Doctrine divides, Action unites

 

  October 2014

 

A Hacienda of Injustice in the Philippines

Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development
 


It has been 10 years since striking farmers and farm workers were
fatally shot on the picket line at Hacienda Luisita by the police
and army. A decade later no one has been held responsible for
the deaths of the workers. (Photo from
www.arkibongbayan.org)

The Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development (APWLD) joined a solidarity mission to Hacienda Luisita in the Philippines from Oct. 16 to 18, 2014. The delegates of APWLD were able to speak to female and male farmers, community organizers and City Councilor Emily Ladera from the barangays of Mapalacsiao, Cutcut and Balete.

The long history of the struggle for land reform and justice for the Hacienda Luisita workers has been documented by several fact-finding missions and human rights groups. APWLD delegates went to Hacienda Luisita to express solidarity with the workers and to document the specific impact on women. Through discussions with farmers and a review of background documents, it is clear that women farmers are experiencing violations of their human rights. APWLD will be drafting a mission report and seeking responses from key government agencies before completing the findings.

From this visit, it was determined that women experience human rights violations in ways that are often compounded by their gender that are highlighted below.

Right to Housing, Food, Livelihoods

Despite repeated court decisions and repeated statements and commitments that the Hacienda Luisita lands would be redistributed to the farmers, farmers have been denied their rights to land reform. Several methods appear to have been employed to evade redistribution and instead favor the Tarlac Development Corp. (TADECO), Central Azucarera de Tarlac and other businesses that have been formed to retain the stockholdings and land ownership of the Cojuangco-Aquino landlords.

Workers of the Hacienda Luisita sugar plantation became farmers after the 2004 strikes and massacre. Despite farming the lands for the past 10 years, they have now been forcibly evicted and face impoverished futures for them and their children. Forced evictions have included the use of violence and the destruction of homes as well as crops. No alternative housing or compensation appears to have been provided to those displaced.

Forced evictions have denied people of their only means of survival as subsistence farmers. Women farmers reported having to reduce the number of and size of meals provided per day, particularly to women and children. Several children were no longer able to attend school.

While some farmers were entered into a lottery to distribute the land, it appears that not all land was included in the lottery with significant areas being retained by the landowners for sale for other purposes.

The lottery method produced unsustainable results with farmers allocated very small parcels of land of .6 hectares in entirely different locations. The right for women to be separate land title owners is an important right protected by Filipino law; but in this case, the right appears to have a perverse, discriminatory effect. Women were often allocated land several kilometers away from their husbands or other family members. Travel to the parcel of land, it was reported, would amount to 300 pesos (about US$6.70) per day, making the trip too costly to justify and which amounts to more than the average daily income of farmers. Moreover, women would have to spend three hours a day travelling to tend to the small plot, which would prevent them from doing the domestic work they do in the home and from looking after their children and would also expose them to security risks. The right of women to hold title to land should be protected, but it must not be used to divide families and expose women to higher risks.

Decent Work

With no land and no means of survival, women reported that the only options for them for a very small income were to become domestic workers or to take in laundry or do other menial work. No options for decent work were provided to women in the community. Younger women might attempt to become migrant domestic workers, but this livelihood option would require the families to go into further debt and may expose the women to further rights violations abroad.

Freedom of Association

Farmers’ unions and other people’s associations have been targeted with repeated efforts to limit the opportunities for these unions to organize. The meeting space of Alyansa ng mga Manggagawang Bukid sa Asyenda Luisita (AMBALA), a famers’ union, appears to have been destroyed, much of their equipment confiscated and crops razed without warrant or purpose. No charges have been made or proper investigation carried out into these offences.

In addition, freedom to protest has been repeatedly denied through the use of violence and threats from security staff, the police and military.

Women reported taking leading roles in actions to protect property and the lives of their families in the belief that they may be in a position to protect men. Women have been placed at additional risk, arrested and have experienced physical and psychological violence as a result.

Rule of Law and Access to Justice

Farmers and their supporters have alleged that the company security forces and police have committed assaults against farmers. Law enforcement agencies appear to be acting on behalf of the company rather than citizens. A child appears to have been illegally detained by TADECO security guards and had property stolen, i.e., a phone memory card that included video footage of destructive actions taken by the company, yet the child was later arrested by the police.

Several women reported assaults by security staff and the police. The police have not taken any action to provide protection to the farmers nor to investigate allegations of assaults, the willful destruction of property or thefts against farmers.

Women reported that they have lost all confidence in the Philippines National Police (PNP) and instead feel traumatized whenever they see police officers. They said they are unable to bring any other matters to the police, which may include domestic violence, theft, child abuse or other issues. Access to justice appears to be entirely barred for women at the local level.

Charges have been laid against several workers, including women. These charges appear to be of a vexatious manner and are designed to prevent workers from exercising their rights to protest as well as seek a remedy. City Councilor Emily Ladera was also charged when she attempted to observe the actions of security guards and requested the police to act to keep the peace and protect citizens.

Militarization

The presence of checkpoints manned by the military, armed private security forces and the police were evident during our trip. Militarization has been demonstrated to increase cultures of violence, which have a particularly deleterious impact on women. Rates of violence against women are generally highest in militarized zones and impacts on the right to peace and life.

Recommendations

The failure to deliver promised agrarian reform in Hacienda Luisita has led to several human rights violations. The systemic failures of the current system of land redistribution have failed to deliver land justice throughout the Philippines, resulting in one of the highest wealth inequality rankings in Asia. The legislative, executive and judicial processes all need urgent review. Women experience additional, compounding violations. Consequently, our preliminary recommendations include the following:

  • Initiate and conduct a Senate and congressional inquiry into land distribution and the history of human rights violations in Hacienda Luisita, which should include an investigation into the impunity with which extrajudicial killings have been allowed to occur in the past 10 years;
     

  • Order TADECO to remove the fence surrounding the contested area and allow farmers to access these lands until the land dispute has been resolved;
     

  • Review and amend the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) to ensure land reform benefits subsistence farmers;
     

  • Protect freedom of assembly and association rights and the rights of human rights defenders, including women human rights defenders, and take action against individuals, agencies and corporations that impinge on these rights;
     

  • The Dept. of Justice should investigate the actions of the police force, the military and TADECO in

    • Forcibly evicting families and destroying property without appropriate legal orders,

    • Collusion between a private company and state agencies (police, military and barangay officials) in the exercise of state authority, including the use of violence, arrest and criminal law,

    • The disappearance of complaints filed with local police and agencies by local people,

    • The discriminatory impact of the failure to provide access to justice, particularly the inability of women to access local law enforcement and legal remedies.


* Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development (APWLD) was formed by women lawyers and other activists in the region in 1986 in response to the call to use the law to bring about political and socio-economic changes in society that was made at the United Nations’ Third World Conference on Women held in Nairobi, Kenya, the previous year. Based in Chiang Mai, Thailand, the aims of APWLD are to take collaborative action to promote and protect women’s rights and to raise awareness about the issues that women in Asia and the Pacific face. More information is available at the organization’s web site at < http://www.apwld.org >.

 

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