Farmworkers lament whitewash, impunity under Aquino
Powerful images of the 2004 sugar workers’ strike in Hacienda Luisita were pasted by students, faculty and members of the All-UP Workers’alliance today at the Center for International Studies wall, University of the Philippines’ Palma Hall Annex in Diliman, Quezon City to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the infamous Hacienda Luisita massacre.
The public exhibit, #HLMX, is part of the year-long commemoration campaign for the 10th year of the Hacienda Luisita Massacre (HLMX) with events and projects by the Luisita Watch network and its main convenor, the Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA). The pasting of photos at the Palma Hall annex is also part of the march and candle-lighting activities of the End Impunity alliance in UP Diliman today, to mark the 5th year of the Ampatuan massacre and the International Day to End Impunity (November 23).
The #HLMX exhibit is composed of ten photographs taken from Jes Aznar’s reportage on land and land reform in the Philippines which he started ten years ago in Hacienda Luisita. Large photo prints are posted in public places all over the city and beyond. The photos are also publicly available for download at http://hlmx.org for those who want to participate in pasting the images elsewhere.
Aznar’s documentary work on the peasant’s uprising in Hacienda Luisita earned him the start of a career in photojournalism in which he was taken under the mentorship of Romeo Gacad in Agence France Presse. His long-term project to document the roots of conflict in the restive regions of Mindanao landed him a contract in The New York Times, as well as other international publications. With the help of the farm workers themselves, the first few #HLMX photographs were mounted in villages in Hacienda Luisita starting November 12. Volunteers pasted photos in Mendiola, Manila, November 15.
Last November 16, the actual anniversary of the massacre, more photos were pasted on the walls of the Central Azucarera de Tarlac — the very site of the massacre — during the commemorative gathering in honor of Luisita martyrs. Another photo was pasted in San Miguel, Tarlac City near the headquarters of the AFP’s Northern Luzon Command. The photos, and other artworks including an installation by Leeroy New were “whitewashed” by the Cojuangco-Aquinos’ private security personnel in a matter of hours.
“Aquino and his kin will ‘whitewash’ everything – the cases, their public relations, and even these artworks – to keep the nation’s attention away from the blood in their hands,” said Ranmil Echanis, deputy secretary general of UMA. Echanis emphasized that the complete whitewash of the controversial Luisita massacre case happened during the term of Benigno Aquino III as President.
Aquino was Reprepesentative of the 1st District of Tarlac and active manager of the sugar estate during the time of the strike and massacre.
“The Ombudsman completely junked the complaints against military and police officers implicated in the massacre during the first few months of Aquino’s term in 2010, without even conducting a single hearing. In August this year, victims’ kin pleaded to have the case reopened but their motion was immediately denied on October 2 — not even granting their request to be given a copy of the NBI report which was quoted by the Ombudsman in its ruling as basis for the dismissal of the complaints,” said Echanis.
The “confidential” NBI report, which surfaced only this year, however, concludes that the testimonies of the victims, the sugar workers, are more credible than that of the government side, and that there is basis to file criminal charges against several officers. “Impunity in Hacienda Luisita and the rest of the country persists with the massacre perpetrators like Aquino himself and his henchmen, AFP Chief Gregorio Pio Catapang and SOLCOM Chief Ricardo Visaya, occupying the top posts in the government and the military,” said Echanis.
Some of Aznar’s most powerful photos in this current #HLMX line-up first appeared in the groundbreaking documentary video,“Sa Ngalan ng Tubo” produced by Eiler, Tudla and Mayday Productions. The documentarists behind “Sa Ngalan ng Tubo” also captured actual footage of the massacre.
Notes from the #HLMX site describe the photos “(as) witness to the years of (the farmworkers’) resilience in claiming their own land and the years of justice denied to them. Hacienda Luisita has been hailed as the epitome of feudalism and the strongest symbol of failed land reform in the country.” Aznar’s works have been published and exhibited locally and internationally.###