Revisiting Noynoy’s privilege speech on the Hacienda Luisita Massacre

Posted: November 11, 2014 in Uncategorized

Ten years ago, November 16, 2004, on the day that the Hacienda Luisita Massacre happened, then congressman and Deputy Speaker Benigno Aquino III delivered a privilege speech at the floor of the House of Representatives.

In his speech, Aquino “joined” the progressive representatives of Bayan Muna and Anakpawis in condemning the violence at the picket line, but stopped short of condemning the actual perpetrators. Instead, Aquino, true to his class and family interest, defended the actions of the Aquino-Cojuangcos, the police and the military.

Ten years have passed and not one government official, not one police or soldier, has been charged in any court for the deaths of seven strikers and supporters, the illegal arrests of more than 100 protesters, and the injuries to scores of unarmed workers.

Not one has been charged. Not one has been made accountable.

Aquino begins his speech as do all congressmen; that he rises on a matter of personal and collective privilege.

Mr. Speaker, the Hacienda Luisita and a factory called Central Azucarera de Tarlac are both located in the Second District of Tarlac which I represent. A lot of people who worked in both firms are residents of my district although there are four other barangays that are also situated within the hacienda and are part of the Third District of Tarlac.

Aquino’s deceptive opening remark makes it appear that he speaks on the issue only because the Luisita dispute happened to take place in his congressional district– that he is speaking simply as the congressional representative of the people. He conveniently fails to mention that he is in fact part of the family that owns and operates the hacienda and the azucarera. His privilege speech was done precisely to defend the economic interests of his landowning family.

Aquino belittles the problems in the hacienda as merely an issue of “retrenchment so on and so forth”, not even bothering to define or enumerate the problems that the farm workers actually faced.

The strike was not just about retrenchment. At the heart of the dispute was the stock distribution option, that scheme which circumvents land reform, where landlords distribute stocks instead of actual land. This was the legal basis for the Aquino-Cojuangco control of the land. It was this scheme that allowed farm workers to get only P9.50 a day for working in the sugar estate. This scheme would later on be declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.

Aquino fulfills his role as spokesman of the Luisita landowners and management, by asserting that the workers strike was illegal and that workers actually wanted to work.

“May I explain. According to the company, no strike vote was called for which is a prerequisite for calling a strike. Most of the workers of the union about 400 out of 736 have decided to take a stand against the so-called strike and have reentered the factory using various means like climbing the factory walls just to gain entry and evade the blockade by what was perceived as just a faction of their union who is not responding to their wishes.”

The strike was a joint action by the farm workers of ULWU protesting the retrenchment of members and union leaders and the sugar mill workers CATLU who were in a deadlock with management over CBA negotiations. Almost all of the 5000 farmworker and all but 70 of the mill workers joined the strike.

For one who purports to speak for his constituents, Aquino only explains the side of management, that the strike “according to the company” was illegal.

“Now, consistent to that Mr. Speaker, a few days ago, I believe two days ago, if I am not mistaken, I am sorry, we have really been exhausted trying to resolve or come up with a peaceful solution to the problem, the PNP exercising maximum tolerance, decided to forego the use of tear gas, water cannons, and so many other devices open to them and just attempted to push out those blocking the entry and exit points of the factory premises, consistent with the deputization order coming from the Department of Labor and Employment.”

At this point in the speech, Aquino pleads for some sympathy due to exhaustion from trying to resolve the dispute. It is unclear who he refers to as “we” in this part of the speech. Is he speaking as part of the landowning family or as an elected public official?

The dispersal Aquino was referring to was the event of November 15 when the PNP attempted to break up the strike but failed because thousands of Luisita farm workers, mill workers and residents resisted. The PNP however did not use maximum tolerance as there were many injuries reported on the side of the strikers. CATLU union chair Ricardo Ramos was among those injured as he was hit on the head.

Aquino takes issue with those manning the picket lines “which up to this point, is being contested as not being made up primarily of workers of the hacienda.”

What Aquino fails to understand is that the entire community, from farm and mill workers and their families, everyone living in Luisita, including the tricycle drivers, vendors, church workers, everyone who witnessed the decades-old exploitation in the estate, were there to support the strike. The strike showcased the solidarity of the oppressed in Luisita.

