Hacienda Luisita and the 2010 elections
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Hacienda Luisita and the 2010 elections

The Philippines marks today the Hacienda Luisita massacre of Nov. 16, 2004 when government troops used arms to dismantle the picketline set up by striking farmworkers at the Hacienda Luisita in Tarlac, a vast landholding of the Cojuangco family.
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/>Sadly, up to now, justice eludes at least seven farmworkers and residents who died from bullet wounds and for dozens of others who were left injured. Several others who supported the farmworkers, including former Philippine Independent Church supreme bishop Alberto Ramento, were assassinated by suspected members of President Arroyo’s death squads.
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/>Hacienda Luisita, which is as big as the Metro Manila cities of Pasig and Makati combined, continues to evade land reform, hiding behind the gaping loophole called the “stock distribution option” mandated under the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program of President Corazon Cojuangco Aquino who belongs to the family that owns it.
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/>Just like other extra-legal executions under the Arroyo administration, not one assassin has been brought to justice, despite pleas from the United Nations special rapporteur Philip Alston, from watchdogs Karapatan, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, and pronouncements from various churches and legislatures worldwide.
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/>Of course, this is not only an issue of extra-legal executions. That in itself is an issue against the Arroyo administration and the Philippine ruling system in general – that it cannot respect the right of people to free expression and to seek redress for just grievances. The issue here is that more than a century after the first Asian revolution that sought to democratize land ownership, the Philippines remains a country dominated by landlords and landlord interests, so much so that massacres are routine ways to deny generations of farmers and farmworkers their due under the principle of genuine land reform.
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/>It is unfortunate that the Hacienda Luisita massacre and the larger issue of the lack of substantial and genuine land reform is being misinterpreted by fans of presidential candidate Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III, a scion of the Cojuangco family that owns the hacienda. The continued refusal of the Cojuangcos to let go of the huge hacienda is an issue of social justice and emblematic of the lack of authentic democracy in the country. The massacre of striking workers would continue to haunt the Aquinos, the Cojuangcos and the entire ruling classes until the lands are partitioned and given to the farmworkers and farmers whose generations of work have earned it for themselves under the principle of genuine agrarian reform.
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/>Contrary to the yarn regularly dished out by landlords and their spin doctors, land reform is not a communist or socialist issue. Most if not all advanced capitalist societies undertook land reform as a prerequisite for their economic, social and political development. It frees an entire army of farmers and citizens long captured by feudal bondage, empowers them economically, socially and politically, and lets them participate more fully in nation-building.
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/>The government meanwhile has used the CARP as a pawn to politically and economically punish the late former President Aquino’s participation in the broad united front that seeks President Arroyo’s removal from office. It supposedly invalidated the SDO option availed by the Cojuangcos. But up to now, the Cojuangcos, thru a holding company, remain the owners of Hacienda Luisita. Up to now, the farmworkers and farmers remain landless and the orphans of the massacre victims continued to be denied justice.
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/>As the Philippines embarks on a search for the next president, it is important to raise the incident of the Hacienda Luisita massacre, the continued existence of similar haciendas and the lack of substantive land reform. It is a democratic issue affecting the rural majority, most of whom belong to families of farmers.  It is an issue that cannot be buried by star power or redbaiting can completely bury which is what we have gotten from the camp of Aquino who unfortunately has been silent on most issues, especially this one in which his family is deeply embroiled.

It is a reminder to the public and the electorate that the national crisis worsened by Arroyo goes beyond corruption and that as we search for the next president, we must raise the level of debate to other substantial issues like how to make democracy substantive and substantial. One of them is land reform.

The author also blogs at tonyocruz.com.