Violeta “Nanay Violy” Basilio confesses she can’t remember anything when asked about the sweetest memory she has in her life. Holding a cigarette in one hand and her tote bag in the other, Nanay Violy looks off into the distance, her eyes spanning the endless fields of Barangay Mapalacsiao, one of the 11 barangays of the Hacienda Luisita plantation in Tarlac.
“Buong nasa isip ko ang bukid eh,” she clarifies.
Nanay Violy starts her day at 4 am, cooking breakfast with her fellow farmers from the barangay in their kubol hut, a makeshift shelter made of bamboo, palm leaves, and plywood, which they consider their main meeting and resting area.
The farmers are out in the fields by 6 am and won’t stop working save for lunchtime, only to return again to the fields by 1 pm. “Inaabot pa kami ng dilim kasi hinahabol namin yung lamig ng araw. Araw-araw yan. Wala kaming pahinga. Pag tamad ka, di ka mabubuhay dito sa amin.”
Once she’s done for the day, she gets on her motorcycle and rides back to her house, a kilometer-long walk from the kubol. At night, she rests heavy, laden by the backbreaking labor of her work in the fields, along with the decade-old nightmare that continues to haunt her to this day.
At the mention of her son, Jhaivie, Nanay Violy’s strong demeanor falters—a complete antithesis to her vibrant getup of floral tights, neon blue shirt, cheetah-print scarf, and leather cowboy hat.
“Si Jhaivie ang kaisa-isa kong lalaki,” Nanay Violy says, thrusting towards a stack of photographs wrapped in newspaper. The photographs contain pictures of Jhaivie’s lifeless body being cleaned and dressed in the embalmer’s, of his fatal bullet wounds in the buttock, armpit, and chest, and of the day of his funeral and burial.
Jhaivie Basilio, 20 years old, was one of the seven people who died in the Hacienda Luisita massacre on November 16, 2004.
The massacre, which occurred near Gate 1 of the Central Azucarera de Tarlac sugar mill, was picketed by hundreds of farmers who launched a strike in protest of their meager P9.50 daily salary and once-a-week work in the fields.
The protest, which started November 6, continued on to the later days of the month, while police and military forces grew stronger by the day. At 3 pm of November 16, a military tank rammed through the sugar mill gate, and the farmers were pelted with tear gas and water cannons.
Then, gunfire erupted. A thousand rounds of ammunition were used, with the first spray of bullets lasting for almost a full minute. Men, women, and children ran for their lives, followed by rapid spurts of more bullets.
This brought only tragedy with seven people dead and at least 121 injured from the gunfire, while 133 were arrested and detained. Of the 121 injured, 11 were children. As for the case of Jhaivie, nothing came out of it; there was no hearing and no prosecution. The case was simply folded like a piece of paper and stashed inside a drawer, never to be opened again.
“Si Jhaivie kasi malapit sila ng mga kalalakihan sa may Gate 1 nun. Sinabit siya sa barbed wire bago pinagbabaril,” recalls Nanay Violy, wrapping the photographs back in the newspaper.
Of continued harassment
“Isa rin akong nabaril noong 2004, dito, patapyas,” shares Florida “Ka Pong” Sibayan, pointing to her left shoulder blade. “Buti nalang ayaw ng laman ko yung bala. Malas ng pamilya Cojuangco-Aquino na buhay pa ako.”
Ka Pong is the chairman of the Alyansa ng Manggagawang Bukid sa Asyenda Luisita (AMBALA), of which Nanay Violy and other farmers are a part of. Together with Unyon ng Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA), they organize and mobilize protests in their fight for justice.
After the massacre, the farmers, organized through AMBALA, began to take occupancy on plots of unproductive lands to grow rice and vegetables because they had no other source of livelihood. This collective farming, known to them as bungkalan, occupied 2,000 hectares of land, and earned the farmers better income from the selling of produce.
This joint effort, however, didn’t overrule the plight of the farmers, who were still deemed landless.
Ka Pong also shares that it’s normal for the Philippine National Police (PNP) to destroy their crops for no apparent reason. She recalls the time when the PNP bulldozed the crops of their fellow farmer, Ka Jerry Catalan, just a week before harvesting. “Walang awa nilang binulldozer ang mga tanim ni Ka Jerry. Hanggang sa kasalukuyan, hinaharass at sinisira nila ang mga tanim namin,” she shares.
