The 2004 Hacienda Luisita massacre sent twenty-four year-old Ronaldo Intal of Barangay Asturias manning the picketlines night and day with his partner Sydney Ramos and other activists of SAKDAL or Samahan ng mga Kabataang Demokratiko sa Asyenda Luisita (Association of Democratic Youth in Hacienda Luisita), the youth arm of the Alyansa ng mga Manggagawang Bukid sa Asyenda Luisita or AMBALA.
Ronaldo also became a leader of the Luisita chapter of Anak ng Bayan (Sons and Daughters of the People), the precursor of the present-day Kabataan Partylist.
In 2005, the Presidential Agrarian Reform Council (PARC) ruled that land distribution must be implemented in Hacienda Luisita. Ronaldo then became active in AMBALA’s bungkalan campaign, working and helping his father-in-law Melchor Ramos cultivate a farmlot measuring about half a hectare in Barangay Balete.
Ronaldo was last seen by his relatives on April 3, 2006. He was making charcoal near the Ramos’s farmhut when he was nabbed by government soldiers around noon that same day. Witnesses said that the soldiers belonged to the 70th Infantry Battalion, which was under the 7th Infantry Division then commanded by Gen. Jovito Palparan, Jr.
Sydney was four months pregnant when Ronaldo was forcibly disappeared.
Sydney believes that Ronaldo had been under surveillance. Witnesses said Ronaldo was brought to the Aqua Farm, a former fish breeding station between Barangays Balete and Cutcut. The Aqua Farm was also used as headquarters of the 70th IB, 7th ID. Sydney and Ronaldo’s family looked for him there but soldiers at the Aqua Farm denied taking him into custody. They also searched in hospitals and funeral homes but they failed to find Ronaldo.
His relatives have reason to believe that Ronaldo may have been under the custody of the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ Northern Luzon Command (NOLCOM). His father, Gonzalo, said that his family sought the assistance of then Tarlac City Vice-Mayor Teresita Cabal who informed them that his son was being held by NOLCOM personnel and may be released once Maj. Gen. Jovito Palparan gave the go-signal. The elder Intal quoted Cabal as saying that “Gen. Palparan will not release him yet because his appointment is not yet over.”
The 2012 landmark Supreme Court ruling favored AMBALA and the thousands of oppressed farmworkers. Justice, however, has become even more elusive to Luisita’s tillers under a heartless hacendero president.
Sydney’s father Melchor succumbed to a lingering illness late October last year, around a week after the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) began distributing photocopies of land reform certificates to farmworker-beneficiaries in Hacienda Luisita. The Ramoses refused to join the DAR’s distribution modus because they were hoping that government would finally grant them rights to their small farmlot in Balete and not in a village like Mabilog or Pando 10-15 kilometers away, where most Balete farmworkers were allocated lots via a lottery drum (tambiolo) raffle.
Sydney’s old man died nursing severe heartbreak over renewed harassment and threats of eviction by the Cojuangcos’ armed thugs. They were also charged with ejectment along with hundreds of other farmers by representatives of Tarlac Development Corporation or TADECO, the original Cojuangco-Aquino firm that acquired Hacienda Luisita from Spanish owners.
Another AMBALA leader, Dennis dela Cruz of Barangay Lourdes, came by to pay his last respects to his bungkalan-partner Melchor, only to be found dead the next day, November 1, in the same farmlot where Ronaldo was disappeared several years before. Authorities ruled that his death was a freak accident, but locals believe dela Cruz was murdered by Cojuangco thugs. Sydney and his widowed mother would face more harassment. They had to plead with armed thugs before they could harvest their palay crops, only days after the deaths of their loved ones.
Today, a security outpost stands where their palay crops once thrived. Last December, their ricefield and those of other Balete farmers, together totalling more than 350 hectares, were literally bulldozed by TADECO armed men and have now been reduced into a dusty expanse. With these lands fenced off with concrete and barbed wires by TADECO, and another 500 hectares secured by the Cojuangco’s Luisita Realty Corp. and its business partner RCBC, Ronaldo and Sydney’s once green and very open Balete is now hauntingly grey, resembling less a farming village than a walled garrison.
Eight years after Ronaldo’s disappearance, Sydney still hopes that their son, Padem Rafael would still see his father. Ronaldo may never be resurfaced. Those he left behind can only remember that Ronaldo fought hard so that they may see justice cherished by future generations of sons and daughters of Luisita. ###