To continue to seek justice for victims of the Hacienda Luisita massacre and subsequent political killings related to agrarian unrest in this sugar estate, Luisita Watch will launch a year-long commemoration campaign starting today, March 13 – the 9th death anniversary of Aglipayan priest William Tadena.
An outdoor ECUMENICAL SERVICE led by Iglesia Filipina Independiente Bishop Lito Cruz will be held at the AMBALA hut, 5th St., Brgy. Balete, Hacienda Luisita, Tarlac City at 8am to commemorate the death anniversary of FATHER WILLIAM TADENA (died March 13, 2005) and other Luisita advocates who fell victim to extra-judicial killings (EJK) in the month of March – Tarlac City Councilor ABEL LADERA (died March 3, 2005), United Luisita Workers Union leader TIRSO CRUZ (March 17, 2006) and Anakpawis leader VICTOR “TATANG BEN” CONCEPCION (March 17, 2005).
The service will be followed by a “JERICHO MARCH” around the walls of the disputed agricultural lands in Balete now controlled by the Cojuangco-Aquino-owned Tarlac Development Corporation. Alluding to the Old Testament account of a people who through their unity and thundering shouts set the walls of Jericho crumbling down, the “Jericho March” hopes to inspire the Luisita farm workers to continue their sturggle for genuine land reform and justice amid the literal wall of terror and impunity of the Cojuangco-Aquinos.
The event serves as the launching activity of the HLM-X, a year-long campaign to compel concerned state agencies to finally prosecute and punish the perpetrators of the infamous Hacienda Luisita Massacre which happened in November ten years ago.
The following are excerpts from “For Land & Justice” Hacienda Luisita fact-finding report by UMA, 2013.
Councilor Abel Ladera: Brave Son of Luisita
On March 3, 2005, Abelardo R. Ladera, 45, a duly elected City Councilor was shot dead by a single bullet in the chest while he was buying spare parts for his automobile at the Lyra Auto Supply in Barangay Paraiso, Tarlac City.
Ladera was a member of Bayan Muna (People First) Party-list and was a staunch supporter of the Hacienda Luisita strike. He grew up in Barangay Balete, Hacienda Luisita, where his mother Rosalina was a farmworker and his father Leonardo once worked for the sugar mill. Ladera, an engineer by profession, was once a Balete village councilor and chairman, before he won a post in the Tarlac City council in 2001.
The day before he was shot, Ladera was at the provincial office of the Department of Agrarian Reform (PARO) in Tarlac City to obtain documents on the controversial stock distribution option (SDO) implemented by the Cojuangco-Aquino family in Hacienda Luisita. At the PARO, Ladera was handed a sheaf of documents containing the SDO compliance report of HLI and the corporation’s response to two petitions questioning the SDO submitted by the farm worker beneficiaries and from a group of plantation supervisors.
At around 1:00 pm the next day, March 3, a single sniper’s bullet pierced his heart, killing him instantly.
Ladera vehemently opposed land use conversion in Hacienda Luisita. He was to expose certain details of the land use plan and design of the Cojuangco-Aquino family and President Arroyo’s SCTEX when he was killed. Ladera had said that these projects run counter to the farmworkers claim on the land and their desire for a better life.
Today, large tarpaulin banners announce “Soon to Rise Development” around contested agricultural lots aggressively claimed by the Cojuangco-Aquino family’s Tarlac Development Corporation (TADECO) in Barangay Balete, Hacienda Luisita.
Father William Tadena: Workers’ Priest
On March 13, 2005, only a few days after Councilor Ladera’s murder, Father William Tadena of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente (IFI) or Philippine Independent Church was gunned down after officiating mass in his parish in La Paz, Tarlac.
Fr. Tadena, 37, was chairperson of the Human Rights and Social Concerns Committee of the Diocese of Tarlac. He was an active member of the provincial chapter of the PCPR and KARAPATAN, and a known supporter of the Hacienda Luisita strike. He mobilized his parish to regularly donate rice and food to the striking workers.
