Friday, May 14, 2010

From the Philippines Election Delegation - Kyle Todd

May 9, 2010

“Struggling to Own the Land That They Till”

Throughout our visit to Tarlac, Central Luzon, we spent our time in Hacienda Luicita. This 6,435-hectare plantation estate, what locals simply call “Hacienda”, is owned by the Cojuango family, of which presidential favorite Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino is a member. On November, 16, 2004, Hacienda was also the site of a massacre where 7 workers were killed, and over 200 more were injured, during a blockade where farmers were calling for better wages and benefits. On May 9, the PIOM observers had the chance to meet with local labor leaders and activists who continue to advocate for better working conditions and a more equitable and fair system of land distribution and use – continuing the struggle of the November 16 martyrs.

On May 9, we had a chance to meet with the president of the Hacienda farmers union, United Luicita Workers Union (ULWU), the president of a local union of factory workers, the International Wirings Systems Workers Union (IWSWU) and members of MARTIR, an activist group of family members of November 16 martyrs.

Lito Bais, the president of the ULWU, began by telling us about the history of the workers’ movement in Hacienda. He told us about how the Cojuango family obtained the Hacienda land through a loan from the United States, on the condition that the land would eventually be redistributed to the farmers who worked the land. He told us that when the time came land redistribution, the owners gave workers the choice of a “Stock Distribution Option” (SDO). He said that the workers chose the SDO because they were lead to believe that it would be more lucrative for them than communal redistribution. He said that, not only was the SDO a weak deal, but that the workers have not received one centavo of the 30% profit-sharing that was promised through the SDO.

Both the ULWU president and members of the MARTIR group told us about political intimidation that goes on in the Hacienda. While in a public restroom, Bais was met with the barrel of a rifle and told to watch his back. MARTIR member Felix Nacpil stated that military officers harass him almost nightly and unknown community members continually put up propaganda associating activists with the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP). And, as we would later witness, military detachments are pervasive throughout the area. Bais noted that, given the people’s past experience with state and paramilitary repression, this serves as a heavy-handed deterrent to workers’ movements and progressive political activity.

Leading up to the election, these activists were endorsing the ANAKPAWIS party list. They campaigned hard, and even conducted voter education and formed an anti-fraud group. However, they feared campaigning past dark because, not only do they face intimidation by military and police officers, but also by local paramilitary groups like the Citizen Armed Forces Geographical Unit (CAFGU). Local members of our PIOM delegation also noted that the group will likely face increased repression if Noynoy Aquino wins the presidential election, as he has a familial interest in profiting from the Hacienda and preventing any just implementation of land reform or workers’ rights.

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