Hacienda Luisita farmers rejoice but still vigilant over SC decision

“Now that the SC has decided in favor of Luisita farmers and farm workers, the burden of implementation is with the President’s family the Cojuangco-Aquinos and the Department of Agrarian Reform.” – Anakpawis Rep. Rafael Mariano

By RONALYN V. OLEA
Bulatlat.com

MANILA – Felix Nacpil Jr., 39, along with some 40 farm workers, left Hacienda Luisita early morning to get a copy of the Supreme Court (SC) decision, Nov. 24.

On board two jeepneys, they arrived at the SC at around 9 a.m.They waited until noon to get hold of a 56-page resolution penned by Associate Justice Presbitero Velasco on the motion for reconsideration filed by their group Alyansa ng Magbubukid sa Hacienda Luisita (Ambala).

Voting 14-0, the high court granted their petition and unanimously ordered the distribution of 4,916 hectares of Hacienda Luisita lands to the original 4,296 original farmworker beneficiaries (FWBs). It modified its July 5, 2011 ruling ordering the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) to hold a referendum to let the Luisita farmers choose between owning shares of stocks in Hacienda Luisita Inc. or getting portions of the more than 6,000-hectare estate.

While farm worker-beneficiaries hailed the decision as an initial victory, they remain vigilant to the possible maneuvers of the Cojuangco-Aquino clan who has control over the sugar estate.

“We are not relaxing. They are still in power. They can reclaim the land from us in whatever way. We cannot trust them. From the start, we know how clever they are,” Nacpil, acting chairman of the Ambala, said, referring to the Cojuangco-Aquinos.

Nacpil’s apprehension is without basis. He said the land should have been distributed to them in 1967 if only the Cojuangcos complied with the conditions set by the Central Bank the Government Service Insurance System (GSIS) when they acquired loans to purchase the land. “They did not comply and five decades have passed since,” he said.

Nacpil’s father, Felix Sr., 70, grew old as a farm worker. He, too, at the age of 14, started working on the sugar plantation.

Long overdue

For Rodel Mesa, 52, the SC decision is “the fruit of their long, arduous struggle of more than five decades.”

Mesa, Ambala spokesman and secretary general of Unyon ng Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (Uma), said if the high court issued its resolution much earlier, the November 16, 2004 massacre that claimed that lives of seven farm workers would not have taken place. “We would not have experienced hunger,” he said.

When President Corazon Cojuangco-Aquino assumed the presidency, the Hacienda Luisita was placed under the stock distribution option (SDO), a non-land transfer scheme allowed under the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law (CARL). Instead of land, stocks were distributed. The SDO, however, has failed to improve the lives of farm workers. With only one day of work per week and receiving a measly P9.50 ($0.22), farm workers staged a strike in November 2004.

“When we launched the strike in 2004, we were only demanding for a salary increase and additional days of work but these were not granted. They were the ones who taught us how to fight,” Nacpil said.

In December 2005, the Presidential Agrarian Reform Council (PARC) ordered the revocation of the stock distribution plan (SDP) for its alleged failure to fulfill the CARL’s thrust of social justice. HLI challenged this before the SC, saying the PARC has no authority to cancel the plan. In February 2006, the SC issued a temporary restraining order (TRO) which prevented the PARC from ordering the land distribution.

In its recent decision, the SC pointed out that “control over agricultural lands must always be in the hands of the farmers.” It further said that allowing the 6,296 beneficiaries to remain stockholders would never allow them to “gain control given the present proportion of shareholdings.”

Anakpawis Rep. Rafael Mariano called the SC decision as “an important initial step to justice and the farmers’ struggle for genuine agrarian reform.”

“We congratulate and salute the farm workers of Hacienda Luisita. For without them, without their militant, collective and unwavering stand to fight for land distribution, we could not have reached this stage of the struggle. If we may call this victory, then, this victory rightly belongs to them,” Jobert Pahilga, executive director of Sentro para sa Tunay na Repormang Agraryo (Sentra), counsel of the Ambala, said.

The high court also directed the Hacienda Luisita Incorporated (HLI) to pay the 6,296 farm workers a total of P1.3 billion for the sale of the following portions of Hacienda Luisita:

– P500 million ($11.45 million) received by the HLI for the sale of 200 hectares out of the 500 hectares covered by an August 14, 1996 conversion order;
– P750 million ($17.17 million) received by the HLI’s subsidiary, Centennary Holdings, Inc. for the sale of the remaining 300 hectares from the 500-hectare land; and
– P80.51 million ($1.84 million) paid by the government for the sale of the 80.51-hectare lot used for the construction of the SCTEX road network.

No to compensation for Cojuangco-Aquinos

The farm workers insist the land should be distributed for free.

The SC said the HLI is entitled to just compensation for the agricultural land that will be transferred to DAR. It ordered DAR to submit a compliance report after six months from finality of the decision.

“We will not agree to pay [amortization] or for the HLI to receive just compensation from the government. The compensation to be paid to the Cojuangco-Aquinos will come from taxpayers, including us. The Cojuangco-Aquinos have no right to receive any compensation. The Aquino administration has no right to pay his family because morally, historically, the land is ours,” Mesa said.

Nacpil said the Cojuangco-Aquinos have long benefited from the land. “The Aquino administration must order DAR to return the land to us without any payment,” Nacpil said.

“What the president should do now is to tell his family to respect the decision of the Supreme Court, to accept defeat,” Mesa said.

The Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) also called for the immediate free distribution of Hacienda Luisita to farm workers.

Randall Echanis, KMP deputy secretary general,said placing the Hacienda Luisita lands under the government’s Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program Extension with Reforms (Carper) will be “unacceptable to Hacienda Luisita farm workers.“It is the very same law that subjected the farm workers to feudal slavery,” Echanis said.

“Hacienda Luisita was acquired by the Cojuangcos using government money, defied the conditionality of the loans from Central Bank that the lands will be distributed after 10 years, and continued to exploit farm workers up to now. In fact, the Cojuangcos still owe billions of pesos to farm workers,” Echanis said.

Echanis said that under Carper, landlords are given the right to identify who will be the beneficiaries. “The Cojuangco-Aquinos will surely use this anti-peasant law to once again divide the ranks of farmworkers and place their dummies,” he said.

“Now that the SC has decided in favor of Luisita farmers and farm workers, the burden of implementation is with the President’s family, the Cojuangco-Aquinos and the Department of Agrarian Reform,” said Mariano.

For Pahilga, the decision of SC favoring the farm workers does not yet connote the end of their struggle. He said the Cojuangco-Aquino family can still file a motion for reconsideration of the decision.

“We do not know how the Supreme Court will decide given its history of always changing its decision. For sure, the Cojuangco-Aquino family will do everything under its power to prevent the execution of the recent SC decision. Given their influence, politically and economically, and the fact that the President belongs to their clan, we could never be sure on what will happen to this recent SC decision until it attains finality. But what is important for now is that the farm workers of Hacienda Luisita could already start cultivating the whole 4,915 hectares without fear of retribution and harassment from the Cojuangco-Aquino family,” Pahilga said.

Mariano called on the farm workers to continue cultivating the land.

Nacpil and his fellow farm workers returned to Hacienda Luisita on the same day, carrying with them the good news and the determination to continue fighting for their right to the land. (http://bulatlat.com)

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