Only a despotic haciendero would call a lowly serf an “ingrate.”
We have heard this too many times straight from cruel landlords of the largely feudal Philippine countryside – those who break their backs in hard toil deserve only a pittance and must be grateful for the generosity of their masters. Slaving subjects must always keep silent about their plight or be branded ingrates.
We refuse to believe that the general public truly share this elite brashness with Aquino and his most rabid defenders. The fight for Mary Jane and for social justice is not over yet, and must continue to seek the broad support of the people. We must not bask in irresponsibly sown divisiveness and intrigue. Hurtful words must not break our unity as an oppressed people seeking justice.
Why did the Veloso family refuse to thank Aquino for saving Mary Jane? Only the Veloso family can say for certain how the Aquino government caused them infinite anguish over the five long years that Mary Jane languished in prison abroad. State officials fed them lies and bungled the handling of Mary Jane’s case. It is this unforgivable, criminal ineptitude that practically sent Mary Jane to the gallows.
We must also cite the case of OFW Joven Esteva who was executed via beheading in Saudi Arabia last March 9. His family learned about his execution from the media after the fact. Mary Jane could have shared this cruel fate with Joven if the Aquino government had its way. Why did the government hide Joven’s predicament from the public and from his own family? Why is there is no Joven Esteva occupying our collective psyche now like Mary Jane? For Aquino and his officials, Mary Jane is better off as a mere statistic, a nameless sakada’s daughter condemned to death in a foreign land.
The people can also find the roots of the family’s plight in Hacienda Luisita. Mary Jane’s story actually started in Aquino’s own backyard. At age 15, Mary Jane’s father Cesar started working as a sakada, or a seasonal sugar cane cutter at the estate, where Cesar’s father, Emeterio also endured hard toil for decades. This oppressive set-up still festering in our countrysides up to this day and age forced the family to find other odd jobs as peddlers and scavengers. This bleak situation compelled Mary Jane to seek opportunities abroad. This is a story typical of every Filipino family amid widespread hopelessness and destitution here in the country.
In predictable cacique fashion, Aquino arrogantly said that he did not create Mary Jane’s problem. But Aquino is a scion of one of the country’s biggest landlord families to ever hold state power and Hacienda Luisita is undeniably the face of every known human rights violation in the country. Must we now imitate the twisted reasoning of the powerful to further silence the oppressed? Must we really take part in rubbing salt on the victims’ open wounds?
We have heard this before from Aquino. Thousands of Hacienda Luisita sugar workers should not have mounted the unprecedented strike of 2004 to demand decent jobs and wages. They should have been grateful they have become “stockholders” of the Hacienda Luisita Inc., (HLI) due to the benevolence of the Cojuangco-Aquinos and the CARP’s stock distribution option (SDO) scheme. Why complain if they only receive a mind-boggling P 9.50 every pay day as supposed co-owners of the estate? The dead and the wounded are only to blame for the bloody dispersal and massacre that ensued, according to this landlord president and his ilk.
Beneficiaries of land distribution in Hacienda Luisita after the 2012 Supreme Court decision which revoked the oppressive SDO scheme must now keep silent on anomalies and violence surrounding the sham land reform process. They must be grateful to the Aquino government for finally awarding them pieces of paper called CLOAs which say that they must now start to pay government for land amortization. They must show gratitude for the expeditious land reform process, lest they be assaulted and arrested. Farmers must be thankful for the CLOAs while their rice fields and huts are razed to the ground by Cojuangco-Aquino goons assisted by the military, elite SWAT teams, and even employees of the Department of Agrarian Reform, the government agency tasked to implement total land distribution. Luisita farmers must not ask for anything more, as far as this cacique dispensation is concerned.
When the family of Mary Jane Veloso went up the stage during the mammoth Labor Day protest in Mendiola, Manila, Nanay Celia and her daughter Maritess poured profuse and heartfelt thanks to everyone who helped them save the life of their dear Mary Jane. Everyone – from individuals who stayed at home to offer prayers, to the various groups and institutions that the family even wanted to enumerate one by one so they may personally convey their gratitude.
Anyone present during this sincere outpouring would not dare insult the family with unfair and painful tags reserved by tyrant hacienderos for their defiant subjects.
Instead of thanking Aquino, we must unite as a people to hold his leadership accountable. We must learn from Yolanda and Mamasapano and Mary Jane before any other Filipino ends up as another hapless victim.
Mary Jane must not be made a trophy to salvage Aquino’s dwindling popularity. There is no other course for the discredited haciendero Aquino but to step down from office.
Vice-Chairperson, Alyansa ng mga Manggagawang Bukid sa Asyenda Luisita (AMBALA)
Deputy Secretary General, Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA)