“Deed of title? The DAR did not even show us the land survey and now Aquino promised to give us land titles.” ¬ – Florida Sibayan, chairwoman of Alyansa ng Magbubukid sa Asyenda Luisita (Ambala)
By RONALYN V. OLEA
MANILA – If President Benigno Aquino III is to be believed, farm workers should be happy with how the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) has been implementing the land distribution in Hacienda Luisita.
In his fourth State of the Nation Address (SONA), the President said: “I would like to inform you that back in February, in compliance with the decision of the Supreme Court, the Department of Agrarian Reform has completed the list of qualified beneficiaries for the land in Luisita. According to Secretary Gil de los Reyes, the process to determine the beneficiaries’ lots began last week, and the turnover of these lots will begin in September of this year.”
A day after Aquino delivered his SONA, however, farm workers of Hacienda Luisita trooped to the Supreme Court and DAR to show that they are not at all happy with the way the government is handling the land distribution.
“Deed of title? The DAR did not even show us the land survey and now Aquino promised to give us land titles,” Florida Sibayan, chairwoman of Alyansa ng Magbubukid sa Asyenda Luisita (Ambala) told Bulatlat.com.
DAR’s sins against the farmers
For Ambala, DAR’s actions are far from distributing the land to the farm worker beneficiaries and are aimed at maintaining the Cojuangco-Aquino clan’s control over the land.
The group filed an urgent omnibus motion before the Supreme Court against DAR, July 23.
Ambala complained that there is a discrepancy in the number of hectares for distribution.
In the 05 July 2011 decision of the high court, the total number of hectares up for distribution should be 4,915.75 hectares minus 580.15 hectares or 4,335.60 hectares. The DAR, however, arrived at the total land area of only 4,099 hectares, saying that it excluded residential areas, canals, roads, firebreaks, a cemetery, buffer zones, lagoons, fishponds, eroded areas, and legal easements.
In its petition, Ambala argued that the said areas – residential, canals, roads, firebreaks, a cemetery, buffer zones, lagoons, fishponds, eroded areas, and legal easements – had already been excluded from the coverage of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law through the stock distribution option (SDO) scheme in 1989.
Sibayan said the conduct of the land survey was not transparent. She said that DAR agreed to their request to oversee the land survey but Ambala did not receive any notice. The group was surprised to know that the survey had been completed.
Thus, in their motion, Ambala is asking the high court to appoint a geodetic engineer to validate the survey conducted by DAR.
Ambala also wants the SC to enjoin the raffle or “tambiolo” system of land distribution, to enjoin the DAR from collecting amortization payments from the farm workers and to enjoin the DAR from compelling the farm worker beneficiaries to sign the application to purchase and farmers’ undertaking (AFPU).
Sibayan said when the raffle was held in Cutcut village on July 19, at least 200 policemen were around. After being given a lot allocation certificate (LAC), the farm workers were made to sign the AFPU, stating that they agree to pay for the land.
By resorting to raffle system of land distribution, Ambala said, the DAR has disregarded the request of the members of Ambala for collective ownership of the land, which is allowed under the Constitution and Republic Act No. 6657 or Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Extension with Reforms (CARPER).
“The DAR had been informed of the choice of Ambala of collective ownership of the parcels of lands but it totally disregarded such choice,” the petition read. “Ambala has likewise shown that the conditions for FWBs’ collective ownership of the land are present and applicable to Hacienda Luisita…Sadly, the DAR neglected Ambala’s call for collective ownership of the land and is imposing to the FWBs [farm worker beneficiaries] a method of land allocation that is not acceptable to them and which violates their right to collective ownership.”
In fact, Rodel Mesa of the Unyon ng Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (Uma) said, they have started cultivating portions of the land since 2005 through their “bungkalan” (cultivation) program.
The group dismissed Agrarian Reform Secretary Virgilio delos Reyes’s statement that the raffle system is the fairest way to distribute land. With such a system, Ambala said, farm workers would be given farm lots far from their homes. Hacienda Luisita covers ten villages. Thus, a resident of Balete village may be awarded a parcel of land in Mapalacsiao village, which is several kilometers away from his residence.
Sibayan criticized the DAR for deceiving the people of Hacienda Luisita. “The DAR did not explain this to the people, that we would have to pay. The document does not indicate how much we should pay for amortization.”
“Why should we pay for the land that is ours to begin with?” Rodel Mesa said. “Historically, morally, legally, the land belongs to us.”
In 1957, the Cojuangco clan purchased the land using a government loan with the condition that the land shall be given back to the tenants after ten years. It did not happen and the Cojuangcos devised means to maintain control over the land in the decades that followed.
In its petition, Ambala argued that the qualified farm worker beneficiaries were already owners of the land and had been recognized no less by the Honorable Court when it ordered the payment of the proceeds of the sale of the 580.15 hectares which amounted P1.33 billion to them.
“The DAR wants to ensure that we pay the amortization but what about the P1.3 billion ($30.2 million) that HLI [Hacienda Luisita Incorporated] owe us?” Mesa said.
In its ruling, the high court ordered the HLI to pay the farm worker beneficiaries the said amount as their share in the sale of 580.15 hectares of land.
The group said the DAR has been so slow in selecting an accounting firm to audit the P1.33 billion ($30.2 million) proceeds of the sale of 580.15 hectares.
Ambala said the AFPU has no basis in fact and in law. “The FWBs have already paid HLI for the value of the land by their labor. The land, according to the Honorable Court, should be awarded to them,” Ambala said in the petition.
The AFPU states that failure to pay for amortization or make the land productive would be a basis for disqualification as beneficiaries.
Ambala said the undertaking to make the land productive is an unnecessary and a suspensive condition that should not be made a basis to disqualify the farm worker beneficiaries.