Human Rights

Massacring the Truth

THAT the massacre at Hacienda Luisita was unprovoked is obvious to anybody with a modicum of common sense. What is less obvious is the “massacre” of truth by the mainstream media on the events of November 16. The latter, of course, is not any less atrocious than the former.

My first visit to the hacienda was a day after the massacre. It was evening of the 17th when some colleagues and I arrived at the plaza of Tarlac City, where fellow hacienda workers and their supporters displayed for public viewing the five caskets of the seven named victims. Unlike usual wakes, the prevailing mood in the plaza was that
of defiance, after the town mayor (close to the Cojuangcos) at first refused to have the caskets brought to the place.

Apparently, the sight of thousands of people lining up to see the caskets had become a source of further embarrassment for the mayor. With cameras pointed at the five caskets and the sea of grieving families, supporters and fellow strikers, the mayor was reportedly forced to back down from his refusal, ending up putting only chains in the plaza gates to prevent people and cars from adding to the increasingly restless crowd.

After making my way to the stage, I sought out the families and fellow strikers and interviewed some of them. After an hour or two of interviews, the gruesome story of what happened in front of Gate 1 of Hacienda Luisita the day before had gradually unfolded before me.

Though the details were sketchy (how many were the shooters, what uniform the shooters wore, how long the shooting took place), I was struck by the full vividness of their narration: the burning of their eyes after police lobbed teargas canisters, the putrid smell of the water from the firetrucks, their gamut of feelings as snipers
commenced the slaughter.

One after the other, they told to me their stories. One after the other, they described the anger they felt as they lobbed the stones after the military’s armored personnel carrier (APC) rammed through the gate and their picket line, or how policemen cornered a worker carrying a police shield and beat the hell out of him. I was further struck by the eloquence of the striking farm workers I interviewed, realizing afterwards that these were not the kind of people who would be easily manipulated or cajoled.

Which is exactly the opposite of how they are being portrayed in mainstream media.

Though it is no secret to us that the Lopezes and other media moguls are the true shapers of television news, we are only slowly, painfully being exposed their utter control of public information. Minutes after the killings, the top TV stations began depicting the event as a “clash” or a “riot” between two contending violent parties. Sure there were strikers killed, said the local police chief on TV, but many policemen were hurt too. Not long after, hacienda officials and the Labor secretary began making the rounds of the networks, defending the “dispersal” as “within the bounds of law.”

Days following November 16 saw reporters and broadcasters airing reports of “NPA infiltration” within the picket. Police and military officials made a lot of smoke out of the positive results of supposed paraffin tests conducted on two victims, meaning the two fired guns before they were shot and killed by soldiers. The reports, of course,
conveniently left out the statements of the families swearing that no paraffin tests were ever done on their dead loved ones. I managed to interview relatives who sat through the autopsies of the victims; they swore no police or military official ever conducted any test on the corpses. Karapatan’s fact finding mission also managed to obtain a
statement from the owners and doctors in the morgues and funeral parlors that no such tests were ever conducted. What do we, then, make of such glaring omissions?

Sadly, it seems that a massacre is yet again happening in our very eyes. That is, of course, the massacre of truth.

First published in the Philippine Collegian (November 2004)

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