The Alyansa ng Magbubukid sa Asyenda Luisita (Ambala) complained of the reduction of land being distributed, forcible signing of Application to Purchase and Farmers Undertaking, the unaffordable amortization, and the deployment of several Special Action Forces (SAF) and Special Weapons and Tactics units.
By RONALYN V. OLEA
MANILA — For the past weeks, the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) has been raffling off lots to farm worker beneficiaries in Hacienda Luisita.
The DAR was mandated by the Supreme Court, in its April 24, 2012 decision, to implement the distribution of land in what used to be a vast sugar plantation controlled by President Benigno Aquino III’s family for more than 50 years.
In his fourth State of the Nation Address, President Aquino said that all is well in the distribution of land in Hacienda Luisita and that by September, the turnover of lots would begin.
Farm worker beneficiaries, meanwhile, have raised many issues concerning DAR’s implementation of the SC decision. The Alyansa ng Magbubukid sa Asyenda Luisita (Ambala) accused DAR of conniving with the Cojuangco-Aquino clan to frustrate the distribution of land to farm workers.
At the heart of the controversies is the non-recognition of DAR of the bungkalan (cultivation) system initiated by Ambala as early as 2005.
“DAR is refusing to acknowledge our bungkalan by insisting on the lottery as the way to distribute the LACs [lot allocation certificates],” Florida Sibayan, Ambala chairwoman, said.
By resorting to the 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).
In an urgent omnibus motion filed before the Supreme Court last month, Ambala said: “The DAR had been informed of the choice of Ambala for collective ownership of the parcels of lands but it totally disregarded such choice.” “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.”
After raffling off the lots, farm worker beneficiaries are made to sign the Application to Purchase and Farmers Undertaking (APFU), which states that they would pay for the land.
During the budget hearing last August 8, Agrarian Reform Secretary Virgilio delos Reyes said the Cojuangco-Aquinos would be paid a total of P1.2 billion as compensation for the lands to be distributed in Hacienda Luisita.
De los Reyes said the Cojuangco-Aquinos would be paid P304 million ($6.95 million) as compensation plus interest from 1989 to 2013 for a whopping P1.2 billion ($27.46 million). This would be 28 percent of DAR’s budget allotted for compensation for landowners amounting to P5 billion ($114.40 million) for 2014.
According to Unyon ng Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (Uma), amortization of each farm worker beneficiary would increase from P48,938 ($1,119.70) to P837,411 ($19,160), excluding interest and payment of land taxes.
Uma said it is impossible for farm worker beneficiaries to pay such huge amount of amortization. Under the CARP, the amortization shall be paid in 30 years in 30 equal amortizations. Failure to pay the amortization for an aggregate of three years shall mean foreclosure.
Sibayan branded DAR’s LAC distribution as systematic landgrabbing by the Cojuangco-Aquinos.
Reduced size of land
Ambala also complained of the alleged reduction of size of land for distribution.
In its petition to the high court, Ambala said the land to be distributed has been slashed by almost 1,000 hectares. The high court, in a notice of resolution this month, asked the DAR to comment on the motion filed by Ambala.
In Mapalacsiao village, the biggest in Hacienda Luisita, Ambala said the DAR would distribute only 144 lots or 95.04 hectares of land to 780 beneficiaries. The hacienda covers ten villages.
In Balete village, only 117 lots or 77.2 hectares of land were distributed to 700 beneficiaries last August 15. According to DAR, the 500 hectares of land sold to Rizal Commercial Banking Corporation, Luisita Industrial Park Corporation (Lipco) and Luisita Realty Corp. are located in the said village.
Sibayan belied this, saying that documents from DAR itself show that the sold portions of land are found in the subvillages of San Miguel, Luisita and Bantug and in the village of Ungot.
Sibayan argued that even so, no physical conversion took place for a period of five years and therefore, the land should be included for distribution.
The same thing happened in Cutcut village where at least 100 hectares were not included in the distribution.
Ambala said DAR had to resort to bribing and harassing the farm workers in Balete village to force the latter to participate in the raffle.
The group said only 287 farm worker beneficiaries in the said village participated in DAR’s raffle system.
Sibayan said several security outposts were set up by security guards of the Luisita Realty Corporation in agricultural areas in Balete village. Earlier, two security outposts were set up in Cutcut village.
On August 16, after DAR’s LAC distribution, members of the Special Action Forces (SAF) and Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) raided several houses in 7th, 10th and 11th streets.
Ambala said village officials were also ordered by DAR to dole out P300 to entice farmworker beneficiaries to join the DAR’s LAC distibution process.
In a statement, the Alyansa ng Magbubukid sa Gitnang Luzon (AMGL) condemned the deployment of additional troops from the Northern Luzon Command (Nolcom) inside the hacienda.
“Aquino has transformed Nolcom into a private army that would protect the interest of his family,” Joseph Canlas, AMGL chairman, said.
AMGL said surveillance of Ambala leaders and members continue.