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People’s land reform in Hacienda Luisita

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This story was taken from Bulatlat, the Philippines’s alternative weekly newsmagazine (
Vol. VI, No. 35, Oct. 8-14, 2006

“It is a dream come true. Old women in the village are literally crying with happiness when they saw long stretches of palay (unhusked rice grain) being spread on the concrete road to dry under the sun. They say this is what they have been waiting for all these years, to see the hacienda producing food for the people and not sugar cane,” said Lit Bias, steward of the United Luisita Workers’ Union.

Ginning Luzon New Service
Posted by Bulatlat

HACIENDA LUISITA, Tarlac City (125 kames. north of Manila) – It’s harvest time and the men and women of Barangay (village) Asturias in Hacienda Luisita are busy cutting rice stalks from the paddies, hauling them to the small mechanical thresher and gathering the golden rice grains into bags for drying and storage.

Rodolfo Tolentino, 56, is all smiles as he tells of his own success. He cultivated three luwangs (about 2,500 sq. meters) four months ago and he harvested 17 sacks of rice. He gave two sacks as payment for the thresher and another sack to his neighbors who helped him in harvesting and had 14 sacks left for his family.

“Mas maganda ngayon. Wala akong amo at napapalitaw namin ang aming pagkain at may kaunti pa kaming pera, (Things are better now. I have no boss and we are able to produce our own food and have a little money), Tolentino told GLNS.

Aside from the rice harvest, he said he earns about P150 ($2.99 at an exchange rate of $1 = P50.01) per day from the vegetables he planted along with the rice.

Indeed, his situation is much better at the time before they launched the strike in November 2004 where they earn a measly P9.50 ($0.19) a week as wage earners in the plantation.

Tolentino, a member of the United Luisita Workers’ Union (ULWU), is reaping the gains from the bungkalan (cultivation), a community effort initiated by the union to transform the 6,000 ha. sugar plantation owned by the family of former president Corazon Cojuangco Aquino into land planted to food crops for the benefit of the farmers.

But more than their success in the cultivation and harvesting of crops, the farm workers in the village are, in effect, implementing land reform solely from their own efforts

Collective farms

More than 200 has. of the 300 ha. agricultural land in the village has been cultivated. Of the 200 has., about 140 has. have been planted to rice and some 60 has. planted to vegetables, according to Lito Bais, ULWU steward and bungkalan leader.

He said that since cultivation started early last year, about 2,000 has. have been made productive in the 10 villages comprising the hacienda, albeit through a slow and gradual process.

While Bais appreciates the efforts of individual tillers, he says it is the collective farms that enabled them to expand production in the face of so many limitations and problems.

More than 20 families are now tilling an average of two to 2 ½ has. Bais said. A system of labor exchange has evolved wherein work such as planting and harvesting in family plots are shared by other families and union members in the village, he said.

“Sa pagtutulungan namin, nagagawa ang trabaho kahit halos walang pera (Through our pooled efforts, work is done even if there is hardly any money), Bais said.

When people realized the benefits of collective work, everybody wants to pitch in to work somebody else’s plot knowing that when it is time to work on his/her farm the rest of the community will be there to help, Bais said.

Good yield

On this day, some 40 farm workers are out in the farm of Federico Cruz cutting rice stalks with scythes and bringing them to the thresher where the grains are separated from the straw and gathered in sacks.

Cruz, 49, already harvested 74 cavans from a portion of his 2 ½ ha. plot. He netted 58 cavans, after deducting costs for the harvest and he expects at least 130 cavans more from the rest of his farm.

He still expects an income of some P30,000 ($599.88 at an exchange rate of $1=P50.01) from the harvest after paying for the loan he incurred for the purchase of 10 bags of fertilizer, two liters of pesticide and about 400 liters of diesel for the deep well irrigation pump.

“Maganda ang ani namin. Hindi namin kikitain ang ganito noong swelduhan pa kami sa asyenda (We have a good yield. We do not earn this much when we were wage-earners at the hacienda), Cruz said.

Gil Palaganas, 56, expects to harvest some 250 cavans from his plot that adjoins Cruz’s. He stayed at the picket line from day 1 until the barricades were lifted, and today is helping Cruz harvest his crop.

Dream come true

“It is a dream come true. Old women in the village are literally crying with happiness when they saw long stretches of palay (unhusked rice grain) being spread on the concrete road to dry under the sun,” Bais said.

“They say this is what they have been waiting for all these years, to see the hacienda producing food for the people and not sugar cane,” Bais said.

Asked about the temporary restraining order (TRO) issued by the Supreme Court that temporarily blocked land distribution by the Department of Agrarian Reform in the hacienda, Bais said:

“We are following up the petition submitted by the Solicitor General to lift the TRO. But we will not be bothered much by the delay. Land reform in the hacienda is happening right now from our own efforts.”

The villagers say that food and even cash has practically ceased to be a problem during harvest time.

“In the past, everybody is in dire need of even only rice for a meal. But now with the harvest coming in, there is rice and vegetables to go around. Everyone is willing to lend to a neighbor knowing that the neighbor will also harvest in due time,” Bais said.

Transformed community

Andy, 22, a leader of the Samahan ng Kabataang Demokratiko sa Asyenda Luisita (SAKDAL or Organization of Democratic Youth in Hacienda Luisita] believes that bungkalan has transformed his village in many ways.

“People are now even more united and generous. Collective work in the field has helped in changing the attitude of people. People are happier today because they realize that they have the capacity to improve their lives,” Andy said.

The Sakdal chapter in the village also joined the bungkalan and tilled about 1 ½ has. Andy said that they did not sell the vegetables they produced and just donated them to the community especially to those just starting to work on the land.

Even the shroud of fear and terror that engulfed the villages since the November 16, 2004 massacre at the picket line, and the militarization and killings of union leaders, seems to have been lifted.

The villagers walk around freely and go about their work in the farms and homes looking confident and unafraid.

Bais, who himself was almost killed when suspected soldiers fired at his home in December last year, say the bungkalan has served to strengthen their organization.

He said meetings are easily held while they are out in the fields and that villagers are more active in organizational plans and activities because of the bungkalan.

Vigilance in victory

“This victory is a result of the strike. We proved that going on strike is still the most effective way of asserting our rights,” Bais said.

Seven strikers were killed and more than 100 were wounded when military and police attempted to disperse the workers at the picket line in front of the sugar mill on November 16, 2004. The government deployed hundreds of soldiers in the villages after the massacre

Two union leaders, Ricardo Ramos, President of the Central Azucarera De Tarlac Labor Union, and ULWU director Tirso Cruz were murdered in the course of the strike. Scores of union members have sought refuge outside of the hacienda for fear of military attack.

Bais says that they still have to contend with militarization and the scabs and loyalists of management.

Most of the soldiers have left the village and were deployed to guard the construction of the Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway in the villages of Pasajes, Mapalacsiao, Motrico, Asturias, Bantog and Cut-cut II that cuts across the hacienda.

“We have to remain vigilant. Although we do not see uniformed soldiers roaming the villages, they were replaced with armed men in civilian clothes.” Bais said.

Scabs and village officials also took advantage of the workers’ victory, Bais said.

He said some 420 has. have been unjustly appropriated by management loyalists in the villages of Parang, Pando, Motrico, Pasajes and Bantog.

But in his village, Bais said that people were able to prevent the entry of management loyalists. He said villagers refused to work on a project offered by village officials to plant okra knowing that it is an export crop and they will not gain anything from it aside from meager wages. Gitnang Luzon News Service/Posted by Bulatlat

© 2006 Bulatlat ■Alipato Media Center