EDSA at 25: Aquino is wasting legacy of People Power, say farmers

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Hacienda Luisita farmer. Photo by KR Guda
Photo by KR Guda

For Filipino farmers, filling a stage with actors and performers is hardly the best way to commemorate the culmination of more than a decade’s fight against the Marcos dictatorship. “It would have been better if President Aquino does something worthy of EDSA 1 such as announce the surrender of the Cojuangco family’s unjust claim on Hacienda Luisita,” Willy Marbella of KMP said.

By INA ALLECO R. SILVERIO
Bulatlat.com
Posted by BICOLTODAY.com

MANILA — Wasting the legacy of the 1986 Edsa People Power uprising.

This was how Hacienda Luisita farmworkers and the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) described the administration of President Benigno S. Aquino III on the eve of the 25th anniversary of the popular revolt that ousted the Marcos dictatorship and installed Aquino’s mother, Corazon C. Aquino, to the presidency.

“The Aquino administration is in the thick of preparations for the February 25 anniversary of Edsa People Power. It even had tarpaulin banners and high-rise billboards put up all over the metropolis praising President Aquino’s mother and calling her an icon of democracy. For us farmers, it is very hard to accept how the incumbent government is packaging what happened 25 years ago because for us, the legacy of the uprising has been wasted,” said KMP deputy secretary-general for internal affairs Willy Marbella.

Marbella said that for KMP, the assertion that democracy and genuine freedom were achieved after Edsa 1 was a based on an illusion.

“Farmers believed the late president Cory Aquino’s promises that she would implement what the dictatorship did not – genuine land reform – but this did not happen. The Cory administration refused to put Hacienda Luisita under agrarian reform after the ratification of the 1987 Constitution. She instead pushed for the passage of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) of 1998 with the help of the landlord-dominated congress and saved HLI for the Cojuangco family,” he said.

Marbella said that 25 years after Edsa, Filipino farmers are still being denied the land they till and that the neglect suffered by the greatest majority of the population could not be called “democracy.”

“All these years and up to now, the government and its agencies tasked to uplift the plight of farmers have denied the right of farmers to own the land they till. Farmers continue to suffer untold poverty and want. In President Aquino’s own backyard, thousands of farmworkers in HLI live a hand-to-mouth existence and daily, the injustice worsens because the president himself cares nothing about what happens to farmworkers and their families,” he said.

“Filling a stage with actors and actresses, singers and theater performers is hardly the best way to commemorate a historic date, the culmination of more than a decade’s fight against the Marcos dictatorship. It would have been better if President Aquino does something worthy of Edsa 1 such as announce the surrender of the Cojuangco family’s unjust claim on Hacienda Luisita,” Marbella said.

Members of the Edsa Commission, formed by Malacañang to handle the government’s Edsa 1 commemorative celebration, have previously announced a long lineup of activities which began last February 17. An inaugural coffee table book titled Noynoy: Triumph of a People’s Campaign, detailing the rise of President Noynoy Aquino to power, was launched on the same date.

“Major” players of the uprising are expected to attend the celebrations on February 24 and 25, namely former president Fidel Ramos, Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile and other members of the military. All the uniformed components of the government, the AFP and PNP, and the training institutes such as the Reserve Officers Training Corp (ROTC) will also be part of the opening flag ceremonies.

On February 25, from 7 a.m. to 12 midnight, the northbound lane of Edsa will be transformed into a party-ground as a food fair will be put up and Edsa committee member singer Ogie Alcasid spearheads the launching of the Tatak Edsa program.

The Edsa 1 activities will be capped by a fun-run on the February 27. Called the “People Power Run”, the activity will be led by the Ninoy-Cory Aquino Foundation and will cover a route from Ortigas to Green Meadows to the C5. Organizers also said that there will also be simultaneous runs in Cebu City, Zamboanga City, Dipolog, Angeles City, and the Bicol Region.

Alcasid said a song for the Edsa anniversary will be launched titled “Narito Ako Pilipino.” It will be sung by various artists.

Other officials of the Edsa commission estimate an attendance of 30,000 to join the activities, 3,000 or 5,000 of which are from the military.

The chairman of the Alyansa ng mga Magbubukid sa Gitnang Luzon (AMGL) also slammed the celebrations, saying that the Aquino administration was sugarcoating its real anti-farmer and anti-land reform character by “resurrecting” the ghost of Cory Aquino and presenting her as an icon of democracy.

Joseph Canlas, AMGL chair, said the previous Cory government all but destroyed the spirit of People Power when police and military troops shot and killed farmers holding a peaceful demonstration in Mendiola on January 22, 1987, an event that has since been called the infamous Mendiola Massacre.

“Cory also implemented the CARP which was useless to farmers but valuable to landowners. She promised to distribute the country’s agricultural lands to farmers, but she never did. Instead she implemented the Stock Distribution Option (SDO) program and tricked the farmers into becoming mere “shareholders.” In the meantime, to quell peasant unrest, she launched the “Total War Policy” which resulted in gross human-rights abuses,” Canlas said.

Now that Cory’s son is in power, one would have thought that the son would attempt to accomplish what the mother failed to do, Canlas said.

“But this isn’t the case either. After nearly a year in power, Noynoy Aquino is shaping out to be like his predecessors – indifferent to the point of cruelty to the plight of farmers. He has been feigning deaf and blind to the issue of the SDO and the demand of farmworkers that the lands of Hacienda Luisita be given to them as a matter of social justice and as a matter of law,” he said.

Canlas said those who believe that the names Cojuangco-Aquino to be synonymous to freedom or the restoration of democracy in the Philippines should study history.

“They should rethink their views and find out what truly happened in the aftermath of Edsa 1. Noynoy Aquino is not the rightful heir to the EDSA People Power uprising and its legacy because he has already betrayed it by denying the farmworkers of his family’s hacienda their just due,” he said.

Alyansa ng Manggagawa sa Hacienda Luisita (Ambala), the United Luisita Workers’ Union (ULWU) and AMGL joined the KMP in a protest action, pressing the Supreme Court to release its decision on the issue of SDO and the controversial compromise agreement the HLI management foisted on the farmworkers of the sprawling sugarcane hacienda in Tarlac. The farmworkers also denounced the upcoming government-led celebrations slated on February 25 as a farce and sorry tribute to the essence of the uprising.

ULWU-Ambala spokesman Fracisco Dizon decried what he said was the Supreme Court’s “dilly-dallying” on the HLI case. He said here was reason to be believe that the Aquino government was leaning on the High Court to either relegate the case to the backburner and deliberately delay the release of the decision, or release a decision inimical to the welfare of the farmworkers.

“We do not understand why it is taking the Supreme Court so long to decide on our case. This is a matter of life and death for all of us,” he said.

Dizon added said that the Cojuangco-run HLI management continues to fool farmworkers into surrendering their rightful claim to the land.

“Life is harder than ever for the farmworkers of Hacienda Luisita,” he said. “The Cojuangco management continues to take advantage of the desperation of farmworkers by buying them off or forcing them to rent their respective parcels of land for P10,000 a year for every one hectare,” he said.

According to Dizon, farmworkers and their families are trying to make ends meet by planting small plots of land with vegetables and rice, but everything depends on how far they can assert their rights to cultivate the land.

“HLI henchmen and military elements go around villages quietly pressuring families into surrendering their land rights. Soldiers in plain clothes carry small firearms and make the rounds of houses pretending to make friends with residents and poisoning their minds against the KMP and Ambala. Those of us who are active in the peasant organizations are banned from finding employment as farmworkers in the hacienda,” he said.

Regarding the Edsa 1 commemorative activities, Dizon said farmworkers of Hacienda Luisita are definitely in no mood to celebrate.

“Those of us who have televisions will probably watch the programs and news about it, but it is doubtful that we will be putting up yellow ribbons or yellow balloons. The meaning of Edsa 1 for the farmers does not lie with grand concerts or fireworks displays or anything like that. Edsa 1 for us is about fighting oppression and restoring true democracy. We are still fighting oppression, we are looking for democracy. Giving land to the landless and giving what the poor people need is democracy. Making sure that the working people are able to eat, have homes and enjoy stable and gainful employment is democracy. These are things we do not have now, so what democracy is this government talking about?”

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