The Hacienda Luisita, Inc. (HLI) is a 6400-hectare estate in central Luzon island in the Philippines that was, on paper, owned by the powerful Conjuangco family. When the clan acquired the estate through legal machinations in league with the Philippine government, farmers who for generations tilled the land suddenly found themselves landless, poor and subject to the “generosity” and whims of the Cojuangco family.
On 16 November 2004, seven people were killed in a bloody massacre in Hacienda Luisita when State security forces shot farmers and farm workers who were demanding for distribution of HLI lands to land reform beneficiaries. No State security personnel was made to answer for the crime. At least eight other supporters of the farmers of HLI were killed in dubious circumstances by suspected state security forces in the months that followed.
In 2012, the Supreme Court of the Philippines issued a ruling that commanded the Cojuangco family and the HLI management to turn over 4000 plus hectares of land to the farmers, yet government agencies and security forces failed to assist in installing the farmers on their lands. In April 2017, tired of waiting for assistance from the government, the farmers started occupying hacienda lands awarded to them.
Portions of HLI have been gradually distributed to farmers in recent years, though this is mainly due to continued demands and pressure from farmer’s organizations and their supporters. However, a large portion of HLI still remains in the hands of the Cojuangco family.
These photos were taken on 09 June 2017 when, upon the invitation of the local farmer’s association, I joined a group of activists, students, and land rights supporters in participating in a “bungkalan.” The word literally means cultivation in English, but in the context of these land rights activists, the term has become synonymous with farmers occupying land that was rightfully theirs as well as collectively cultivating that land, with farmer’s associations managing the said activities for the community.
While the photos are not really that good, they still tell a story, one that I hope we can all learn lessons from. HLI is just one of numerous large agricultural estates that remain in the hands of the landed ruling elite in the Philippines. Genuine agrarian reform in the Philippines still seems like an unreachable dream, but it is one that land rights activists continue to fight for.