Filipinos die in pay dispute with former president

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The Independent Online

Eight people, including a three-month-old baby, were killed in violent clashes between Philippines police and workers demanding a 50p daily wage rise at a sugar cane plantation belonging to Corazon Aquino, a former president.

Eight people, including a three-month-old baby, were killed in violent clashes between Philippines police and workers demanding a 50p daily wage rise at a sugar cane plantation belonging to Corazon Aquino, a former president.

Several people died of gunshot wounds after heavily armed security forces attempted to break up a 6,000-strong picket of a sugar mill on the island of Luzon in the northern Tarlac province.

The bloody aftermath of Tuesday's clashes, including the death of the baby who suffocated after clouds of teargas drifted into her village, prompted the chief of police in Manila to sack two senior commanders and order an impartial investigation. The baby's father was among the dead workers.

Army officials confirmed the deaths of three protesters but the local mayor, Genaro Mendoza, said that in addition to the dead infant, at least seven had been shot and killed, while 58 were injured and 100 arrested. "Those who were holding weapons must have their fire-arms examined to determine who fired," Mr Mendoza said.

The fatalities, following a fortnight of strikes by farmers and workers angry at low pay and the failure to implement land redistribution laws, have stirred up widespread resentment at deep social inequalities that persist in the Philippines nearly two decades after the demise of the Marcos regime.

A small number of families still control huge tracts of land despite reforms to extend ownership to tenant farmers. Massive plantations, including the 6,000-hectare (15,000-acre) Hacienda Luisita, the scene of this week's incident, were supposed to have been phased out by land reform laws passed under Mrs Aquino's administration in 1988. Some landowners have been able to exploit loopholes in the legislation to retain control of their property.

Satur Ocampo, a congressman with the left-wing Bayan Muna Party, said discontent had been simmering for years after farmers rejected an offer of stocks in lieu of land ownership and demanded full reform. The perception of inequality in rural areas has helped fuel a nationwide communist rebellion that analysts say is likely to remain strong while graft and poverty are major problems.

Mrs Aquino, who served as president between 1986 and 1992, remains a popular figure. She rose to power in the wake of the assassination of Benigno Aquino, her husband and opposition leader in exile. He was gunned down in 1983 as he stepped off the plane returning him from exile.

Public outrage at the killing led to the overthrow of the dictator, Ferdinand Marcos, and the restoration of democracy, with Benigno Aquino's widow, Corazon, spearheading an anti-corruption campaign.

Mrs Aquino said in a statement: "[Everyone] should desist from employing acts of violence and provocation that would only worsen an already tense situation. I have always been an advocate of non-violence, and I deeply regret that people had to get hurt on both sides. Moreover, the conflict has paralysed economic activity both in the farm and the sugar mill, affecting the lives of thousands."

According to witnesses, private guards have joined police officers to patrol inside the mill, with strikers promising to return. "We will be back," said Odie Villoso, a worker at the mill for 24 years. Left-wing parties have called for the resignation of the Labour Secretary, Patricia Santo Tomas, who issued orders to police to disperse the strikers.

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