Farmers from Hacienda Luisita say it’s not too late for Pope Francis to make a detour from the scheduled meeting between the Holy Pontiff and President Benigno Aquino III, today at Malacanang.
Luisita farmers invited Pope Francis to be with the people at Mendiola and bless the site, known to many as a historic location where generations of Filipino masses have staged demonstrations to air the country’s real situation.
The Luisita contingent led by the Alyansa ng mga Manggagawang Bukid sa Asyenda Luisita (AMBALA) and the national federation Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA) will be at the Salubong ng Mamamayan at Mendiola Bridge along with other marginalized sectors. The Salubong is organized by the People’s Committee to Welcome the Pope or People’s Welcome.
“The Pope must know that Malacanang is only a few meters away from a massacre site,” said Florida Sibayan, of AMBALA and People’s Welcome.
Sibayan is referring to the infamous Mendiola Massacre of 1987. Thirteen (13) farmers were killed in the violent dispersal of a peasant demonstration under the first Aquino president, Corazon Cojuangco-Aquino, mother of incumbent President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino. Land distribution in Hacienda Luisita, the Cojuangco-Aquino-controlled sugar estate in Tarlac province, was among the major campaign promises of the Aquinos.
According to Palace officials, the meeting between the two Heads of State provides them with the opportunity to exchange views on domestic and international matters. Farmers hope that if the Pope indeed chooses to go on with his planned itinerary and meet with Aquino, Hacienda Luisita and the dismal state of Philippine peasants would be tackled.
Says Sibayan: “Twenty-eight years after the Mendiola Massacre, farmers are still clamoring for land reform. We are still struggling against landlessness, impunity and injustice.”
Sibayan is also a survivor of a similar atrocity against farmers ten years ago, the Hacienda Luisita massacre of 2004. President Aquino, who was then a congressman and administrator of the sugar estate, is identified by farmers as one of the perpetrators of the bloodshed which killed seven striking sugar workers and wounded hundreds of others.
Under the current Aquino regime, the Luisita massacre case was denied due process twice. All the perpetrators were cleared of charges in 2010 and the victims’ plea to reopen investigation was denied in October 2014. Farmers call the implementation of Luisita land distribution a sham while grave human rights violations against them continue.
After the 2004 massacre, more union leaders and peasant advocates fell victim to extrajudicial killings related to the land dispute in Luisita. Victims include Ricardo Ramos, president of the Central Azucarera de Tarlac Labor Union (CATLU), Tarlac City Councilor Abel Ladera, and even church people — Fr. William Tadena and Bishop Alberto Ramento of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente.
Farmers hope that the Pope echo their appeal: “Pope Francis, Pope of the Poor, stand with us for land, justice and peace!” ###