By RONALYN V. OLEA
MANILA – Farm workers of the Hacienda Luisita lauded the Supreme Court final decision affirming the distribution of 4,916 hectares of Hacienda Luisita land to the original 4,296 original farm-worker beneficiaries.
In a unanimous vote, the high court upheld its ruling of November 22 last year on the half-century-old land dispute. Since the 50s, the 6,443-hectare sugar plantation has been controlled by the family of President Benigno Cojuangco Aquino III. The Supreme Court ruling, if and when it got implemented, would start transferring that control to the farm-workers.
“We are happy and sad at the same time. This is the fruit of our long, arduous struggle. We dedicate this victory to the martyrs of Hacienda Luisita and to all our supporters,” Rodel Mesa, secretary general of Unyon ng Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (Uma) and one of the beneficiaries, told Bulatlat.com in a phone interview.
Mesa was remembering the seven farm workers killed during the violent dispersal on November 16, 2004, in what is known now as the Hacienda Luisita massacre. Seven others, including supporters, were slain in the aftermath of the massacre.
“This victory is long overdue. Lives should not have been sacrificed if only the Cojuangco-Aquinos had returned our land to us many years ago,” Mesa said. He joined the hundreds of farm workers who went to Baguio City to await the high court decision.
In 1957, the Cojuangcos purchased the Hacienda Luisita through a loan from the Government Service Insurance System (GSIS) and Central Bank with the condition that the land would be distributed to the farmworkers after ten years. But the Cojuangco-Aquinos never gave up control of the vast sugar estate in the decades that followed.
“The Supreme Court decision is a big leap forward for the Luisita farmworkers and the Filipino peasantry’s life-and-death struggle for genuine agrarian reform,” said Randall Echanis, deputy secretary general of the Kilusang MAgbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP), in a statement. “Their victory will inspire other farmers to pursue with the struggle,” Echanis said.
The SC also denied the Hacienda Luisita Incorporated’s appeal to use the 2006 land valuation of P2.5 million per hectare in computing “just compensation.” Instead, the high court fixed the valuation to 1989 value of the land, estimated at P40,000 per square meter or equivalent to P173 million.
It was in 1989 when the Presidential Agrarian Reform Council (PARC) approved Luisita’s stock distribution option (SDO) agreement.
Eight justices, including Chief Justice Renato Corona, voted to peg the valuation of the land in 1989 prices as basis for arriving at the “just compensation.” Six others voted to hand over the determination of valuation for just compensation to the Special Agrarian Court.
“Land distribution must start as soon as possible. Luisita farmers-beneficiaries have waited too long and have suffered enough in their struggle to own the lands they till,” Anakpawis Rep. Rafael Mariano said in a separate statement.
Willy Marbella, KMP deputy secretary general for external affairs, said the farm workers of the Hacienda Luisita can now continue to till their own land for their survival.
“This decision is final and executory and must be enforced as soon as possible. Any motion or appeal from the HLI management and the Cojuangco-Aquinos must not be entertained. They have bought a long enough time and have further delayed the distribution of the disputed sugar estate,” Mariano said.
In reaction to the ‘just compensation” cited by the SC, Mariano said: “The Cojuangco-Aquinos do not deserve to be compensated. For the past five decades, they maintained illegal and immoral control of Hacienda Luisita and enriched their clan at the expense of poor hacienda farmers and sugar mill workers.”
Marbella said the farm workers will continue to be vigilant against any maneuver by the Cojuangco-Aquinos to evade land distribution.
“We call on Aquino, the landlord-president, to respect the decision of the judiciary and allow the immediate distribution of land to the original farm worker beneficiaries,” Marbella said in a phone interview.
Mesa said they will continue to assert ownership of the land being claimed by the Rizal Commercial Banking Corporation (RCBC), saying that the transaction between the Cojuango-Aquinos and the RCBC was illegal. A petition for the revocation of the conversion order of the said land is pending before the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR).
Echanis, meanwhile, warned against placing the Hacienda Luisita land under the government’s Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program Extension with Reforms (CARPER).
“CARPER is only the extension of CARP that is the very same law that subjected the farm workers to feudal slavery,” Echanis said, referring to the SDO scheme cited as one of the non-land transfer mechanisms guaranteed under CARP.
Echanis said that under CARPER, landlords are given the right to identify 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.
“We expect the President and his family to use the bogus CARPER once again to evade genuine land distribution,” Echanis said, noting that “under the guise of ‘just compensation’ provided by CARPER, farm workers still have to pay for the land without any assurance of ownership.” “Farm workers have long paid for the land. The free distribution of Hacienda Luisita to genuine farm workers is legitimate, just, and reasonable,” Echanis added.