By SARAH RAYMUNDO
Twenty seven years ago on January 22, 1987, 10,000-15,000 marching farmworkers of Hacienda Luisita and land reform advocates were met with bullets as they bravely wagered for land, labor, and life. This fatal encounter, now known as the Mendiola Massacre, between farmworkers and the state is a scandalous event that instantly killed 13 protesters, the same event that made a premature break with the new regime’s professed democratic restoration after the dark years of Martial Law.
Mendiola and beyond
At the height of the U.S.-sponsored Marcos dictatorship, it was in Mendiola where countless students, professionals, workers, farmers, students, urban and rural poor dwellers, and church people symbolically confronted the ills of a nation gripped by imperialist plunder and fascist rule. It was a time in Philippine history, yet not the first and definitely not the last, when sectors in society constituted themselves as subjects of democracy, fully present as they stared terror in the eye. Terror was not consigned to an elsewhere: terror is here, and it must be defeated. That spirit culminated in EDSA on February 25, 1986 in what shall be known as an exceptional bloodless revolution, our very own People Power.
All that, which the People Power stood for, was betrayed in 1987, along with then president Corazon Cojuanco-Aquino’s promise of land reform, when anti-riot police under the command of Gen. Ramon Montano, Task Force Nazareno under the Command of Cesar Nazareno, and police forces from the Western Police District under then Brig. Gen. Alfredo Lim, and some more from the marines were positioned to defend Malacañang Palace. Apart from guns, they were equipped with water canons, fire trucks and tear gas.
A survivor of the Mendiola Massacre recalls how the sound of gunfire fell on his ears: arbitrary, sporadic, and merciless. Along with a group of students, he then ran furiously away from Roces Ave. toward Recto as he struggled against utter suffocation from consuming tear gas that was sprayed all over in copious amounts. They took refuge at the Pasig River’s bank by the Quezon Bridge where they had washed off the last trace of poison on their besieged faces. This experience pushed him to do research on agrarian unrest in the countryside where he had to confront the Citizen Armed Force Geographical Unit (CAFGU) that had multiplied like mushrooms in the reign of Corazon Aquino. He had his unforgettable brush with death when a CAFGU officer halted him from heading to his study site. He was asked to hold a piece of stone in his hand. If it turns green, he lives. But if it turns blue, he dies. As the armed citizen brandished his gun, the bewildered Mendiola Massacre survivor turns in the stone with a sigh of resignation. He knew his life depended on the arbitrariness of the butcher’s vision. Green became the color of life. Yet to this day, Dean Roland Tolentino knows only too well how we, the Filipino people, have yet to liberate ourselves from state terror.
A pervasive slave economy?
The exploitation and oppression in Hacienda Luisita —the case for which is most substantial—pose very difficult challenges not only for its farmworkers but for the current regime led by one of its heirs. BS Aquino is a proud inheritor of the legacy, bogus democracy and dubious change. By no means, however, does this situation put the rulers and the ruled on the same ground. The Cojuanco-Aquino clan continues to enjoy the benefits of what approximates a slave economy from which regular farmworkers are supposed to “receive only P 199.50 a day while seasonal or casual farmworkers, only 194.50. What they actually receive is a minimum of P9.50 a day, or for many others, only P9.50 a week because management only allowed one or two working days a week (1).” This reduced figure may also be the sum of what remains from what the farmworkers have owed from farm implements, tenancy, previous debts, and all that it takes to make a harvest.
Did not debt bondage largely defined the lives of slaves of the Roman Empire? While the freedom of the free laborer defined the bondage of slaves in the same period, the case of Hacienda Luisita in the 21st century painfully reveals that the status of the farmworkers as free laborers (as the former denotes free labor) is a cover-up for the bondage of slaves. The imperialist-mediated transition from serfdom to “free labor” marked the creation of modern slaves serving commercial agriculture in a global system of capitalist surplus extraction.
What exactly does the characterization ‘slave economy’ mean to explain? It is certainly not a criterion to define the dominant mode of production. Rather, the characterization describes the principal form of surplus extraction, which comes closer to the mode of exploitation responsible for the wealth of the Cojuanco-Aquinos (2).
Karl Marx posited that once capitalism touches a precedent mode of production, it will transform the latter into its own image and likeness. That is a scenario that was no longer possible once capitalism had to resolve its own crisis of overproduction, and this resolution meant war against the peoples of pre-capitalist formations. Marx, however, did not live long enough to take this into account.
The victory of the 1896 Philippine Revolution against Spain was sabotaged by Imperialist America. Its imperial project was defined by neo-colonial institution-building and genocide. Following a smooth transition, the anti-feudal and anti-colonial revolution led by Andres Bonifacio would have ushered in a democratic republic under the auspices the local elite and their bid for industrialization. The U.S. Imperialist sabotage resulted in an impacted Philippine economy, one that undercuts the theoretical potential of global capital’s penetration into a feudal formation. Capitalism’s penetration into a feudal formation did not turn the latter into its own image and likeness. The Philippine case, along with other agrarian societies in South America and the some parts of Asia, show how capitalist surplus extraction can only be subsidized by a feudal formation in the era of imperialism through a puppet state. In short, feudalism continues to be the social base for capitalist incursions. The slogan “Pyudalismo, Ibagsak!” has lost none of its sharpness and urgency today.
