The Cojuangcos reneged on the agreement and in 1985 a trial court ordered the Cojuangcos to distribute land as required. In response, the government of President Corazon Cojuangco Aquino devised a Stock Distribution Option (SDO) to distribute capital shares in the form of stocks to legitimate beneficiaries instead of giving them the land. Since the distribution in 1991, only one annual dividend has been paid. Documents have indicated that the ultimate intended use of the land is not agriculture but industry and tourism. Half of the land has already been converted (without consultation with the farmers, who are minority stockholders) for a shopping center, a golf course, and an industrial park which includes Sanyo (where Corazon Aquino later became a board member). The rest is to be used for further industry and for the government’s Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway Project (SCTEP).
Church Support and Solidarity.
A number of churches have been supportive of the farm laborers and their needs for justice and fair treatment. Some churches seem not to be very aware of the situation or have not been supportive. Support has ranged from providing direct aid to laborers and others who are living at poverty levels on Hacienda Luisita, to hard work at monitoring and advocating for proper conclusion of legal processes and agreements. Particularly noteworthy is the long-term support of the National Council of Churches of the Philippines, as well as some local churches of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP) and the Iglesia Filipina Independiente [IFI], and church-related organizations, e.g. the Promotion of Church People’s Response [PCPR].
Killing and Harrassment of Church Workers.
As is often the case for those advocating support of the powerless in society, churches and church members have been harassed and killed for their efforts. The most egregious of these human rights violations were the murders of Fr. William Tadena, City Councilor Abel Ladera, and Marcelino Beltran, active supporters of the Hacienda workers and the strike. Other forms of harrassment are also evident. One is the threat issued through text messages against the life of IFI Bishop Alberto Ramento. Some of this is based on the notion that anyone who supports the poor may be communist sympathizers since they also provide such support. The Public Information Officer of the AFP-Northern Luzon Command shared the AFP’s belief that members of the New People’s Army (NPA) try to infiltrate churches and that, therefore, some churches should be watched. These churches and other organizations ‘being infiltrated by the Communists’, and are therefore to be watched, are listed in a book, copies of which he distributed to members of the Pastoral Ecumenical Delegation Visit (PEDV) team . The book is titled TRINITY OF WAR: BOOK III – The Grand Design of the CPP/NPA/NDF]. He indicated that while it is legal to be a communist without arms, such people must, and will, still be watched, and he identified one person in the room who was indeed being watched.
- November 16, 2004
This is the pivotal, identifying event for people of Hacienda Luisita. The date, November 16, is as important to them as September 11 is to the United States. It is a traumatizing event which has both become the focus of most of their recent activity, and has engendered strong feelings of solidarity. The AFP information officer told us “It is not the policy of this country that people should get killed.” If so, someone needs to be held accountable for these acts of violence. We find it unusual that the armed forces are used in the Philippines for internal security, a responsibility which is given in most countries solely to the police.
- Hacienda Luisita – The People and The Land
Many of the families of those who work the land at Hacienda Luisita have lived there longer than the Cojuangcos have owned the land. Land conversion, particularly as it contradicts court orders and is done without consultation with supposed stock holders, is a moral issue. For the people of Hacienda Luisita, taking their lands for an expressway is different than for most of us because they are so tied to the land, both in terms of their self-identity and in terms of their prior claims to the land.
- Church Solidarity
As stated above, supporting churches and church workers have been important for people who are struggling to survive in Hacienda Luisita. The gospel mandate to proclaim good news to the oppressed and to serve “the least” is clear. From a biblical standpoint, the problem is not doing justice; rather the problem is not doing justice. We encourage those churches, particularly those Roman Catholic and Protestant churches near Hacienda Luisita to proclaim and act on this gospel of good news to the poor.
- Killing and Harrassment of Church Workers.
Such harrassment is not only illegal it is immoral. We protest it from a legal, human and theological point of view. If our action in providing support and resources for the poor happen to be similar to the actions of others, so be it. Apparently we must be even more vigilant in proclaiming the gospel of justice, not only to remind ourselves of Christ’s call, but to be clear to others that our actions are motivated by Christ and by no one else.
III. What do you intend to do with information and experience in home country
We commit ourselves to continue telling this story outside the Philippines. This will help our organizations be in solidarity with those on the front lines of justice in the Philippines, and will help to encourage our congregations in prayer and support.
We will challenge own churches and church agencies to set up projects which will support human rights work and work with the poor.
We will work to develop networks with churches and organizations in the Philippines, personally and between groups. Larger organizations can provide support and put it on their own justice agendas. We encourage the development of Filipino relationships with congregations which have had similar experiences (e.g., Latin America).
We will make report to WCC and CCA for distribution and monitoring.
IV. What can you say to the Filipino people?
We have greatly appreciated the privilege of sitting with them and “listening to the cries of my people.” We struggle with how, when we go back to the safety of our homes, we can say anything of value. Nevertheless, we do commit to keeping their story before us. We understand that the Philippines have internal political and economic challenges. Recalling the Christian heritage of the Philippines, the challenge is to remember that, from a bibilical perspective, a country’s success is measured by how it treats the least powerful members of its society. We recognize further that global issues involve us all, and that we can only address the increasing pressures of globalization by doing it together.