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In the afternoon of November 16, Filipino police and army units carried out a brutal massacre of striking sugar plantation workers at Hacienda Luisita, located in Tarlac province in central Luzon, north of Manila. After a stand-off with the strikers the day before, some 1,000 cops and troops were sent to the hacienda headquarters, accompanied by two armored personnel carriers, fire trucks and water cannons. After launching a volley of tear gas grenades, Army riflemen fired point-blank into the picketers’ front lines using live ammunition. A 60-calibre machine gun was also used. Truncheon wielding police chased migrant workers into their barracks and later combed the ten barangays (villages) where hacienda workers live. “Soldiers were allegedly ‘zoning’ Barangay Motrico, dragging men out of their homes and lining them up to be arrested,” the Philippines Daily Inquirer (17 November) reported. Dead bodies were found scattered all around the main gate and the barracks. A total of 14 people were reported killed, including two children suffocated by the tear gas, and some 200 injured, over 30 with gunshot wounds. A total of 133 strikers and their supporters were arrested.
The Hacienda Luisita massacre is the worst slaughter of Filipino workers in recent years. It underlines the fraud of bourgeois “democracy,” which rains death on the exploited and oppressed fighting for their rights. It is all the more significant because the police and army attack was ordered directly from the central government, by Labor Secretary Patricia Sto. Tomas, and was carried out on behalf of the Cojuangco family, prominent landowners including former president Corazon Cojuangco Aquino. The current president, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, responded to the mass killing with empty platitudes and “prayers.” Spokesmen for the Hacienda justified the bloodbath as a “legitimate exercise of state power,” saying the work stoppage was “illegal and left-inspired.” Plantation workers had gone on strike November 6 demanding the reinstatement of some 327 unionists, including nine union leaders, fired ten days earlier by the management of the hacienda and the sugar mill (Central Azucarera de Tarlac, CAT). As thousands of strikers and their supporters occupied the facilities, the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) declared it was assuming jurisdiction for the dispute and ordered in three military battalions to take down the picket lines and disperse the strikers.
Hacienda Luisita tries to sell itself as luxurious modern resort, complete with covered tennis courts, swimming pool with Jacuzzi, a championship golf course, business park and “simple yet elegant” hotel, “your hacienda home.” Yet this “fusion of agriculture and industry” is based on the superexploitation of workers who live a miserable existence enforced by an age-old system of “landlordism and state terrorism,” as the magazine Bulatlat (21 November) put it. The Philippine Army’s Camp Aquino, headquarters of the Northern Luzon Command, is located just across the MacArthur Highway from the plantation. When Corazon Aquino was president in January 1987, 13 members of a left-wing peasant group were killed by Marines at the Mendiola Bridge in Manila as thousands marched on the Malacañang presidential palace demanding land reform. The 1987 march was led by agricultural workers from Hacienda Luisita. Later, 17 farmers including women and children were massacred by Marines in nearby Nueva Ecija province on “suspicion” that they were guerrillas of the Maoist-led New People’s Army. Now Arroyo, whose husband’s family owns plantations in the sugar island of Negros Oriental, has her first crop of martyrs.
But faced with the murderous attack of the bourgeoisie, the response of the reformist left, both Stalinists and social democrats, has been to appeal to the capitalist rulers for “democracy. On November 18, the BMP (Bukluran ng Manggagawang Pilipino – Filipino Workers Solidarity) staged a “sympathy noise barrage” calling on the Congress, that corrupt den of bourgeois politicians, to carry out an “independent and impartial investigation” of the Luisita Massacre. On November 30, the BMP and allied PM (Partido ng Manggagawa – Labor Party) occupied the DOLE calling for resignation of Labor Secretary Sto. Tomas while the House of Representatives held a hearing on the massacre. Representatives of Bayan Muna, Anakpawis and Gabriela party lists also sponsored the call for a Congressional investigation. But no “investigation” by the political instrument of the ruling class will be “impartial” or “independent,” much less win the strikers’ demands and avenge their dead. Reflecting this focus on pressuring the bourgeoisie, ULWU unionists linked to the Bayan Stalinist/popular-frontist coalition turned back representatives of the Trotskyist Rebolusyonaryong Grupo ng mga Komunista (RGK) who traveled to Tarlac to show their solidarity with the Luisita strikers.
In the face of an anti-Communist campaign labeling the strikers guerrillas, the CPP denied that the National People’s Army was present at Hacienda Luisita. The fact that there were no casualties among the police and army is proof enough of this. But although the strikers had exercised proletarian power by seizing the plantation and sugar mill, the CPP/NPA calls for “land to the tiller,” i.e., for a bourgeois-democratic land reform to turn agricultural workers into smallholding peasants rather than fight for workers revolution. Tarlac was a center of peasant insurgency at the time of the Hukbong Mapagpalaya ng Bayan (HMB) or the People's Liberation Army, led by the Stalinist Communist Party of the Philippines (PKP) during the late 1940s and 1950s. At one point Huk guerrillas reached the outskirts of Manila. But they were ultimately defeated, not merely by military superiority of the U.S.-backed forces, but because the imperialists (through Colonel Edward Lansdale) and their puppets (notably war minister Ramon Magsaysay) stole the guerrillas’ thunder with a counterinsurgency land reform.
Appealing to the Arroyo government or to the den of corruption of the Philippine Congress for a fair investigation will be no more successful than earlier campaigns for compensation of the victims of the Mendiola massacre. Destruction of the hacienda system of large landholdings will not be accomplished by begging the capitalist rulers to break up their profitable estates and hand land titles over to the impoverished peasantry. That is a program for more Mendiola and Luisita massacres, and for swindles like the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP), by which landowners like the Cojuangcos managed to hold on to their ill-gotten estates through frauds like the bogus “stock distribution option,” creating the fiction that the employees were part “owners” of Hacienda Luisita. Trotskyists fight not for the bourgeois-democratic demand of agrarian reform but for agrarian revolution, for the peasants to seize the lands while agricultural and refinery workers take over the plantations and mills in conjunction with revolutionary struggle by the urban proletariat.
The response to this new act of capitalist barbarism must be a mobilization of the entire Filipino working class. Such massacres can galvanize mass discontent, as occurred in Russia following the 9 January 1905 slaughter of workers led by the priest and police agent Father Gapon who sought to petition the tsar with their grievances, leading to the 1905 Revolution. A few years later, the 1912 killing of strikers in the Lena River gold fields in eastern Siberia provoked mass demonstrations of up to half a million workers in Moscow and St. Petersburg, setting the stage for the workers upsurge of early 1914 which was cut short by the outbreak of World War I, but then reappeared in 1917 and brought down the tsarist autocracy through workers revolution. They key, in Russia a century ago and in the Philippines today, is to forge a revolutionary leadership, a Bolshevik workers party, that can unite poor peasants, urban slum dwellers, national minorities and oppressed peoples and all other oppressed sectors behind the power of the proletariat.
We print below a statement on the Hacienda Luisita Massacre by the Rebolusyonaryong Grupo ng mga Komunista (RGK), which sympathizes with the League for the Fourth International.