Photos by Mark Ambay III
Farmers from Hacienda Luisita, Inc. (HLI) have been struggling for decades to reclaim the lands that were denied them by the Cojuangco family in the mid-1900’s. The 6400-hectare plus hacienda was planted mostly with sugarcane. Possession of HLI made the Cojuangco family one of the richest and most powerful clans in the Philippines. On the other hand, farmers who for generations tilled the land suddenly found themselves landless, poor and subject to the “generosity” and whims of the Cojuangco family.
On 16 November 2004, seven people were killed in a bloody massacre in Hacienda Luisita when State security forces shot farmers and farm workers who were protesting the unwillingness of the Cojuangco family to return the farmers’ lands. No State security personnel was made to answer for the crime. At least eight other supporters of the farmers of HLI were killed in dubious circumstances in the months that followed.
In 2012, the Supreme Court of the Philippines issued a ruling that commanded the Cojuangco family and the HLI management to turn over 4000 plus hectares of land to the farmers, yet government agencies and security forces failed to assist in installing the farmers on their lands. In April 2017, HLI farmers, with assistance from government officials under the Department of Agrarian Reform, started occupying hacienda lands awarded to them. This was the first time DAR officials, led by secretary Rafael Mariano himself, had actually assisted in installing the farmers on the land that was rightfully theirs.
Unfortunately, the Cojuangco family has been unwilling to return the land they grabbed from the farmers. This, however, is being challenged by the farmers who are also unwilling to continue being landless.
For decades, farmers of Hacienda Luisita in Tarlac City, Philippines have been trying to reclaim their land that was grabbed by the powerful Cojuangco family. Calls for the abolition of the hacienda have regained strength in recent years after a court ruling in favor of hacienda farmers and renewed vigor of farmers’ organizations in the area. In April 2017, farmers started occupying land in the hacienda that was awarded to them by the Supreme Court ruling.
Farmers from Hacienda Luisita, workers from the nearby industrial enclave, indigenous peoples from surrounding communities, students and other land rights advocates have consistently linked up to support the calls of Hacienda Luisita farmers for land ownership.
Land rights advocates call for the abolition of Hacienda Luisita and a stop to political repression and killings.
Beyond the walls and wires surrounding the farmlands of Hacienda Luisita can be seen State security vehicles. Government forces were called on by the Cojuangco family to repel the farmers from reclaiming the land despite the fact that it is rightfully theirs.
Police officers conduct checkpoints along the roads that lead to the hacienda, asking questions and taking pictures and videos of farmers who join the activities to reclaim the hacienda lands.
Signs have been put up by the hacienda management that warn people against trying touch the wires running above the walls, showing their unwillingness to turn over the land to farmers.
The wires running above the walls surrounding the hacienda farmlands have wickedly sharp barbs which seek to deter any farmers from reclaiming their lands.
Hacienda Luisita farmers have been calling for the distribution of the hacienda’s lands for decades, claiming that the Cojuangco family has been holding on to these lands illegally. In addition, ancestors of many of the farmers have lived in the surrounding area and tilled the land for generations before the Cojuangco family claimed the land and created Hacienda Lusitia.
This young lady has lived all her life in the hacienda, as did her mother and her grandmother. She and her family and ancestors have been tilling these lands for decades. They are the real ladies, the real owners, of the hacienda.
Land rights activists and advocates jointly till the land in a community bungkalan (tilling). Members of the farmers’ organization in Hacienda Luisita subject their lands to community farming because of the shared manpower and resources that community farming features.