The November 15 attempt to break up the strike was defeated. It bears mentioning that there were two strikes that occurred. One for the mill workers of CATLU and the other for the farm wokrers of ULWU. The DOLE order only covered the CATLU and not the ULWU.

To that extent, Mr. Speaker, today, new dispersal operations have been conducted. We, together with our colleagues from Bayan Muna and Anakpawis, condemned the violence that happened. But we are questioning as to whether or not the condemnation is directed at the right party.

The reports that I have been getting this whole afternoon, one of them stated that when the dispersal commenced this afternoon, elements of the PNP and the AFP were subjected to sniper fire allegedly coming from a barangay adjacent to the company premises. The results re, that of these men, the reports that we have gotten are: There are at least 10 who are injured on the part of the so-called picketing strikers—ten wounded, three have died and at least another three form the ranks of the government personnel, namely the PNP and the AFP, have also been injured.

Aquino feigns condemnation of the violence. He does not even call it what it was, a massacre. He questions if the condemnation of the various groups was correctly directed at the right party.

Aquino, who was supposed to be speaking for his constituents, whose majority of consisted of farm workers and workers of the sugar mill, again cites reports from the police and military. These are the perpetrators of violence against the strikers. Aquino echoes the police line that the PNP and AFP were subjected to “sniper fire”. The statement was intended to justify the use of lethal force by the AFP and PNP.

Let us refer to the findings of the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan which conducted an extensive investigation of the incident.

The PNP claims that the “initial burst of gunfires (sic), single shots in succession, came from the ranks of the striking workers after they crossed the gate and invaded the CAT compound”. If it were true that several armed men infiltrated the ranks of the strikers, why were there no police or military elements who sustained any gunshot wounds during the violent dispersal, and why would the armed men (alleged NPA members) shoot the armed personnel carriers…and not the thick phalanx of more than 600 military and policemen inside the compound?

In the aftermath of the massacre, Aquino appeals to his colleagues to follow the rule of law.

Mr. Speaker, may I ask just one basic question to wind up this personal and collective privilege. We all here are lawmakers. Our main function is to make laws. I understand from our lawyers that I have consulted, for instance the blocking of factory premises is not allowable under the Labor Code. We have been asked to allow this continued blockade, which is already the source of numerous complaints from various small planters who are waiting to reap the proceeds form their panting of sugarcane and to which they have already been experiencing intense economic difficulties, compounded by the poor prices of sugar. We also are asking whether or not the rights of those who have chosen to adhere to the rule of law should be ignored, when it is convenient for certain factions to ignore the law. Is that the position we are taking, Mr. Speaker?

Aquino calls for the respect for the rule of law, yet the very existence of the Hacienda, the very notion that a family can control 6,453 hectares of land along with the lives of those who depend on the land, is not only a violation of the law but of morality and decency. The entire SDO was based on the swindle of the farm workers, also a violation of the law. The massacre of unarmed protesters was a violation of the law. The strike was not the cause of the violence. The decades-old land monopoly of the Cojuangco-Aquinos was.

The most shocking part of Aquino’s privilege speech was the ending.

“The primary responsibility for my district should lie with me, Mr. Speaker. And, unfortunately, there were certain quarters, who I will identify at a future date, who decided to exploit the situation, resulting in injuries and deaths to a lot of my constituents, which I believe calls for justice and I will champion that in due time, Mr. Speaker.”

Ten years ago, Aquino vowed to champion the cause of justice for the victims. He claims that there were those who allegedly exploited the situation, resulting in the deaths of his constituents.

Aquino became president in 2010. Today, not one has been charged in court for the massacre. None of the management of Luisita, who are relatives of the President, has been charged. The Ombudsman has reportedly dismissed the cases filed against the Luisita management, police and military. A crime was committed, seven dead, yet there appears to be no criminals.

Instead of seeking justice for the victims, Aquino continues to champion the interests of the landowning class and the coercive state apparatus that brought about the Luisita Massacre.

In remembering ten years since the massacre at the gates of Luisita, let us remember what the current President truly stands for. ###

*Acknowledgement goes out to the officer of Rep. Neri Colmenares of Bayan Muna for the audio recording and transcript of the speech.

