BY ABNER BOLOS
Gitnang Luson News Service
Posted by Bulatlat.com
As the 14th martyr of the Hacienda Luisita struggle was buried, the issues connected to his death continue to hound the strife-torn hacienda.
Concepcion, Tarlac – The mourners marched under the scorching sun passing lush corn and vegetable plots and the giant expressway project that has cut a wide swath across the vast sugar estate.
Tirso Cruz, 33, officer of the United Luisita Workers’ Union (ULWU), was buried on March 28 as the issues connected to his death continue to hound the strife-torn hacienda. He is regarded as the 14th martyr of the Hacienda Luisita struggle.
Cruz was one of the key leaders of the 5,000-strong plantation workers’ union, which along with the sugar mill workers union, launched a strike in November 2004. The strike caused major changes in the relations between the workers and the owners of the 6,000-hectare sugar plantation.
Cruz survived the November 16 Luisita massacre where seven strikers were killed at the picket line. The killing of leaders and supporters of the strike continued, ironically, in the presence of. hundreds of soldiers in detachments in the 10 villages of the hacienda.
The strike ended in December 2005. The stock distribution plan under the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program of the government was revoked paving the way for the transfer of land ownership from the Cojuangco family to the farm workers.
In the course of the strike, the farm workers defied a management edict prohibiting workers to use the land and dared to cultivate parcels for subsistence. They planted vegetables, rice and corn on the land that used to be devoted solely to sugar cane.
The construction of the Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway Project (SCTEP), a flagship project of the Arroyo administration also began in spite of opposition by the farm workers who say that it is part of the scheme to deny them of their claim to the land.
Killed by government agents
Cruz led the cultivation (known here as “bungkalan”) and protests against the expressway project. He was also very vocal in protesting the presence of soldiers and calling for their withdrawal.
Federico Cruz, 60, father of the slain union leader said that only government agents could have killed his son.
He testified that at 12:30 am on March 17, he was walking home along with Tirso and one of his sons in their village in Pando, Concepcion when assassins on board a motorcycle came from behind and repeatedly shot Tirso.
“We passed the motorcycle on the way. Then we heard it moving and coming from behind us. We parted ways as we walked to give way to the motorcycle. Suddenly there was a burst of gunfire and Tirso fell face down on the ground,” the elder Cruz recounted.
He said an assassin poked his rifle at Tirso’s brother and went on to shoot the victim before they sped away, Cruz said.
“The motorcycle passed by the soldiers’ detachment which was only about 100 meters from where my son was killed. Residents went to the detachment to ask for help but were ignored. They even put the lights out in the detachment instead of helping us,” Cruz said. GLNS / Posted by (Bulatlat.com)