The foregoing explication, despite its digression from Marx’s specific formulation, is actually an affirmation of the potency of the theory of the mode of production (MOP). MOP liberates historical understanding from capitalist teleology, which can only be deterministic. The Marxist critique of political economy bears within itself the necessity of a claim on a humane future based on past and current contradictions, as it grasps historical specificity vis a vis a universalist vision. The Hacienda Luisita case renders a very unique and interesting interplay of feudal exploitation and global capital penetration through imperialist expansion; and an attendant mode of appropriation enabled by juridical and political mechanisms administered by a puppet state.
The political dimension takes on a significant and long-term function on the history of struggle in Hacienda Luisita. Precisely, through Marxist political economy, one is able to glean politics not as mere disguise for economics. It lucidly exposes how a puppet state like the Philippine government has performed a bureaucratic-redistributive role from the Magsaysay regime to the 2012 Supreme Court (SC) ruling to ensure that through a ruling body (the state) surplus labor and the extraction of which can only be administered and appropriated by the ruling elite.
What after the 2012 SC Ruling?
“To this day, however, not a hectare of land has been distributed to more than 4,000 farmworkers beneficiaries of Hacienda Luisita”(3).
That another massacre took place in Hacienda Luisita on November 16, 2004, killing seven people and seriously injuring 121 others demonstrates, yet again, how the state apparatus can easily morph into a killing machine once its class interest is challenged by the well-founded interest of a strike joined by 5,000 farmworkers and union members. “[A]round 700 policemen, 17 truckloads of soldiers in full battle gear, two tanks equipped with heavy weapons, a pay loader and four fire trucks with water cannons were assembled to confront the picketline (4). This fascistic situation was legitimized by Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) Secretary Patricia Sto. Tomas who issued an “assumption of jurisdiction” (AJ), citing that Hacienda Luisita and the CAT are vital to the national interest.
Eight years after the HLI Massacre, and 45 years after the prescribed redistribution of land to the farmers as per the conditions of Cojuanco’s loans from Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) and GSIS, which made it possible for the family to possess the hacienda to this day, the Supreme Court ruled for the redistribution of Hacienda Luisita. But this ruling did not eclipse unemployment, repression, low wages, and bogus benefits—conditions that shape the daily lives of the farmworkers.
The Department of Agarian Reform (DAR) was supposed to facilitate the execution the SC resolution on the HLI case, that is, to transfer land ownership of agricultural lands to qualified farmworkers within a one-year period. Nearly two years after the SC ruling, the farmworkers have to deal with a host of barriers for the SC ruling to materialize.
The 4,000 farmworkers beneficiaries of land reform are now dealing with a diminishing extent of land for redistribution. From 4,915 hectares agricultural land less 580.15 hectares of land converted for the Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway (SCTex), farmworkers are left with 4,335.60 based on the July 5, 2011 SC decision. However, DAR now insists on only 4,099 hectares to be redistributed.
Repressive acts such as harassment, imprisonment, bulldozing of farmlands and destruction of plants and crafts are committed against the farmworkers with impunity. These brutal conditions reached a horrible peak from September to December 2013. The Alyansa ng mga Manggagawang Bukid sa Asyenda Luisita (AMBALA) has filed an urgent petition for issuance of cease and desist order before DAR to stop the Tarlac Development Corporation (TADECO) from destroying their crops and the agricultural character of the land. No amount of new year optimism could beat such repressive conditions to make it possible for farmers to begin to tend their farms again. Cases of intimidation and harassment were also noted during the “tambiolo raffle.” Despite DAR’s propaganda photos that project prosperity at Hacienda Luisita, the same agency is complicit to the heavy presence of police and military as it conducted its own unique version of land redistribution through a lottery drum. The randomness of the tambiolo raffle sowed confusion, chaos, and even disunity in the community. Clearly, TADECO with the assistance of DAR, and police and military forces have not ran out of schemes akin to the Stock Distribution Option (SDO) and Block farming, to circumvent the SC Ruling for land redistribution.
The U.S. Cojuanco-Aquino regime has imposed a media blackout on Hacienda Luisita to neutralize the rest of us from its own inhumanely violent defense of absolute property. But tables do turn. The boon that has been Hacienda Luisita to the Cojuanco-Aquino clan may just as well be the baneful poison that will end the Luisita bloodbath. This is why our ability to fight must be honed to the razor’s edge.
(1)For Land and Justice: The Conituing Agrarian Struggle in Hacienda Luisita (Report of the 2013 Agrarian Mission)
(2)Ellen Meiksines Wood problematizes ancient and modern forms of democracy in her book Democracy Against Capitlism: Renewing Historical Materialism (1996). Great Britain: Cambridge University Press. In Chapter 6, she briefly problematizes the concept of slave economy from which the above argument follows
(4) For Land and Justice: The Conituing Agrarian Struggle in Hacienda Luisita (Report of the 2013 Agrarian Mission).p. 18.
The author is a full-time faculty at the University of the Philippines-Center for International Studies (UP-CIS Diliman) and a member of the National Executive Board of the All U.P. Academic Employees Union. She is the current National Treasurer of the Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) and the External Vice Chair of the Philppine Anti-Impeiralist Studies (PAIS). She is also a member of the Editorial Board of Interface: A Journal for Social Movements