Friday, November 19, 2004

Unprovoked Carnage

by: Carol Pagaduan-Araullo
Business World/Friday-Saturday, November 19-20, 2004

The words of regret and commiseration ring hollow.To the relatives of those killed among the Hacienda Luisita strikers and theirsupporters, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo's statement calling for "prudenceand sobriety on both sides" and for "settling the dispute in a peaceful andrationale manner" must be causing more agitation than calming their outrage atthe violent dispersal that left seven people confirmed dead, 43 wounded andscores arrested.Even as party-list representatives from Anakpawis and Bayan Muna, Rafael Marianoand Satur Ocampo, called for a thorough investigation of the violent enforcementby the PNP and AFP of a questionable return-to-work order issued by DoLE, it isclear the victims were the workers, their families and supporters and that theemployment of superior and inordinate force lay squarely on the side of government.It is appalling how the management and owners of Hacienda Luisita, Inc. (HLI),the heirs of Jose Cojuangco Sr., including no less than former President CorazonAquino, and Malaca§ang, through Labor and Employment Secretary Patricia Sto.Tomas, not only allowed this carnage to happen, but apparently colluded intrying to break the 11-day strike by employing the state's Armed Forces.

Contrary to the claims of HLI through its spokesperson, Atty. Vigor Mendoza,former congressman Jose "Peping" Cojuangco Jr. and presidential son Rep. Benigno"Noynoy" Aquino, the United Luisita Workers Union (ULWU) and Central Azucarerade Tarlac Labor Union (CATLU) had not closed themselves to negotiations toresolve outstanding differences and to avoid violence at the picket lines. In fact, Rep. Satur Ocampo and other progressive party list congressmen, with the consent and cooperation of the two labor unions, had been shuttling to and from the hacienda to try to find peaceful avenues to address the issues raised by thefarm and sugar mill workers.

Rep. Ocampo had been in touch with Secretary Sto. Tomas, apprising her of the situation wherein any assault on the strikers would invariably result ininnumerable deaths and injuries to even family members who had been helping their kin take turns at the picket lines, cooking food and providing all-out support. He appealed to her for government to show maximum restraint and assist in mediating the conflict rather than insisting on breaking up the strike and protest rally at the hacienda gates and calling out the police and military to do it.

Hours before Tuesday's assault, Ocampo had brought representatives of the strikers to dialogue with Peping Cojuangco. The latter even refused to meet withtwo ULWU representatives, claiming that a new set of officers had taken over theretrenched union officials. (The management continues to obfuscate the fact thatwhat triggered the strike of the farm workers in the first place was thedismissal of almost all of the new ULWU officials, along with 327 other workers,thus effectively undermining a new collective bargaining agreement beingnegotiated by ULWU with management.)

The dialogue ended in an impasse when Cojuangco insisted on both unions liftingtheir strike before any negotiations on their demands could be restarted and theworkers refusing to do so until they had assurances that management would facetheir demands.Soon after, all hell broke loose when soldiers and police commenced with theirbrutal attack using three armed personnel carriers, high-powered rifles, teargas, water cannons and truncheons.

Thus, there should be no whitewash of this condemnable use of the armed might ofthe state to crush an unarmed workers' strike and a protest rally of their supporters. Any decent and upright person, once the facts and circumstances arebrought to light, would join in the just demand for an impartial andthoroughgoing investigation to find out the truth behind the bloody dispersal aswell as the historical roots of the festering social conflict in Hacienda Luisita.The propensity of the spokespersons of the management and owners of HLI as well as that of Malacanang, DoLE, the PNP and AFP, to utilize the smokescreen of innuendoes against the Left, specifically Bayan, Bayan Muna and other militant organizations, should be exposed for what it is -- a blatant attempt to cover uptheir culpability in this massacre of defenseless people carried out to crush their fierce struggles for decent wages and better living conditions. Instead of recognizing the miserable plight, if not legitimate grievances, of farm workers, some of whom had pay envelopes showing a take-home pay of P9.50after deductions due to loans and advances, whose work days had been reduced toonce or twice a week or who had been unceremoniously fired from their jobs, the propaganda line of the Cojuangcos is that non-workers, non-Tarlaquenos and leftist troublemakers made up the bulk of people manning the picket lines.

Moreover, these "outsiders" were supposedly agitating with issues plucked out of thin air. According to HLI spokesperson Mendoza, these pertained to "rehashed issues" likethe stock distribution option (or what the family of Cory Aquino used to goaround land distribution mandated by law and demanded by generations of theirfarm worker employees) and other "non-labor" issues which were not specified,but by imputation had to do with political demands of the Left.

To criticism that Ocampo, Mariano and other progressive party-list representatives were partial to the strikers, their unabashed reply is "Yes, we are, because they are our constituents" and because, we may add, this is only being consistent with their genuine leftist politics which takes the interests and views of the deprived and oppressed masses as their own. Having said this does not mean Ocampo et al. cannot be objective and could not play a positive role in helping to mediate the conflict, at least in delaying if not preventing what Bayan-Central Luzon called the "unprovoked carnage" of lastTuesday.

Any attempt by government and HLI to still use squid tactics to obscure theworkers legitimate demands and red-baiting to muddle the real issues will fail in the light of their bloodied hands.

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