Despite all this, Ka Pong says they went to the Department of Agriculture (DAR) to ask for help. She remembers begging them, “DAR, parang awa niyo na, pigilian niyo ang mga naninira ng munggo.” But Provincial Agrarian Reform Officer (PARO) Pangilinan of DAR, however, told them that the department did not have the right or authorization to stop the PNP from destroying their crops.
“Ang sabi ng DAR, wala daw silang magawa. Nakagapos daw ang kamay nila. Nakagapos. Inaamin naman nila,” Ka Pong says, shaking her head.
Nanay Violy also shares that most farmers take 5-6 loans to be able to farm, wherein they are charged an interest rate of 20 percent over an agreed period of time. “Lalo na ngayon oras na ng panananim namin. Umuutang kami pambili ng fertilizer, ng mga equipment. Yung isang libo, 20 percent ang tubo. Kapag gipit na gipit na kami, susunggaban namin yun,” she explains.
She says that once they harvest their crops, they try to pay back their loans. “Syempre yung mga utang namin nanganganak. Kung minsan sisirain pa ang pananim namin, eh pano na kami? Di namin nababayaran yung utang namin sa 5-6.”
Uncertainties from the law
In 2014, the Supreme Court stated its ruling ordering for the total distribution of Hacienda Luisita to about 6,000 farmers—with the likes of then Chief Justice Renato Corona being one of those who voted in favor of the ruling.
Nevertheless, for the farmers of Hacienda Luisita, uncertainty remains to be their only certainty. In the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP), the farmers were placed under the Stock Distribution Option (SDO) stating that the farmers are a part of Hacienda Luisita. The farmers, however, were then placed under another contract called the Application of Worker’s Undertaking (APCU), stating that the farmers are requesting to buy land from the Cojuangcos.
Ka Francisco, a farmer who has been sitting a few feet away and eavesdropping, says they fought in the higher court and won; “Kaya ang dapat binigay sa’min contract for land transfer, hindi APCU kasi hindi naman kami bumibili ng lupa.”
A home to call theirs
Hacienda Luisita has been the home to thousands of farmers like Nanay Violy, Ka Pong, and Ka Francisco, whose ancestors have been working the fields of the plantation long before they were even born. In the same way their ancestors organized unions and fought for their rights, the farmers of Hacienda Luisita today have taken the mission to continue the struggle for proper land distribution.
Nanay Violy says she and the other farmers can always go to Manila to look for other jobs, but they cannot leave behind the oppression they faced in Hacienda Luisita, which they are deeply rooted in.
“Ang Hacienda Luisita ay pag-aari ng mga manggagawang bukid din. Hindi namin maiwan iwan tong hacienda dahil gusto namin ipaglaban ang karapatan namin. Hustisya ang hinahanap namin, lalong lalo na yung namatayan.”
“Pero hindi kami naninira ng isang pamilya, ang hangad lang namin ay ang katotohanan. Sila rin ang nagtulak sa mamamayan para lumaban,” Ka Francisco explains.
“Tuloy tuloy pa rin ang pakikibaka at pakikipaglaban namin dahil patuloy ang panlilinlang at pandadahas sa amin,” adds Ka Pong.
Even though they’ve been pushed to the brink and have been emotionally and spiritually crushed by giants, Nanay Violy says she and the farmers persevere by getting strength from each other.
“Dahil sa pagkakaisa naming manggagawang bukid, nakikita namin ang pinagpapaguran namin kaya tuloy-tuloy ang aming kasiyahan. Lahat ng panggagahas, pananakot, masaklap para sa amin pero hindi kami nasisindak.”
Ka Pong, on the other hand, asks the principal question: “Narasan niyo na bang magtanim?”
At 10 am of what is supposed to be a regular workday in the fields, Ka Pong, in her red Bon Jovi shirt that bears the slogan Because We Can, sits on the kawayan bench of their kubol in Barangay Mapalacsiao to take a rest.
“Mahirap magtanim ng pagkain ng sambayanan.”