The Fly

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By Arnold Alamon

Wrapped in Grey

Friday, March 21, 2014


WHEN a student pointed out in a public forum the pervasiveness of corruption in government which discourages citizens from entering public service, our president supposedly presented himself, his very person, as the counter-argument.

He declared that in his presidency, he has never been accused of corruption and this fact should be taken at face value as a manifestation of his administration’s character. To paraphrase him, “kung ano ang puno, siya rin ang bunga.”

For sure he was caught off-guard, thus the panicky answer from a president who comical hid behind fruit-bearing trees as a defense. It was just the recent occasion in what has come to be an expected occurrence wherein young people stand up to the most powerful person of the land and call him to task for his failures.

First was when he coughed up a hasty apology when a young victim of government’s ineptness in the handling of the Yolanda disaster pointed out the harrowing experience he and his family went through. The most recent one provides a preview of the public’s exasperation after four years of his administration.

But to present himself as the symbol of everything that is good, true, and beautiful about governance in this land tell us how out of touch with reality he is. Perhaps, he has assimilated just about too much of the public relations campaign that catapulted him to presidency. And he has viewed himself as the champion of anti-corruption with the on-going government-sponsored public spectacle regarding the pork barrel system. Fact is, he has staked his whole presidency on his administration’s drive for good governance.

But there is a fly on this ointment. A fly that is more than 4,915 hectares wide.

Facilitated through the grant of a behest loan from a government banking institution, the Cojuangcos acquired the Hacienda Luisita estate in1957 with the agreement that the land should be given back to the farm-workers after a decade. But five decades since, the Cojuangcos lorded over a scandalous mix of abject poverty for farm workers on the one hand and ostentatious living for the landowners on the other. Haciendal Luisita remains a showcase of the semi-feudal state of the Philippine political economy.

In 2004, a massacre where 7 people were killed and 121 injured 32 of which came from gunshot wounds occurred on the gates of the Hacienda. The striking workers were demanding the reinstatement of the union leaders and better working conditions for the farm workers some of whom have take-home pays of less than ten pesos a month but they were fired upon by government forces during the dispersal. Months after, the leadership of the union was assassinated one by one presumably under the orders of management.

It is interesting to note that because of the incident, a temporary alliance between the despised Arroyo government and the president who was then a senator was established during the time of the Hello Garci scandal. Nary a squeak was heard from the Aquinos during Arroyo’s notorious implementation of the calibrated preemptive response policy.

Almost a decade had passed, and the scion of Hacienda Luisita was catapulted to the presidency. He had his former ally GMA arrested but none of the perpetrators of the massacre and killings in HLI have been charged or arrested.

But in a twist of fate that had more to do with the intra-elite struggle than evidence of reform in the justice system, the Supreme Court, promulgated in its 2012 decision that all agricultural lands within Haciendal Luisita not exclusive to the 4,915 has. of the estate was ordered distributed to the 6,296 farmer-beneficiaries. It was a celebrated legal victory, one that came after five decades of struggle by the farm workers in the sugar estate run and owned by the President’s family.

But two years hence, land remains to be awarded. The Tarlac Development Corporation where the president’s sister Kris Aquino sits as a member of the board is now evicting farmers from agricultural land covered by the Supreme Court decision. They employ thugs to raze the farmer's huts. They have even erected concrete fences on prime land near the SCTEX and arrested peasant leader Florida Sibayan on trumped-up charges.

It is a curiosity, no a big scandal, why the past and recent events in Hacienda Luisita is not a national issue. It should be up there with the latest news on the pork barrel, or at least one among the officially recognized national nightmares of the mainstream media. But we forget who the masters of national media are. No matter how stinky the pork barrel scandal is and journos swarm to it like flies, everyone is ignoring the giant fly in the room which has been there all along, all 4,915 hectares of it.

Published in the Sun.Star Cagayan de Oro newspaper on March 22, 2014.

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