MANILA - Regardless of whether he's running in the 2010 presidential elections, the killings of seven people in a violent dispersal in Hacienda Luisita in 2004 is a legitimate issue against Liberal Party (LP) bet Benigno 'Noynoy' Aquino III, according to Bayan Muna party-list representative Satur Ocampo.
"The farm workers of Hacienda Luisita are not raising the issue of agrarian reform to discredit Senator Noynoy Aquino's candidacy. They have been fighting for their right to own the land even when Ninoy Aquino was alive and Noynoy was still a child. Likewise, they are not doing this to support the candidacies of Aquino's rivals," Ocampo said on Monday.
"Sana'y huwag isipin ni Noynoy o ninuman na namumulitika lang ang mga magsasaka sa hacienda. For them, this is a life and death issue that must be resolved whether Noynoy runs for the presidency or not," Ocampo added.
On November 16, 2004, seven died in a violent dispersal of striking sugar plantation workers.
To commemorate the massacre, the militant left alliance, Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (BAYAN), on Monday, led a 100-vehicle caravan that trooped from the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) office in Quezon City to Hacienda Luisita in Tarlac.
In a press conference over the weekend in Tarlac, Senator Manuel 'Mar' Roxas, defended the LP presidential bet, saying Aquino had nothing to do with the dispersal operation.
"Si Senador Noynoy, walang kinalaman na kahit ano sa pagsawi, pagkamatay nung mga demonstrators noong araw na yon. So, tanggalin natin itong spin, or itong gustong paandarin ng mga katunggali," Roxas said.
Antonio Ligon, a lawyer of Hacienda Luisita, said the leftist protesters do not represent the interests of Hacienda Luisita farm workers.
Stocks, not land distribution
'Noynoy' is inheriting one of the major criticisms against the late President Corazon Aquino. While land reform was one of the pillars of her administration, her own family's 6,400-hectare sugar estate was spared of actual land redistribution.
Instead, the Cojuangco family availed of the stock distribution option (SDO) in the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law, a mode of distribution that did not break up the land and allowed them to continue the sugar plantation's operations by entering into an agreement with the farmers.
"Logic dictates that the farmers will press this issue because now, more than ever, a fair and just solution to the problem is possible with the Department of Agrarian Reform's decision to junk the stock distribution between the farm workers and the Cojuangco family," Ocampo said.
"The farmers are concerned that if a solution is not reached before the 2010 elections, they would again be forgotten by the next government and relegated to just being fodder for the elections," Ocampo added.
Ocampo and fellow leftist party-list representative Liza Maza of women's group Gabriela are running for Senate seats in the 2010 elections. They have yet to announce which senatorial ticket they will join.
Senator Manuel Villar of the Nacionalista Party offered both Ocampo and Maza slots in his senatorial slate, but the two leftists are also set to have a dialogue with Senator Aquino this week. They are expected to talk about Hacienda Luisita.
Speaking to Senate reporters, Aquino said he will talk to his family about Hacienda Luisita. Aquino previously said he is willing to give up his 4% share in Hacienda Luisita Inc..
Roxas said Aquino is working out a solution and is trying to convince the rest of the Aquino family and other relatives to support his proposal, although he declined to elaborate. -- with a report from Ces Drilon, ABS-CBN News