At about 7am of March 13, Fr. Tadena celebrated mass at the IFI mission chapel in Barangay Guevara, La Paz town. After the mass, Fr. Tadena, together with his sacristan Charlie Gabriel, parish secretary Ervina Domingo and guitarist Carlos Barsolazo on board an owner-type jeep proceeded to the La Paz town proper to celebrate another mass. Fr. Tadena was driving.
Along the provincial highway some 50 meters from the IFI chapel, an unidentified person hollered at Fr. Tadena and waved for him to stop. This person was joined by another unidentified man at a waiting shed. Both were wearing helmets. When the men approached the jeep, Fr. Tadena already sensed danger and told Domingo, “Ambush na ito (We are being ambushed!).”
The two immediately shot Fr. Tadena and his companions several times. Perpetrators fled to the direction of Victoria town. IFI parishioners brought the victims to the La Paz Medicare Center for first aid, after which they were transferred to the Central Luzon Doctor’s Hospital in Tarlac City.
Despite medical attention, Fr. Tadena did not survive. Barsolazo who was critical underwent surgery and pronounced out of danger. Domingo sustained bruises on her wrists and legs and suffered extreme anxiety.
Bodyguards of then-Congressman Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III were reported as suspects in the killing of Fr. Tadena.
“Tatang Ben” Concepcion: Toiling Masses
On March 17, 2005, Victor Concepcion, 68, a peasant leader and coordinator of party-list group Anakpawis in Pampanga, was shot dead in his daughter’s house in Angeles City. “Tatang Ben” as he was fondly called, also supported the strikers in Hacienda Luisita.
He was secretary-general of the peasant group Aguman da reng Maglalautang Capampangan, the local chapter of the KMP. Concepcion suffered from rheumatic heart disease and acute emphysema and had just been discharged from the hospital.
At 6:45 p.m. March 17, Concepcion was resting in his daughter’s house in Angeles City to recuperate when a gunman aimed at him and fired several shots. He received five bullets including three in the chest and died on the spot.
Tirso Cruz: “Bungkalan” Martyr
On March 17, 2006, around midnight, Tirso Cruz, 33, an officer of the ULWU, was murdered in cold blood as he was walk-ing home with his father and brother in their village, Barangay Pando. Cruz was a member of the ULWU
Board of Directors representing his village Pando where he also served as village councilor.
His father, Federico said that only government agents could have killed his son. He testified that at 12:30 am on March 17, he was walking home along with Tirso and one of his sons in their village in Pando, Concepcion when assassins came from behind and repeatedly shot Tirso.
The two assailants rode a motorcycle and wore ski masks to cover their faces. Cruz died instantly from nine bullets from an M-16 rifle used by the assassins. After committing the murder, the killers poked their guns at Cruz’s brother and calmly drove away passing an army detachment some 100 meters away.
The soldiers and Citizens’ Armed Forces Geographical Unit (CAFGU) members inside the detachment at the time of the shooting did not bother to investigate or help the victim. They even put out the lights when a barangay tanod (village security) member ran to the detachment minutes after the shooting to report the crime and plead for help.
Cruz was at the picketline when the Hacienda Luisita strike commenced in 2004, survived the infamous massacre and courageously fought for workers’ interests even after the strike ended a year after. In the course of the strike, farm workers defied a management edict prohibiting them to use the land and dared to cultivate parcels for subsistence. They planted vegetables, palay and corn on the land that used to be devoted solely to sugarcane.
Cruz led this cultivation initiative known as the “bungkalan.” He also led subsequent protests against the SCTEX project. He was also very vocal in protesting the presence of soldiers and calling for their withdrawal.
Today, agricultural lots devoted to the bungkalan initiative led by ULWU and AMBALA are prime targets of landgrabbing and sugarcane re-conversion by the Cojuangco-Aquinos through TADECO and their lease financier agents such as “Casino Queen” Virgie Torres.