MANILA, January 17 — Hacienda Luisita farmers describe as “pure hypocrisy” President BS Aquino’s speech to welcome Pope Francis in Malacanang yesterday.
Florida Sibayan, chairperson of the Alyansa ng mga Manggagawang Bukid sa Asyenda Luisita (AMBALA), an affiliate of the national federation Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA) says that the President pompously projects himself as “walang bahid (faultless)” even when his government has been shamelessly aiding his kin, the Cojuangco-Aquino family, maintain control of Hacienda Luisita despite a landmark Supreme Court decision for total land distribution.
In his speech, President Aquino praised the late Bishop Emeritus Antonio Fortich, among other religious leaders, for daring to speak out against the Marcos dictatorship, but he then took a swipe at bishops who were allegedly silent on abuses of the past administration. Aquino even griped about some bishops now criticizing everything, including his hair.
Ranmil Echanis, deputy secretary general of UMA added that “The late Bishop Fortich might turn in his grave. Bishop Fortich was not only against the Marcos dictatorship, he was also vocal against landlordism and exploitation of sugar workers.” Fortich’s first act after he was named Bishop in Bacolod in 1967 was to call on sugar planters to provide just wages to workers. In a pastoral letter on the plight of sugar workers, Fortich even stressed the right of workers to form unions.
During his time, Bishop Fortich was instrumental in the immediate implementation of land reform on church properties, the opening the Social Action Centre and free legal aid program for the poor and the sacadas (sugar workers); and church support for the establishment of the National Federation of Sugar Workers (NFSW), now a local affiliate of UMA in Negros island.
“In contrast, Luisita workers received a measly P9.50 per payday when they decided to strike against the Cojuangco-Aquinos’ Hacienda Luisita, Inc. (HLI) in 2004. Aquino, who was then an administrator of the sugar estate, not only denied Luisita farmworkers just wages. Farmworkers know for a fact that Aquino is one of the perpetrators of the Hacienda Luisita massacre,” said Echanis.
The violent strike dispersal in Hacienda Luisita on November 16, 2004 killed seven and wounded hundreds of others. Aquino, who was then a Congressman, defended the massacre in a privilege speech only hours after the bloodbath.
Today, farmers describe Aquino’s implementation of land reform as “a monumental sham,” while violent eviction, unlawful arrests and threats against farmers continue, ten years after the massacre. Attacks against farmers are still perpetrated by President Aquino’s family with the help of armed state forces and other institutions.
“The decades of oppression and injustice suffered by thousands of farmworkers under the Cojuangco-Aquinos is the perfect example of ‘glaring, scandalous inequality’ in Philippine society,” added Sibayan, referring to Pope Francis’s Malacanang speech.