Much of Filipino history has been dominated by spurts of colonial rule that has had lasting effects on many elements of current Filipino society. Our partners in the Philippines were able to shed light on many of the ways that years of Spanish and American rule continue to impact the country. One of the persisting effects of colonial rule is in land ownership.
On August 18th, we had the opportunity to observe a demonstration in Legazpi City pertaining to the Hacienda Luisita struggle. Close to 6,500 hectares in size, this sprawling piece of land has been used as a tool for oppression since the 1800s under Spanish rule. After being handed over to the Americans for a brief period, when it became a sugar plantation, it was finally purchased in 1957 by Don Pepe Cojuangco. Cojuangco was father-in-law to then rising politician Ninoy Aquino, who later became the opposition leader to the Marcos dictatorship. Current president Benino Aquino and his family remain part owners of the Hacienda.
One of the stipulations upon purchase was that in 10 years time, the Hacienda Luisita land would have to be redistributed to its tenants – the peasants that lived on and worked the land – at terms and costs that were reasonable. But 10 years came and went, and the Cojuangco-Aquino ownership refused to hold up their end of the bargain.
The result has been a decades-long, ongoing struggle to have proprietors redistribute the land to which the tenants are legally entitled. In 2004, during a blockade by plantation workers and union leaders, soldiers and police dispatched by then president Gloria Arroyo fired at least 1000 rounds of ammunition at the blockade, killing 12 and injuring hundreds. The event is known as the Hacienda Luisita Massacre. To date, no one has been charged for this heinous crime. Other attempts to pacify the farmers – rightful owners of the land – have included offering short-term monetary compensation and stock-options, rather than the land itself.
August18th was a National Day of Outrage call-out to stand in solidarity with the farmers against the compromise deal being offered by the current hacienda owners. The Supreme Court was scheduled to hold an oral hearing on the Stock Option Deal. Farmers and allies from all over the country organized different actions in their respective cities to ensure their voices were heard in the court dispute. It was in this action that our group was participating.
The Centre for Environmental Concern, one of Development and Peace’s partners that hosted us during the trip, is part of a multi-sectoral alliance that organized the action. The demo we attended was held outside the Department for Agrarian Reform regional office in Legazpi City. While the issue was new to all of us, it was important for us to get a small taste of the activism and mobilization that is happening around agrarian reform in the Philippines.
To date, there has still been little action on revoking the stock option deal and ensuring that the farmers get the land that they are entitled to and have been struggling to attain for decades. As human rights advocates and as supporters of a just and sustainable world, we all must stand in solidarity with the farmers of the Hacienda Luisita and our brothers and sisters in other parts of the world fighting for their rights.