Tarlac City Councilor Abelardo Ladera was killed nine years ago today, on March 3, 2005. Justice remains elusive for him and other agrarian reform advocates who fell victim to the spate of extra-judicial killings that came after the infamous Hacienda Luisita Massacre of 2004. Impunity still reigns in the sugar estate controlled by the family of President Benigno Cojuangco Aquino III.
Councilor Abel Ladera whose parents were also sugar workers of Hacienda Luisita from Barangay Balete, was killed in Tarlac City with a single sniper shot to his heart. Ladera was a member of progressive party-list group, Bayan Muna (People First), whose leaders and members nationwide also became targets of harassment, villification and assasination by state forces via Oplan Bantay Laya (OBL), the brutal counter-insurgency drive of the previous Arroyo administration.
Ladera was a staunch supporter of the Hacienda Luisita sugar workers strike of 2004 – the historic undertaking which commenced with the simultaneous walk-out of around 700 sugar mill workers and more than 5,000 farm workers. This display of unprecedented worker-peasant unity amid the reign of terror and repression within this vast sugar estate was met with violence in November 16, 2004, when state forces opened fire on the strikers. Seven were killed and hundreds wounded in the infamous Hacienda Luisita massacre.
Ladera vehemently opposed land use conversion in Hacienda Luisita. At the time he was killed, he was about to expose certain details of the Cojuangco-Aquino family’s master land use plan and design for Hacienda Luisita and former President Arroyo’s superhighway project, now the Subic Clark Tarlac Expressway or SCTEX. Ladera had said that these projects run counter to the farmworkers claim on the land and their desire for a better life.
Justice has been elusive for the killing of Ladera while this land use conversion plan apparently is still being pursued by the Cojuangco-Aquino family despite the 2012 Supreme Court (SC) ruling to distribute land to farm workers. The Presidential family has revived the claim of its original Luisita company, the Tarlac Development Corporation (TADECO) to hundreds of hectares of choice agricultural land within the sugar estate.
TADECO has been engaged in aggressive land grabbing measures – literally bulldozing over ricefields and crops and razing farmers’ huts in at least two Luisita villages since December last year. Watchtowers and shotgun-toting security personnel accompany oversized tarpaulin banners arrogantly announcing “SOON TO RISE DEVELOPMENT” in agricultural lands supposedly covered by government land reform. Furthermore, the illegal and immoral claim by TADECO enjoys the support of the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR), the Philippine National Police (PNP), and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP). State forces and government institutions have been mobilized to implement sham land distribution and violent suppression of farm workers.
Up to this day, nobody has been arrested much more convicted for Ladera’s death – while several arrests have been made at the behest of TADECO since its land grabbing activities were exposed by a 2013 fact-finding mission led by Anakpawis Partylist, the Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA), local farmworkers alliance AMBALA, KMP and other peasant advocates.
TADECO continues to file spurious charges against farm workers and their supporters – the most recent of which were levelled against Ladera’s sister, incumbent Tarlac Councilor Emy Ladera-Facunla and 48 Luisita farmers.
Farm workers, residents, and their suporters are still fighting for justice for Abel Ladera and all the brave martyrs of Hacienda Luisita. For genuine land reform and social justice to be achieved, the reign of terror and impunity in Hacienda Luisita – the unabated arrests, harassment of farmers and killings must end.
March 3, 2014
Uma Pilipinas | AMBALA
REFERENCE: Christopher Garcia, spokesperson, AMBALA, 09293200615