at the midst of the meniggococemia hysteria in baguio city around 2005, a more historic event actually happened, it was the hacienda luisita massacre. unfortunately, because of the over-sensationalized news about the false alarmed outbreak of some media networks, only few learned about it.
i remember packing sacks and boxes of rice, vegetables and canned goods to platic bags days before we went to tarlac. we were actually among the first student delegations that went to hacienda after the gruesome killings.
the feeling was beyond words when we stepped off the bus. the sight of hundreds of farmers, consisting of the actual picket line, clapping and cheering at you in tears, was indeed something that you would forever remember. it felt like as if you're given a standing ovation after a delivered speech for an acceptance of a nobel peace award. nonetheless, for me and most of my peers, it is more of an obligation towards our fellowmen than an award that we should keep for ourselves.
you could never imagine the number and weight of various stories that was told to us by different individuals. stories that go about beyond the words of injustice, cruelty and almost inhumane. surprisingly, as much as i wanted not to believe it, all of the accounts are undeniably consistent with one another.
i've heard stories of how farmers almost tire and even kill themselves out in working in the vast sugar cane field. how they've lost their limbs and loved ones in the sharp edges of their own carits. and all of these for what? for a pay slip that is worth P9.50 for a week work. yes, its P9.50 a week!
probably a very small amount of money for most of us. its only a jeep ride from cubao to marikina, an extra rice in a fastfood chain, three pieces of tukneneng in the middle of gil puyat, two pieces of pan de coco in julie's bakery and roughly five marlboro lights sticks.
but for these farmers, P9.50 means a lot. it means a whole family to feed for a week, an amount that will mold their family's survival and future and basically defines the value of their lives.
so who can blame them if they want their voices to be heard by the conjuangcos? if they will form a picket line infront of the central azucarera just for their pleads to be noticed? will you blame them if they'll ask for a higher compensation for a week of hard work? well, i just hope not.
unfortunately for these farmers, the saddest part is yet to come.
november 2005--- after two unsuccesful attempts by the military and the hacienda's administration of crumbling down the line (first was through shield and sticks and the second was with the use of huge firetruck spraying them with a mixture of water, steel dust and liquid sosa), they've come up with their last resort.
the picket line was erected infront of the central azucarera's main gate to block all people who will come out of the premise. when all of a sudden, in the most unexpected time of the day, a huge army tank frocefully crossed and broke down the steel gate. then a number of army men followed the tank and fired their guns randomly. farmers, supporters and children ran for their lives towards the safety of the talling sugar cane field. the air was filled with unending gunfires, agonizing cries and people shouting for the names of their missing loved ones. if i was not mistaken, 19 people died and more than 20 were missings.
no wonder there were a lot of pictures posted on almost all tents when we arrived at the picket line. aside from the pictures of the people whose coffins are inside the tents, there were still other people who were missing and hoping to be found.
each of us were designated with a buddy to ensure our security while inside the hacienda. there, manong jojo was assigned to me. he was a small man, probably six inches smaller than me, his skin was evidence of how often he was under the schorching sun. nonetheless, he has the most wonderful smile among the other farmers.
while we were on our way to the next picket line, he told me a lot of stories about himself. i learned that he has been a farmer in the hacienda all his life and this was passed to him by his father, which was passed over by his father's father as well and so on. inshort, he came from a family of farmers older than the hacienda itself. but unfortunately, it seemed like manong jojo will be the last farmer of their line. he lost his son, JR, on the day of the killings. i was extremely in shock of what i have heard. no words came out of my mouth and even my breathing stopped for a moment. i never expected that for a man who has the most uplifting smile was actually one of those who had the heaviest hearts.
he told me that JR didn't actually join the picket. it was just that day when he thought of bringing his parents a gallon of water just in case there will be another tear gas attack. for the water source from the picket line was actually more or less a mile away. but unfortunately, when JR arrived in the picket line, he was stuck in the middle of the firings. and he was mistakenly assumed to be one of the people who were doing the picket. after the firings, JR's body was seen hanging in the azucarera's wall: his neck wrapped with chicken wires that was used to suspend him: and multiple gun shots and stabbed wounds were found all around his body.
probably if not for the size of the tears (probably the biggest and roundest tears i have ever seen) that were about to drop from manong jojo's eyes while we were takking and the actual pictures that he have shown me, i would not even, in my wildest imagination, believe that it happened. not to mention the fact, that JR's story was just one among the many other stories that happened that day.
on our last night, the media came. i saw one interviewing manong jojo. at last, everyone will now hear his story. that night a "parangal" was given to those who have sacrificed their lives and to to those who are still continuing what they're fighting for. there were cultural presentations from other delegations, solidary messages and speeches from the relatives and loved ones who passed away and those who are missing. that would probably be one of my most celebrated event in my tibak life.
the next morning we bid our farewells to the farmers of hacienda luisita. but before i went inside the bus, i immediately approached manong jojo and gave him a sketch that i tried finishing the night we were introduced. its a portrait of two men embracing one another. but they are separated by a carit's slash. we shook hands and gave our appreciation and gratitude to one another. i will never forget him. these are the things magical and overwhelming about being an activist. for such never really happens in a day to day basis.
when we arrived in baguio. i just took a quick shower and went to the sala to watch the nightly news. after a while, the news about the hacienda luisita came in. i saw the reporter who interviewed manong jojo and he was now talking in the screen. then there were clippings of the picket line. at the back of my head, there was a wishful thinking that i'll be seen. but it didn't. then manong jojo appeared. the actual interview that took probably 15 minutes was only aired for less than 30 seconds. basically, the reporter took first the side of the farmers and then took the side of the military. i really carefully listened to the army's part. the officer in charge, forgot his name though, was now being interview. he claimed that the reason that why their men fired at the farmers because of an intelligence report that claims there were actually npas integrated in the actual picket. then they showed a picture of dead men lying in a hospital floor with high ammunition guns beside them.i was about to explode when i saw the pictures. i was really aggitated watching it that i really began cursing at the top of my throat. i am no expert when it comes to military combats ethics and protocols. but i believe that it is a given fact that a military officer is forbidden to engage in combat around civilians. and even so, following the logic of the officer being interviewed, is it justifiable to assume that all of the people who are in the picket line and around the area as npas, thus, they can randomly shoot at them? second, it is dumb obvious that the high ammunitions were just set up and placed at the side of each of the bodies. who will bring a firearm that big inside any mass assembly?
but even so, sometimes, if you'll come to think of it, its a human and natural reaction that if someone has been stepped on and stripped off of their rights, they will definitely retaliate. although, i am more of the diplomatic type of person, i still believe that it will still and always depend on the personality and decision of the people involve.i really admire people who voice and/or act upon to their principles: determined to be heard regardless if its through the use of arms or in a more diplomatic way.its just sad that at present, most people could not care more about such issues: oil fare hike, corruption and the like. some say that joining rallies, lobbying or what have you, are already not as effective as before. while others just have had enough of seeing, hearing and reading. thus, they would not particpate and worst be empathetic.yes, it is easy for us to say that we actually do and deny the fact that we are sounding defensive. but have you ever thought, what have you really done to address these issues and how effective it is so far?well, i must admit that i, myself is guilty of the things that i am pointing at. and like most of these people, i also have so many things to consider and priorities to mind about. but at the end of the day, whenever i watch the news, i always remember manong jojo and asked myself, what happened?