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Fact check: Video claims NPA rebels shot and killed Hacienda Luisita massacre victims

Philstar.com
Fact check: Video claims NPA rebels shot and killed Hacienda Luisita massacre victims
In 2004, seven farmers were killed and 121 others were wounded when government forces dispersed protesters near the gate of the sugar estate.
File

MANILA, Philippines — A video labeled as being made by the 1st Civil Relations Group of the Armed Forces of the Philippines Civil Relations Service and published on the unit's public Facebook page claimed that New People's Army rebels were responsible for the deaths in the Hacienda Luisita massacre of 2004. 

CLAIM: The video went as far as claiming that the entire Hacienda Luisita incident was orchestrated by the New People's Army, whose members were also the ones who shot and killed the seven farmers who died that day. 

RATING: This is fake

FACTS:

What did the video say?

The video, published on a page called "1st Civil Relations Group, CRS AFP", went live on the evening of Monday, November 15, the night before the 17th anniversary of the Hacienda Luisita massacre, where seven farmers were killed. More than 100 people were injured in the incident and more than 100 were also arrested at the dispersal of a protest.

Though not a verified Facebook page, the group in its About Page describes itself as "the primary unit of CRSAFP in Northern Luzon for the conduct of Inter-agency coordination and Stakeholder Engagement."

"The [NPA] organizers planted anger [towards the government] in the hearts of the farmers and used them for rallies outside the hacienda," the video's unnamed narrator claimed in the video. 

"The CPP-NPA used the farmers to carry out the most violent protest in history that they had been planning for a long time."

It went on to claim that the farmers of Hacienda Luisita were used as a mass base for the communist party until a number of them were ultimately recruited to join their armed struggle. 

"But it didn't take long for the true events to come out. According to an evaluation of the evidence, it was proven that there were NPAs who participated in the strike to ensure it went violent," the video claimed. 

It did not mention what the supposed evidence was nor who it was that evaluated it, but the video pointed out that progressive groups continue to speak out about the incident today, which it called propaganda from the communist party. 

"This is why it was discovered that it was also the NPA that shot the farmers from behind," the video went on to claim. 

"The Hacienda Luisita incident became a lesson that joining [the communist revolution] is not the answer to the problems faced today."

Philstar.com screengrab as of 5:50 p.m. on Wednesday, November 17.

What did it leave out?

The video leaves out nearly all of the earlier findings by no less than the National Bureau of Investigation in its 2005 report on the massacre.

The report, which was publicized in 2014, concluded that protesters in the deadly strike were "more credible than the government personnel" because their accounts were more consistent and believable, an article by Rappler says.

A separate report by alternative news site Bulatlat says that nobody from the government side was hit by the bullets although they claimed that the first volley of fire came from the protesters.

Another key finding in the NBI's report was that the wounded protesters were mostly hit on the back or side of their bodies, suggesting they were already retreating when they were shot at.

"There were enough reasons to believe that they [the government personnel] may be responsible...their duty to arrest the unruly protesters did not include any right to shoot the victim to death or inflict upon them any injuries," the NBI report is quoted as saying. 

It even stated in its recommendations that "there is reasonable ground to believe" that a crime of "multiple homicide" for the deaths of the seven protesters was committed by nine police personnel.

Because the evidence gathered by the investigation was "purely circumstantial," proof beyond reasonable doubt of their guilt could "only be established in a full-blown trial."

"For obvious reasons, the military did not mention this in their video," the Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura said in a statement Wednesday as it slammed the video. 

To this day, the claim that the shots came from the protesters — one that then-congressman Benigno Aquino III also raised soon after the incident — has never been proven.

 

A similar narrative was floated after the bloody dispersal of a farmers' protest in Kidapawan City, Cotabato province in 2016. The Commission on Human Rights, which investigated the incident, recommended the filing of criminal, civil and administrative charges against local government officials, law enforcement personnel, inquest prosecutors and protest organizers over the incident.

Essential context 

Seven farmers were killed and 121 people were injured on November 16, 2004, in Hacienda Luisita, a large land holding owned by the Cojuangco family in Capas, Tarlac. Over a decade after the massacre, no trial has been held to bring justice for the seven protesters killed that day.

According to news reports, the initial strike actually started on November 6, a week before the massacre, after officers and a number of members of the United Luisita Workers Union were dismissed from their jobs by the Central Azucarera de Tarlac management.

They were later joined by field sugar workers from the Alyansa ng mga Manggagawang Bukid sa Asyenda Luisita, a local farmers' union, who initiated the first strike because their daily wage was only P9.50 a day while dozens of workers faced retrenchment. 

UMA chairman Antonio Flores said in a statement sent to reporters that this should clear once and for all who was responsible for the massacre: "Before bullets were fired, police and military personnel had tried several times to disperse the protesters, but were rebuffed because of the sheer number and militancy of the protesters."

Why does this matter?

As of this post, the video has garnered just 708 views and 45 likes. The 1st Civil Relations Group, CRS AFP page it was posted on has 30,635 likes and 39,096 followers as of this post.

Though the page itself is not verified as being government-run, the government's anti-insurgency task force continues to share misinformation using government channels as it has in the past. 

The AFP's video also continues the long-running narratives of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict against the Communist Party of the Philippines and repeated attempts to equate activists and union organizers with armed rebels. — Franco Luna reviewed by Kristine Joy Patag 

This story is part of the Philippine Fact-check Incubator, an Internews initiative to build the fact-checking capacity of news organizations in the Philippines and encourage participation in global fact-checking efforts

Have a claim you want fact-checked? Reach out to us at editor@philstar.com

 

ARMED FORCES OF THE PHILIPPINES FACT CHECK HACIENDA LUISITA
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