Bu-lat-lat (boo-lat-lat) verb: to search, probe, investigate, inquire; to unearth facts

Volume IV,  Number 21              June 27 - July  3, 2004            Quezon City, Philippines


Outstanding, insightful, honest coverage...


Join the Bulatlat.com mailing list!

Powered by groups.yahoo.com

Ex-President’s Hacienda Workers Score Crackdown

Since early May, 100 sugar workers in the Cojuangco-owned Hacienda Luisita have been recruited to the Citizens’ Armed Forces Geographical Unit (Cafgu).  These paramilitary forces augment the Alpha Company of the 69th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army (IBPA) that maintains two detachments inside the hacienda making it the most militarized area in the province of Tarlac.

By Dabet Castañeda

When a militant farm worker won the presidency of a union in Hacienda Luisita, the military’s presence was immediately reinforced by the recruitment of paramilitary men. This is hardly a coincidence based on the developments in Hacienda Luisita in Tarlac, some 120 kms north of Manila.

Hacienda Luisita, Inc. (HLI) is owned and operated by the family of former president Corazon Cojuangco-Aquino.  It has a total land area of 6,453 hectares and covers 10 barangays (villages) in the towns of La Paz and Concepcion in the province of Tarlac in Central Luzon. 

Since early May, 100 sugar farm workers in this hacienda have been recruited to the Citizens’ Armed Forces Geographical Unit (Cafgu).  These paramilitary forces augment the Alpha Company of the 69th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army (IBPA) that maintains two detachments inside the hacienda, one in Brgy. Pando and another in Brgy Texas.  

A sugar farmer at work in Hacienda Luisita 

Ten Cafgus have been organized in the villages of Pando, Motrico, Astirias, Texas, Bantog, Cutcut, Balete, Mapalacsiao, Parang and Mabilog. The recruitment coincided with the elections for the new set of officers of the United Luisita Workers Union (ULWU), the union of the hacienda’s 5,339 sugar farm workers. 

For the first time since its inception in 2001, the Alyansa ng mga Manggagawang Bukid sa Hacienda Luisita (Ambala, or the Alliance of Farm Workers in Hacienda Luista), a militant sugar farm workers’ group, fielded six of its officers and members to run for the union leadership.

Of the six, only Boyet Galang, who ran for the presidency, won. Galang is also the chairperson of Ambala.

Since the campaign started, said Karina Espino, secretary general of Ambala, the Cafgu and the military have harassed the candidates and the farm workers belonging to their group. Espino also ran for treasurer in the union elections but lost. 

Ang mga military, kasama ang mga Cafgu ay umiikot sa loob ng asyenda at ipinagtatanong kung saan nakatira ang mga opisyal ng Ambala” (The military, together with the Cafgu, roam around the hacienda and ask around where the Ambala officers live), said Espino in an interview with Bulatlat.com in Quezon City.

Last June 2 during a campaign sortie at the covered court inside Balete, Espino said soldiers encircled the crowd while Galang was delivering a speech.  The soldiers left the area only after the activity was over.

The following day, two military vehicles tailed the union candidates while they were holding a motorcade.

Espino said the presence of the military and paramilitary forces inside the hacienda is a ploy by the HLI management to intimidate the voters and force them not to vote for the progressive candidates from Ambala.

The workers union

In an earlier interview with Bulatlat.com, Galang said that ULWU officers did not represent the sentiments of most of the HLI sugar farm workers. 

He described the outgoing president, Boy Sigua, as a “bayarang maton” (paid goon) of the Cojuangcos and a “yellow leader.” “Kasabwat siya sa panunupil sa aming mga karapatan (at) sa pagkakait ng aming kabuhayan” (He is an accomplice to the repression of our rights and to the deprivation of our livelihood.), he said. 

The farmer leader said Sigua has always taken the side of the Cojuangcos in the sugar farm workers’ struggle against diminishing man days, land conversion, retrenchment and the Stock Distribution Option (SDO). 

Their active participation in the elections is for the promotion of the sugar farm workers’ rights and welfare through their union, Galang said. 

In the union elections last June 6, Sigua lost to Galang by around 850 votes. Galang will assume his post on July 1, according to HLI election chair Roberto Agustin.


When Aquino came to power in 1986 after a people power revolt that toppled the Marcos dictatorship, one of her flagship programs was the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP).

The CARP was aimed at addressing the need for a genuine land reform program. One of its provisions was to transfer the ownership of land to small farmers including sugar farm workers. 

In HLI’s case, critics said however, the Aquino family used CARP to keep the hacienda ownership. 

One of the provisions of the CARP was the Stock Distribution Option (SDO) that distributed shares of stock to beneficiaries instead of subdividing the hacienda and distributing the land to small farmers.

HLI was established on August 23, 1988 as a spin-off corporation of the Tarlac Development Corporation (TADECO) to operationalize the SDO in Hacienda Luisita.

In the same year, the HLI distributed certificates of shares of stocks to more than 6,000 sugar farm workers, technically making them co-owners of the hacienda. 

Galang said the SDO virtually made the farm workers give up their rightful claim to the agricultural lands of the hacienda in exchange for meager shares of capital stock and production shares.

“The SDO formula in HLI was used by the Cojuangcos to evade physical land distribution and has in fact strengthened their control over the hacienda,” said Galang. 

Stocks and production shares are distributed on the basis of the number of man days (working days).  The amount of shares equivalent to each day of work determines individual shares of each qualified farm worker. 

As a farm worker is guaranteed only 80 man days a year, the shares of capital stock amount to P737 ($13.19, based on exchange rate of P55.88 per US dollar) a year while production shares do not go beyond P1,120 ($20.04). 

