Felicity and Luisita: Can the Subaltern Speak?
Ang sinabi ng mga magsasaka sa Hacienda Luisita
(What the farmers told me in Hacienda Luisita)
Director: Felicity Tan
Cast: Gaudencio Sebastian, Trinidad Galang, Carmen Castro, Clarita Baniqued, Jose Cabilangan, Manuel Bais, Rey Atienza
Res ipsa loquitur. Luisita speaks for itself, journalist and blogger Felicity Tan says. Unfortunately, Hacienda Luisita cannot speak for itself. Acres of farmland (alongside malls and country clubs) cannot talk. This is one of the rare times when you can say: it’s that simple, and at the same time, it’s not simple at all.
In fairness to Tan, her interviewees make a point. Even if the lands were given to them, with the dearth in government livelihood support (farm-to-market roads, seeds, irrigation, fertilizer, industrialization and technologies, etc), it all goes to waste. They are farmers, of course, and they know how to cultivate. As the popular folk song goes, Magtanim ay ‘di biro. You can’t just drop a seed onto the ground, you need to nourish it with persistent care. The same goes for agrarian reform. Wasn’t this shortcoming among the glaring failures of Cory Aquino’s Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP)? This is precisely why many of the farmers who supposedly benefited from CARP ended up selling their lands anyway. In fact, at the end of Felicity’s video, her interviewees admit to planning the same. “Pag binigay [ni Noynoy] sa’kin yung lupa,” says Clarita Baniqued, “ibebenta ko rin sa kanya. Kasi hindi ako marunong mag-ano ng lupa.”
Agrarian reform is not just the redistribution of lands. It is about supporting farmers, making technology accessible, educating farmers about agriculture, and above all, the national industrialization of the sector. It can only begin when tillers till their own land. Kaya malinaw ang panawagan ng mga magsasaka’t manggagawa—hindi lang lupa, kundi LUPA, SAHOD, TRABAHO at KARAPATAN.
It’s also irritating how Tan uses the term “mga magsasaka” as if these people—who number in the thousands—are not a diverse group. She maligns Luisita union president Rene Galang for speaking on behalf of the farmers (which he can, as an elected official), but commits the same crime herself, when she passes the crown of “truth” to her interviewees. She even shares the crown herself, making it seem like she just waltzed into Luisita with her camcorder, randomly knocking on doors, seeking out the “other voices” on the ground, a Dora the truth-explorer of sorts. Interviews like this do not happen without contacts or networks, shoots like this do not happen spontaneously, and one cannot just saunter into gated, heavily-secured properties like Luisita. To claim that this “truth” sprang without intervention is like saying that sugarcane sprang on its own in the Luisita fields, begging to be harvested by anyone who cares to drop by.
Oh, and a disclosure—Felicity is a Noynoy Aquino supporter. She also “hearts” Risa Hontiveros, who, in the CARP debate, is the polar opposite of Satur Ocampo (who is maligned with allegations of corruption in Felicity’s video). Her Twitter account makes one say: Res ipsa loquitur. That Felicity did not disclose this in her video is odd. Or scheming.
The truth is, a strike is never fun, and surely workers would not be faulted for thinking that life before the strike (meaning, when they had jobs and a “salary” no matter how measly or unjust) was “better,” because it probably was. A strike is difficult, and entails a massive sacrifice among its participants. In any strike, moreover, there are always workers with weaker resolves, who flake from the strike or even capitulate to the administration. None of this is fun, but strikes happen because workers cannot accept the status quo any longer, and therefore assert their rights.
It is also disheartening to see Felicity’s interviewees fault their Leftist co-workers for bringing in “new faces” to Luisita. A strike, especially one as landmark and high-profile as Luisita, is never a mere internal issue. It is something that involves the whole nation. The Luisita case is representative of how farmers and workers are being treated in the country, and its outcome will surely affect the rest of the country’s haciendas. These “new faces” lent solidarity, raised awareness on the issue, and even made Luisita’s workers an inspiration to other farmers who are under the same dire situation, and made each other feel, to borrow the words of EDSA 1986, na “hindi sila nag-iisa.”
