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80-year-old grandmother gives thanks for piece of Hacienda Luisita land

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‘My child, we have won’.

When news broke that the Supreme Court had decided to break up Hacienda Luisita and distribute the sprawling sugar plantation to farmers, 80-year-old Virginia Paligutan wept.

She shed tears of joy because hacienda workers, who had been caught in the vortex of a decades-long period of peasant unrest over a feudal land ownership system, would finally get a piece of the vast estate straddling Tárlac City and the towns of Concepción and La Paz.

Virginia recalled that one of her sons, Valentino, who was retrenched from the hacienda after it encountered worker protests over a stock distribution arrangement in lieu of land distribution under the 1988 Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP), had gone to the hills and joined the New People’s Army.

Valentino, then 52, died of a gunshot wound in an encounter with government troops in 2005.

“My child, we have won,” she remembered saying on hearing the Supreme Court ruling.

“We have worked so hard for this,” Virginia told the Inquirer outside the Supreme Court building, where she had joined scores of Luisita farmers to thank the magistrates for their ruling.

“This is not for me,” said the grandmother of 13 children, including three of Valentino’s under her care. “I am already old.”

Sword pointed at CARP

The long-pending Hacienda Luisita impasse had been described by antipoverty advocates as a “sword” pointed at the heart of the agrarian reform program that then President Corazón Aquino had promulgated in 1988—two years after she was installed in Malacañang following the ouster of the dictator Ferdinand Marcos.

The estate was acquired from Spanish owners in 1958 on loans guaranteed by the government on condition that it would be distributed at cost to tillers under the Ramón Magsaysay administration’s counterinsurgency program.

The democracy icon’s failure to fulfill an election campaign promise to undertake agrarian reform as the centerpiece of a social justice program to alleviate poverty and remove one of the major causes of unrest led to a demonstration outside Malacañang in January 1987—11 months into her presidency. Thirteen protesters were killed by government troops.

Virginia has spent all her life as a worker at Hacienda Luisita. “I did not even own a pot of soil before,” she said at the Supreme Court, thinking back on all those years that she had toiled at the Tarlac estate.

Now, she said, she has something to pass on to the next generation of her family.
Though she walks a little slowly, she was still sharp and spunky, braving the morning heat to be able to express her gratitude.

A new day

Virginia was up at 2 a.m. on Thursday, raring to travel from Tárlac to the Supreme Court building in Manila. Her relatives had been apprehensive about her plan, fearing she might not be up to it given her age.
But she was adamant. It was also her first time to join a mass action in Manila.

Virginia said her family planned to continue planting rice on their land. She also hopes her family would not sell the land in the future. She said workers at the hacienda shared her joy at the Supreme Court ruling.
“Everybody was dancing,” she said. “It feels like a new day for us.”

The ruling was hailed as a victory for peasants who have long struggled to break the stranglehold of powerful political clans on the country’s rich agricultural lands.

“This has been a 50-year struggle already and this is a victory not only for these farmers, but for the many who are similarly situated,” said Romeo Capulong, a lawyer for the farmers.

“This gives hope to thousands of farmers who are continually being oppressed, that they too can dream to one day own the land they till,” he added.

President Aquino divestment

But Capulong said he expected President Aquino’s relatives would file an appeal, and that no distribution of land on the estate would happen until the case was deemed “final and executory.”

The battle over the estate’s ownership has allowed Mr. Aquino’s critics to portray the popular President’s family as a greedy political dynasty.

Its resolution could send a signal that owners of some 1 million hectares of the nation’s prime agricultural land who have evaded coverage would also be subjected to agrarian reform with three years left before the program’s mandated completion under a 2009 law.

The CARP was meant to give farmers ownership of the land they worked on, but it was watered down from tougher intended legislation.

This allowed the Aquino-Cojuangco clan and other powerful families to use controversial exemptions and loopholes to keep the land.

Presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda emphasized on Thursday that the President had sold his 1 percent stake in the farm shortly after taking office.

But it remains under the control of the family of Mr. Aquino’s late mother, the Cojuangcos—one of the most influential clans in Philippine politics.


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Kemberly Jul Luna (1989 – 2009): a victim of social injustice

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“…how are we to establish in this country, so long exploited by both foreign and native oppressors, a society of justice and peace, based on cordial cooperation among all social ranks and levels?” –Fr. Horacio de la Costa, S.J.

A distraught Kemberly Jul Luna thought that she’d find the answer among the cadres waging a protracted people’s war from the mountains.

Although still a communist/socialist at heart, I no longer support the local communist insurgency in this country. Actually, I never did because during my younger years, I was affiliated with the “rejectionists” or those who didn’t reaffirm to Maoist and Stalinist principles and strategies.

But in reaction to my statement above, I find Luna’s fate both appalling and sad:

Hers was a campus life spent mostly at late night parties and drinking sprees, waking up the next day with a nasty hangover. Still, she got good grades.

Kemberly Jul Luna’s binges seemed normal for someone studying at a state university, living alone but often surrounded by friends drawn by her natural charm and intelligence, who fondly called her “Kimay.”

The 21-year-old Kemberly, however, traded her little comforts for the cold and the unknown world in the mountains of Bukidnon. There, her small joys and miseries were easily swallowed up by the people’s wretchedness; it became easy for her to redeem herself from old habits that were slowly causing her decay.

She was doing well with the peasants of Bukidnón, her friends thought, until that fateful day when a bullet pierced her right breast and went through her nape in Sitio Bulacao, Barangay Concepción, City of Valencia. It was 10 days before Christmas.

Gun battle lasted for days

Army Maj. Michelle Anayrón, spokesperson of the 4th Infantry Division, said Kemberly was killed in an encounter with soldiers belonging to the 8th Infantry Battalion.

“The soldiers were on foot patrol when they chanced upon the NPA encampment,” Anayrón said. The gun battle, which started at 10 a.m., lasted for days, he added.

Kemberly died a member of the communist New People’s Army (NPA). She was Adriane, Joshua, or Ma’am Nurse to the people she had worked with in the highlands.

Her body, already rotting, was found dumped, along with seven other guerrillas, deep in the forest of Concepción, days after the Dec. 15 encounter.

Kemberly was an AB English student at Mindanáo State University-Iligan Institute of Technology (MSU-IIT) before she joined the communist movement in early 2009.

What drove such a young and pretty lass to give up a life of comfort and beautiful promises to the brutality of the highlands? What right did these communist terrorists have to lure and mislead young lives to their doom? Why are there still disenchanted men and women in today’s supposedly civilized society? Is it a question of what social structure we should have?

If Karl Marx’s and Friedrich Engels’ theory of the inevitability of a popular revolution cannot be stopped, then let the natural turn of social events take its own damn course. There would be no need to wage a protracted (and hurried) “people’s war”, a war that not even a multitude or a majority of urban poor societies and laborers can fully grasp.

Our military and police pigs may be @$$h0le$, but that doesn’t make Sison’s NPA –or any armed revolutionary group– different from them.

Just because Maoism succeeded in China does it imply that the same strategies will easily apply here in our archipelago or elsewhere. For the nth time, our country is no longer a feudal society. It is apparent that, for almost a century, armed struggle is never the answer to Fr. de la Costa’s question. It has only taken thousands of lives (military, civilians, and liquidated comrades due to purging).

Be that as it may, it cannot be denied that a terrifying air of social injustice pervades all throughout the country for decades (just watch and listen to the plight of the urban poor contestants in Wowowee). And this kind of social condition demoralized young intellectuals such as Luna, compelling them to wage war against the authorities, all in the name of justice and, ultimately, lasting peace.

It’s not an enemy bullet that did Luna in — it’s social injustice’s fatal blow which snuffed her life out.

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