October 28, 2005

Murder in cold blood

The cold blooded murder of Ricardo “Ka Ric” Ramos, president of the Central Azucarera de Tarlac Labor Union (CATLU) at the strife-ridden Hacienda Luisita and baranggay captain of Bo. Mapalacsiao, was an act of treachery and desperation.

Rather than douse cold water on the raging labor and land disputes at the Cojuangco-owned feudal estate, the killing can only steel the commitment and the collective will of the people in the hacienda to fight for their rights.

Ka Ric was killed by sniper shot as he feted several baranggay tanod and other supporters in a nipa hut adjoining his residence in Baranggay Mapalacsiao, Tarlac City. It was Ka Ric’s way of thanking them for the successful distribution of P8.8million worth of wages and benefits to striking sugar mill workers by CATLU and DOLE-Region III the previous day.

The amount constituted payment for 21 days of work of the mill workers that management had refused to release since the strike at the sugar central on November 6, 2004. The CATLU sued and on September this year, the Labor Department issued a writ of execution ordering management to pay what they owed the workers.

Management stubbornly refused but eventually promised payment by 21 October 2005. Before the deadline, Mr. Ernesto Teopaco, vice president for operations, spoke to Ka Ric asking him to sign a document stating that CATLU was already in the process of settling its issues with management and therefore DOLE need not push through with the confiscation of CAT property in order to pay the workers’ just claims. Ka Ric steadfastly declined to sign the spurious document.

On October 22, 8,000 sacks of sugar worth P8.8 million were taken from CAT’s warehouse through the cooperation of CATLU with DOLE-Region III. A day before Ka Ric’s assassination, the workers received the wages and benefits that management had illegally and heartlessly deprived them of for almost a year. It was a bitter sweet victory for CATLU; for Ka Ric, it was a testament to his honest, courageous and unwavering leadership in the face of tremendous odds.

CBA negotiations between CATLU and management had resumed in the wake of intense pressure for the sugar mill to resume its operations still crippled by the strike. CATLU agreed to accept management’s piddling offer with regard to wage increases but insisted on the reinstatement of 33 out of 35 dismissed workers including some union officials.

However, in solidarity with the striking farm workers of the hacienda led by the United Luisita Workers Union (ULWU), CATLU also insisted that the two strikes be resolved at the same time in order to keep up the pressure on management to settle all outstanding labor issues.

It was thus a surprise to CATLU and ULWU officials and others who knew of the state of the negotiations why management spread the word around that a settlement was in the offing and that the sugar mill would soon resume operations.

Ka Ric knew better. Based on the workers’ concrete experience in the struggle to protect and advance their rights and welfare, they knew they would have to fight tooth and nail every inch of the way.

They had already lost 10 of their co-workers and supporters in the 16 November 2004 massacre at the picket line and in subsequent targeted political killings. One of those who had been cut down by the assassin’s bullet was Ka Ric’s classmate and friend, Tarlac City Councilor Abel Ladera, another people’s leader and staunch supporter of the Hacienda Luisita struggle.

Ric Ramos not only constituted an obstacle to the immediate plans of the owners of the sugar mill and the sprawling, close to 6,000-hectare hacienda. They knew he would continue to be a thorn on their side especially with regard to the festering issue of land reform; that is, the long-standing demand of the hacienda’s farm workers for the abrogation of the “stock distribution option” or SDO.

On the day that Ka Ric was murdered, two military men went to his house twice, allegedly to seek his help in convincing his neighbors and others on a list of suspected members of the New People’s Army to go to the military headquarters and “clear” their names. He never met with them as he was sleeping at the time but his wife promised to tell him that they were looking for him.

Ka Ric ignored the military’s “summons” and proceeded instead to his hut to meet village officials, co-workers and friends. Ka Ric was heard to have remarked, Pinagbibintangan ang mga welgista at simpatisador sa welga bilang New People’s Army (NPA). Hindi ako papayag na kasangkapanin ako sa pagpapahamak sa aking mga kasama at kapitbahay!” (They are accusing the striking workers and their sympathizers of being members of the NPA. I will not allow myself to be used to put my co-workers and neighbors in harm’s way.)

Earlier, Ka Ric had been warned that there was a new spate of killings in Tarlac and adjoining provinces and that these were suspected to be extrajudicial executions involving military personnel and hired assassins.

There were also reports that he and ULWU President, Boyet Galang were constantly under surveillance by the military. In fact last year, at the height of the conflict in the hacienda, he had already been top-listed by the Northern Luzon Command of the AFP (NOLCOM) as a member of the NPA or working with the NPA.

The 13 baranggays inside Hacienda Luisita have been militarized for the longest time and Bo. Mapalacsiao is no exception. In fact several detachments are found inside the baranggay, one of them within shouting distance from the hut where Ka Ric was killed.

Yet the military men assigned to Ka Ric’s baranggay who were interviewed a day after the incident swore that they heard, saw and felt nothing unusual. Not even gun shots from the murder weapon, an M14 rifle, based on empty shells found in the vicinity of the hut.

Who had the motive, the means and the opportunity to carry out this dastardly act?

Is it a mere coincidence that Congressman “Noynoy” Cojuangco-Aquino, heir to the Hacienda Luisita fortune and the spokesperson of the NOLCOM, in a short span of time and one after the other, had the same thing to say about Ka Ric’s murder?

That the labor dispute involving the CATLU was reaching resolution and that management and the sugar mill workers were no longer at each other’s throats and therefore there was no reason for the Cojuangcos to want Ka Ric out of the way. That the motive for the murder of the labor leader could be “political” or intended to further exacerbate conflicts for some unspecified, sinister motives.

The duet of the landowner’s son and the military spokesperson is suspiciously too much in tune. The whitewash has begun even when hardly any investigation into the murder has gotten any head way.

The good people of poverty-stricken Bo. Mapalacsiao, the struggling farm and mill workers of Hacienda Luisita and the rest of the Filipino people who seek social justice in our land will not rest content until the real killers and the masterminds are brought to justice.

28-29 October 2005


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