Of course, there are other “new faces” involved in this issue as well—faces like then Department of Labor and Employment Secretary Patricia Sto. Tomas, who legally paved the way for the violent dispersal, as well as the hundreds of “new faces” clad in PNP blue and army green, which were brought in to shoot at these farmers. Going back in history, there were also other “new faces,” some of them mestizo, which gave the Cojuangcos “ownership” of the land.
“Bakit nila kami tutulungan?” asks farmer Rey Atienza, so wary of outside support, as if people in the Philippines are cold, as if our children’s textbooks do not boast of our bayanihan spirit. “Kung suporta yang mga yan,” says the yellow-shirted Gaudencio Sebastian, “dapat ang mga tao, hindi sila naghihirap,” as if the farmers’ supporters were fairy godmothers who can just eradicate poverty in a snap—which, oddly enough, is a Noynoy Aquino promise found on his campaign brochure: “kakain tayo nang sapat dahil sasagana ang ani ng mga magsasaka,” as if food security was that simple.
Even during the age of slavery, plantation owners offered their slaves token kindness in order to maintain the slave-owner relations. The brilliance of capitalism is how it makes oppression so palatable that one barely notices it, even enjoys it. The dynamic of capitalism (which emerged from its predecessor feudalism, still evident in Luisita) is its twin fangs of ruthlessness and philanthropy, corporate greed alongside corporate social responsibility. That does not make it any less of a monster. In the case of Luisita, farmers may have been given benefits—all salary-deductible, leaving one with take home pay amounting to the grand total of P9.50—but that kind of tokenism will never justify the lopsidedness of the hacienda’s feudal relations.
Five minutes and a handful of people cannot do justice to an issue so complex like Luisita, which involves thousands of people and decades of history. Sure, Felicity’s motherhood statement sounds nice—“the human voice is the most powerful testimony to any human experience“—but humanism falls short in the face of systematized inhumanity. Which particular voices and what particular soundbytes are to be included in this testimony? The human voice is a singular instance, but the human experience spans long periods of time, and is a multiverse of voices, actions, blood and sweat. The human voice is raw data, but the human experience is an analysis, a history which is necessarily informed by ideological position.
Res ipsa loquitur. If only these farmlands—a mute witness to decades of sweat, tears, and yes, blood—could talk. They can’t. But farmers can. In Umani, a 2005 anthology of peasants’ literary works, they do so eloquently. “Kung nangungusap ang lupa,” says a Cordillera farmer, “magsasalita siya para sa atin… Tayo at ang lupa ay iisa.”
Res ipsa loquitur. #
– – – – –
No Makasao Ti Daga
by a farmer from the Cordilleras
Kung nangungusap ang lupa
Magsasalita siya para sa atin
Sasabihin niya ang sinasabi natin
Na panahon ang naghubog sa buhay
Sa pagbubuklod sa atin:
Pagod natin ang nagpayaman sa lupa;
Tayo at ang lupa ay iisa
Pero sino ang nakikinig?
Nakikinig kaya sila,
Sila na hindi mo nakikita,
Sila na nakatira sa malayo,
Pero kinikilala na nagmamay-ari ng lupa
Dahil pangalan ang nakasulat sa papel
Dahil sa likod ng papel na ito,
Nakatayo ang mga tao
Na nagsasabi ng mga nakatatakot na salita;
Mga tao na may kapangyarihan
Na magpaputok at pumatay,
Mga tao na may kapangyarihan
Na dukutin ang mga asawa at anak natin
Kung makapagsasalita ang lupa
Magsasalita siya para sa atin
Dahil ang lupa ay tayo!
from Umani: Mga likhang sining ng buhay at pakikibaka ng mga magsasaka para sa lupa at kalayaan
Edited by National Artist for Literature Dr. Bienvenido Lumbera
*apologies to Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak