For many years, by virtue of family fortune and political power, the vast track of land famously known as Hacienda Luisita have been illegally acquired, possessed, and cultivated to plant sugarcane, for the benefit of the Cojuangco – Aquino’s. Decades had pass, the farmers who tilled these lands to fruition and profit endures worsening living conditions. All these, in the midst of threatening unemployment, usurpation of work, union busting, enforced disappearances, massive land use conversion that sets forth dislocations, brewed the storm that came to land on the eve of November 6, 2004.
Farm and mill workers from Central Azucarera de Tarlac Labor Union (CATLU) and United Luisita Workers Union (ULWU) together with their families and communities all members of Alyansa ng mga Manggagawang Bukid ng Asyenda Luisita (AMBALA), have joined together to set in motion, a protest camp.
The picket line becomes the center wherein workers together with their families convene together to discuss their calls and stage of struggle. To learn and unlearn, to learn and relearn, the picket line becomes a venue to poke into history and experiences, even to possibilities of moving forward. More than a symbol of the fight for their right, it had become a tool to strengthen and consolidate them. From mere hundreds to more than ten thousand workers, the picket line needed provisions and resources to feed this people.
Proyektong Bungkalan, started that way.
The vacant lot in front of Gate 1 and alongside the road leading to the SCTEX exit had been planted with a wide array of vegetables. It fed those ten thousand valiant farm and mill workers, and ordinary citizens, men and women, including children, as they stood guard together to protect their line, and their just cause.
We all heard what happened next.
Several move to break the picket line led to nowhere. The presence of heavily armed men, with tanks and fire trucks, did not scare people who knew what they were asking are rightfully theirs. Tear gas, never did the work. Two (2) Assumption of Jurisdiction orders from DOLE came, and it crashed right into the deaf ears of hungry farm and mill workers. There, the army had taken refuge into the power of their guns. It rained bullets on November 16, 2004. It killed seven (7) farm workers, and had left wounded at least a hundred more. But that even, did not dampen the resolve of the farm workers. They re-build the picket line the very next day. They stirred national and international sympathy and support, and their strength grew even more in numbers. In about a year and a few months after, due to widespread positive public opinion re-echoing the calls of the farm workers, the Presidential Agrarian Reform Commission (PARC) was pushed to finally hear reason and logic, enough to junk Stock Distribution Option, the scheme that subjects the land of the farm workers to be contributed capital to a corporation that earned billions of pesos but compensates farm workers with meager wages as low as nine pesos and fifty centavos (Php 9.50). It ruled with seeming finality, that the land – rightfully owned by the farm workers, must at that time, be immediately distributed.
Victory, it seems. But alas, no! The Cojuangco – Aquino had conveniently secured a temporary restraining order (TRO) that lasted for four (4) long years.
Were the farm workers, deterred and hopeless? No.
The TRO had not stopped them from tilling the lands that they could. Proyektong Bungkalan, took a sharp turn. The start of its essence was now slowly being revealed.
Proyektong Bungkalan, becomes an assertion of rights.
The land is their right – by birth, by history, by contract, by morality even. Exercise of such right is to literally position themselves to actual lots they can develop and prepare, cultivate and till for the benefit of their people. Thus, in 2006, despite the TRO, hundreds of farm workers were braved enough to work with the land again. Brave, because that year, cases of extra-judicial killings, military deployment, continued and sustained harassments, intensified.
Proyektong Bungkalan, becomes a direct action of the people to assert their rights. It broadened the initiatives and the flexibilities of the on-going struggle of the farm workers. It serves as a strong anchor and support of the legal struggle of the farm workers and have provided livelihood to them after the 2004 picket protest.
From hundreds of hectares to a thousand, step by step, in an organized way, the farm workers have reclaimed what is rightfully theirs. At that time, Proyektong Bungkalan, though in theory is an organizational call, in practice remains only within the confines of strong family cooperation of a decent percentage of the organization’s population, mostly its leaders. Opportunism was also rampant. Luisita Estate Management (LEM) was established in the last quarter of 2009. Large parcels of land were also at the same time reclaimed by cohorts and cronies of the Cojuangco – Aquino. And even, those lands that the people have already claimed, were stealthily grabbed under the new scheme of “rent” and other forms of “partnership”. The long years of poverty strike had put its toil on some farmers’ weakness to short term cash gains. New sets of landlords are being born. Collectivization of work and cooperative farming are ideas in the burner, but none of its methods and practice have yet to be consumed.
It would only be in 2009, before the National Elections of 2010, when the public had again questioned the candidacy of Noynoy Cojuangco – Aquino in light of the controversial Hacienda Luisita issue, that the civil case would be revived.
Between the years 2006 to 2009, the farm workers’ back were all pushed into the wall that no visible “organizational” activity aside from Bungkalan came to pass. Imagined your streets full of soldiers in their full military gears, and your baranggay chairman (Ric Ramos), your city councilor (Abel Ladera), your priest (Fr. William Tadena), and even your bishop (Ramento), among others, got killed in broad daylight? These were not imaginations to the farm workers of Hacienda Luisita. They were their tangible realities. Yet still, they were never broken. Maybe weakened for a time, but never broken. They waited for such time until all eyes of the public is back again on their story and that any public display of perfectly legal organizational activity, though remains risky could now be safer.
Seasoned fighters, survivors of massacre and intensified militarization, they become stronger. Support came back stronger also. ULWU – AMBALA, convened themselves and re-engineered the organization. Committees and policies were drafted, finalized, and put into practice.
Proyektong Bungkalan have broaden and strengthen the unity of the farm workers, listed or not in the 1989 masterlist. A farmer leader once said, “the day you raised your foot out of the land, will be the day you’ll lost the fight.” They are tightly fastened together by their readiness to till their lands and their determination to make these lands productive outside the domain of sugar production.
To date, AMBALA had re-organized Proyektong Bungkalan from mere individual family efforts into efficient community production teams. It had started its own mapping and distribution of lands inside Hacienda Luisita to its members. It had been active in studying and designing, and in trying out different models of doing farming all in an attempt to put into practice an efficient and effective method of collective ownership and cooperative farming vis-à-vis improvement and development of production.
To date, thousands more of hectares needs to be occupied. Only with position and actual possession of the land can farmers truly emancipate themselves from feudal bondage.
Proyektong Bungkalan, becomes steps to freedom and in realizing the road to genuine change.
Proyektong Bungkalan, becomes a combat tool to wreck feudalism and fascism.
To occupy now, becomes a rallying cause.
It puts into action and resonate their many other calls:
FREE LAND DISTRIBUTION
NO TO AMORTIZATION
DO NOT COMPENSATE LANDLORDS
RESPECT OF COLLECTIVE OWNERSHIP
IMPROVEMENT OF PRODUCTION
JUSTICE AND COMPENSATION FOR VICTIMS OF MASSACRE
AND OTHER HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS
 Organizational Activity refers to regular meetings such as assessment and planning, and assemblies. Such activities were restricted and therefore regulated with such care during the period after the massacre up to 2009.
(photo credit: Kenneth Guda)