An ecumenical service to pay tribute to victims of extra-judicial killings in Hacienda Luisita, organized by the Alyansa ng Manggagawang Bukid sa Asyenda Luisita (AMBALA), Unyon ng Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA), Iglesia Filipina Independiente (IFI) was held today in Brgy. Mapalacsiao, Tarlac City, coinciding with the observance of World Hunger Day and the start of Philippine Peasant Week.
Among those given tribute were IFI Bishop Ramento who was killed on October 3, 2006, Bayan-Muna Central Luzon secretary general Florante Collantes, killed October 15, 2005, Central Azucarera de Tarlac Labor Union president and Mapalacsiao brgy. chairman Ricardo Ramos, killed October 25, 2005, and local AMBALA leader Dennis de la Cruz who was killed in November 1, 2013.
“This tribute is a stark reminder that widespread hunger persists among those who toil the land but have no land of their own and that there is gnawing hunger as well for justice for the death of those who valiantly fought for genuine land reform,” said Ranmil Echanis, secretary general of UMA.
The event also inaugurated a marker for Ricardo Ramos, honoring the late village chief’s “principled leadership and militant advocacy for genuine unionism in the sugar workers’ struggle and for genuine land reform.”
After the ecumenical service, the participants joined a march around Brgy. Mapalacsiao which stopped at the exact spot where Ramos was shot by a sniper nine years ago. Witnesses at that time identified Private First Class Roderick U. Dela Cruz and another soldier, Romeo Castillo Jr. as perpetrators of the crime. The case against Castillo was immediately dismissed while de la Cruz was absolved of the killing on December 14, 2013 after spending 4 years in jail.
“Impunity still persists in the same way that hunger remains widespread because those who produce food in the Philippines still wallow in poverty including the agricultural workers in Hacienda Luisita,” said Florida Sibayan, chairperson of AMBALA.
According to the National Statistics Office, “Farmers and fishermen are among the least paid workers in the Philippine economy with an average daily wage and salary of P156.8 and P178.43, respectively in 2011”.
“Most farmers don’t own the land they till while agricultural workers don’t get to work daily and usually have work for only six to nine months and are jobless during so-called seasons or tiempos muertos. The liberalization of the agricultural sector adds to the woes of the farmers as imported agricultural products are sold more cheaply than what they produce,” Echanis said.
“Those who organize themselves, like the members of AMBALA and their supporters, to expose and oppose the prevailing exploitation of peasants are being labeled as trouble makers and everyday face the threat of being imprisoned or even executed,” Echanis added.
“”The tribute to the martyrs of Hacienda Luisita should inspire the ranks of the Luisita farmers to persevere in the struggle against the aggressive and violent moves of the Cojunagco-Aquinos and the Aquino administration to continue depriving the farm workers of land and justice. The best way to honor the bravery of our fallen comrades is to continue the struggle for genuine agrarian reform and national industrialization,” Sibayan said.
Among those who participated in the activity included foreign delegates for an International Fact Finding Mission (IFFM), members of various trade unions, teachers and students organizations, religious groups, and human rights and peasant advocates.