Aquino Privilege Speech Hacienda Luisita Massacre

November 16, 2004

Mr. Speaker, the Hacienda Luisita and a factory called Central Azucarera de Tarlac are both located in the Second District of Tarlac which I represent. A lot of people who worked in both firms are residents of my district although there are four other barangays that are also situated within the hacienda and are part of the Third District of Tarlac. Ever since all of these issues, the idea of retrenchment and so and so forth have occurred due to, according to the company, the distress of the company, we have sought ways and means to alleviate the problems of all our constituents to include not only the workers but also that of the companies that are located in our district, in the interest of serving all our constituents best. We would just like to manifest for the information of all our colleagues, a few days ago, perhaps, I am not sure of the exact date right now Mr. Speaker, but about two days ago if I am not mistaken, the PNP in response to an order, assuming jurisdiction issued by the Department of Labor and Employment, tried to effect a dispersal of a strike which in the opinion of the company and which is subject again of proceedings within the DOLE now was an illegal strike.

May I explain. According to the company, no strike vote was called for which is a prerequisite for calling a strike. Most of the workers of the union about 400 out of 736 have decided to take a stand against the so-called strike and have reentered the factory using various means like climbing the factory walls just to gain entry and evade the blockade by what was perceived as just a faction of their union who is not responding to their wishes. This is significant that in this latest labor dispute that the company is facing, most of the workers have decided to take a position which they believe is in their interest and their future interest. Now, consistent to that Mr. Speaker, a few days ago, I believe two days ago, if I am not mistaken, I am sorry, we have really been exhausted trying to resolve or come up with a peaceful solution to the problem, the PNP exercising maximum tolerance, decided to forego the use of tear gas, water cannons, and so many other devices open to them and just attempted to push out those blocking the entry and exit points of the factory premises, consistent with the deputization order coming from the Department of Labor and Employment.

As a result of this, those who were manning the picket lines, which up to this point, is being contested as not being made up primarily of workers of the hacienda, they were met by a hail of stones and various other implements resulting into the injury of these police officers.

The Regional Director, in his report to me, stated that they decided not to pursue with the dispersal operations given the premise that perhaps this can be settled with the very minimum violence was erroneous, and therefore, pursuing it would have resulted in further injuries.

To that extent, Mr. Speaker, today, new dispersal operations have been conducted. We, together with our colleagues from Bayan Muna and Anakpawis, condemned the violence that happened. But we are questioning as to whether or not the condemnation is directed at the right party.

The reports that I have been getting this whole afternoon, one of them stated that when the dispersal commenced this afternoon, elements of the PNP and the AFP were subjected to sniper fire allegedly coming from a barangay adjacent to the company premises. The results re, that of these men, the reports that we have gotten are: There are at least 10 who are injured on the part of the so-called picketing strikers—ten wounded, three have died and at least another three form the ranks of the government personnel, namely the PNP and the AFP, have also been injured.

Mr. Speaker, may I ask just one basic question to wind up this personal and collective privilege. We all here are lawmakers. Our main function is to make laws. I understand from our lawyers that I have consulted, for instance the blocking of factory premises is not allowable under the Labor Code. We have been asked to allow this continued blockade, which is already the source of numerous complaints from various small planters who are waiting to reap the proceeds form their panting of sugarcane and to which they have already been experiencing intense economic difficulties, compounded by the poor prices of sugar. We also are asking whether or not the rights of those who have chosen to adhere to the rule of law should be ignored, when it is convenient for certain factions to ignore the law. Is that the position we are taking, Mr. Speaker?

Also, consistent with the challenge that they issued to this Representation to join in the investigation of the so-called SDO arrangement, in compliance with the CARP law, we have co-authored, together with them and are awaiting the committee meetings of the Agrarian Reform Committee of the House.

In effect, Mr. Speaker, what I am trying to say simply put, is that as lawmakers I think we are the first who should be championing the adherence completely and faithfully to all the laws governing us instead of mainly complying when it suits us. This is a true situation that has escalated, and I will not name names at this point in time, Mr. Speaker, until I have gathered all of the evidence.

The primary responsibility for my district should lie with me, Mr. Speaker. And, unfortunately, there were certain quarters, who I will identify at a future date, who decided to exploit the situation, resulting in injuries and deaths to a lot of my constituents, which is believe calls for justice and I will champion that in due time, Mr. Speaker.

Thank you and good afternoon.

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  1. […] about the victims of the Hacienda Luisita massacre, whose cause he vowed to champion in a privilege speech in November 16, […]