Diminishing man days

As workload is sufficient during the milling season (i.e., October to November), there are four to five man days or working days per sugar farm worker per week. It stretches to six days during the planting season in December.  During the off-milling season (i.e., January to September), sugar farm workers only have two man days a week.  

For each man day, a seasonal sugar farm worker receives a gross pay of P199.17 ($3.56) and for casuals, P194 ($3.47) which translates to a maximum of P1,327.80 ($23.76) and P1,296 ($23.19), respectively, per month based on 80 guaranteed man days.

In one year, seasonal sugar farm workers receive P15,933.60 ($285.14) and casuals, P15,520 ($277.74).

Based on their pay slips, however, the workers’ take home pay is  P9.50 ($0.17) a day or less than P20 ($0.36) a week as loans and taxes are deducted from their salary. 

Galang said the diminishing man days are significantly affected by land-use conversion and mechanization in the hacienda.  Since 1988, guaranteed man days have drastically dropped as the demand for manual work fell.

Pinapalitan na ng mga makina ang mga manggagawang bukid sa hacienda” (Machines replace the farm workers in the hacienda.), he said.

He said that the HLI management has acquired high-tech machines for farming, sprinkling, fertilizer dissemination and harvesting.  The management has so far acquired two hurricanes used for sprinkling, four targets and around ten mechanical planters. 

Land conversion  

When the hacienda was acquired by the Cojuangcos in 1958, the total land area for sugar was 7,200 hectares. At present, sugar plantations only cover 3,200 hectares due to land-use conversion. 

Since the mid-1980s, the Cojuangcos have started to turn HLI from a sugar plantation to an industrial, commercial and residential area.  Through this, the new companies within the hacienda allowed the Cojuangco family to reap millions of pesos in profit.  Documents acquired by Ambala show that the Cojuangcos earned not less than P750 million ($13.42 million) from 1998 to 2002 alone.

The 500-hectare Central Techno Park being developed by Japanese investors 

Parts of the hacienda were converted into the Luisita Golf and Country Club (70 hectares) and the Luisita Industrial Park (Phase 1, 120 hectares; Phase 2, 500 hectares). Japanese investors also came in by developing the 500-hectare Central Techno Park. 

Several hectares have also been converted to allow the planned Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway to wedge through the.

Exclusive residential lands have also risen including the Family Park Homes Subdivision, the Don Pepe Cojuangco Subdivision (Phases 1 to 4), and the Las Haciendas Industrial Subdivision while the St. Luis Subdivision is under development. 

Sabi ng management, makabubuti daw ang pagtatayo ng mga pabrika sa loob ng asyenda dahil makapagbibigay daw ito ng trabaho sa mga mamamayan dito pero malaking kalokohan lang yan” (According to management, the building of factories inside the hacienda is good since it will give jobs to the residents but this is a big lie), Galang said.

He said that of the total labor force in the LPI, only 5 percent come from the residents of the hacienda. Galang says the employers refuse to take in residents from the hacienda on the pretext that they are unqualified and that they are known to be “militant.” 

Lalong hindi tinatanggap kung nalaman nila na anak ng kasapi sa Ambala. Iniisip nila, baka magtayo lang ng unyon dun ang mga it” (The sons of Ambala members are especially not accepted. Employers think that they may organize unions), he added.  


Now of the 5,339 sugar farm workers in the HLI, 2,500 are set to be “de-listed” from the master list.  To make this possible, Galang said, the HLI management started to push for the early retirement scheme and to approach several master list members to secretly make them sign a waiver or a “quit claim.”

A five-page document secured by Bulatlat.com revealed a letter being dangled by the management set to be “submitted” to Ricardo C. Lopa Jr., farm manager of the HLI.  According to the letter, HLI distributed a memorandum dated July 24, 2003 regarding the optional/early retirement program.  It suggested that if signed, the employee would be given benefits but would be terminated from his or her work in the sugar farm.

A second letter, also signed by Lopa, stated that the HLI is restrained to undertake a Manpower Reduction Program because of “adverse business conditions.”

A third letter, which had the name of Lopa in the letterhead, signified the willingness of the sugar farm worker to be included in the list of employees to be retrenched by the HLI. 

The fourth and fifth pages are forms for the official Release, Waiver and Quit Claim. 

For workers’ rights and welfare

The Ambala officers’ decision to run for seats in the union is to advance the rights and welfare of the sugar farm workers in the hacienda. 

Sawa na kami sa mga dilawang lider ng aming unyon.  Dapat nang pamunuan ito ng mga tunay na militante at makabayang lider na nagsasapuso sa karapatan at kagalingan ng mga manggagawang bukid” (We are already tired of yellow leaders in our union. It should now be led by militant and nationalist leaders who take to heart the rights and welfare of farm workers.), Galang said. 

But it is not at all easy to fight the powerful Cojuangco clan, he said. Aside from the harassment from military and paramilitary forces that he has to bear, he and other colleagues also have to endure red baiting.

During the campaign for the union elections, several black propaganda materials were distributed in the hacienda naming him and three others as “candidates of the CPP-NPA-NDF (Communist Party of the Philippines-New Peoples Army-National Democratic Front).”  The materials also said that Galang and the three others are “controlled” by the communists and that they “aim to be a factor in the downfall of the Cojuangcos and the HLI.” 

But Galang said this is just part of the psychological-war operations of the military in connivance with the Cojuangcos to harass and discourage him from running in the union elections.  He said it also aims to intimidate the voting populace of the hacienda.

“We’re ready for any eventuality. Although we take precautions, we remain undaunted,” he said.  Bulatlat.com/Photos by Dabet Castañeda

Part I: Lands are Back in the Hands of the Lords

Part II: Are Filipino Peasants Better Off Now?

Back to top

We want to know what you think of this article.