Women rising in Hacienda Luisita: farmworkers fight for genuine land reform & justice

Reference: Florida “Pong” Sibayan, AMBALA Chairperson, 09293201477

HACIENDA LUISITA, TARLAC CITY – Amid renewed and escalating agrarian unrest in Hacienda Luisita, and two days before the International Working Women’s Day, global celebrity-activist Monique Wilson today joins Luisita women farm workers in striking, dancing and rising for justice and genuine land reform.

One of the Luisita peasant women is Apong Leoning Halili. In November 2011, Apong Leoning and her family were among those who cried tears of joy upon hearing the news of the Supreme Court’s ruling to finally distribute Hacienda Lusita to its rightful owners – the thousands of farmworker families mired in poverty after decades of toil in this vast, historic and very controversial sugar estate.

Since December of last year, however, Apong Leoning has had to stand vigil everyday over her family’s ricefields and crops in Barangay Cutcut. She is now among the hundreds of Luisita farmworkers facing charges of ejectment filed by the Cojuangco-Aquino firm Tarlac Development Corporation (TADECO). A paramilitary detachment, TADECO armed personnel and security outposts dot the hundreds of hectares of farmlands in their village – an ever present threat that has literally bulldozed its way over the livelihood and human rights of Luisita farmers, ironically in the middle of what the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) has been claiming to be a very successful land distribution process.

Another Luisita village, Barangay Balete, sits amid concrete fences and barbed wires set up by TADECO, the Luisita Realty Corporation (LRC) and Cojuangco business partner RCBC.  Since October of last year,  TADECO continues to conduct violent attacks against Balete farmers.

The women of Hacienda Luisita are no strangers to the peasant struggle. For the past several years, Luisita farmers waged the most gruelling battles with women leaders consistently joining the forefront.

Florida “Pong” Sibayan, acting chairwoman of Hacienda Luisita farmworkers alliance AMBALA, is a survivor of the 2004 Hacienda Luisita massacre. Ate Pong’s gun shot wounds were not to be the last of her battle scars. She would again be shot at by RCBC security guards in 2012 for defending the farmers’ bungkalan land cultivation area now secured by concrete fences.

Simultaneous with the DAR’s commencement of lot allocation activities in Luisita last July, the Philippine Army’s 3rd Mechanized Battalion began to set up company headquarters right beside the ricefields of Sibayan and Rene Galang, United Luisita Workers Union (ULWU) leader and one of the frontliners of the historic Hacienda Luisita strike of 2004.

In September 2013, Ate Pong was hit by police, arrested and detained along with 10 other members of a Luisita fact-finding mission, not sparing the mission’s leader, Anakpawis Partylist Rep. Fernando Hicap. She would encounter the  police, military and TADECO armed men in several confrontations before the bulldozing of farmers’ crops and arrest of more farmers during the last Christmas season. Ate Pong’s mother 76-year old Maria Versola, was among the elderly women of Balete who bravely sat in front of the bulldozers.

Last February 8, Ate Pong’s farmhut were among those razed to the ground by TADECO hired thugs. Several hectares of crops were likewise destroyed and farm implements and personal belongings looted. But Ate Pong and Luisita farmers seem unfazed and are now more resolute in their fight for genuine land reform and justice.

Tarlac City Councilor and Balete resident Emy Ladera-Facunla is not one to be cowed by threats and harassment and trumped-up charges for supporting Hacienda Luisita farmers’ rights. Facunla is the sister of Luisita martyr Abel Ladera, then also a city councilman, who fell victim to extra-judicial killing in March 2005.

Today in Hacienda Luisita, young children join protest marches and old women face bulldozers. They have gained broad support for their struggle through the newly-formed Luisita Watch, a network of agrarian reform advocates led by the likes of former Gabriela Women’s Party Rep. Liza Maza, international actresses Angeli Bayani and Monique Wilson. Wilson, who is also Global Director of the international One Billion Rising campaign, today joins the Luisita farmers in solidarity with their continuing struggle for genuine land reform and justice.

“Our struggle is far from over,” declared Apong Leoning. Apong Leoning is now one of the leaders of the Hacienda Luisita chapter of the national peasant women federation Amihan. Her mother, Maria Corpuz, now 99 years old, still recalls the day when farmers first tilled the land now called Luisita, and yearns for the day when the  next generation of Luisita farmers reap the fruits of their just struggle.

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