Members of the Department of Land Reform’s Task Force Hacienda Luisita got a beating from the House Committee on Agrarian Reform for the much delayed report on its investigation on the implementation of the Stock Distribution Option in Luzon’s largest sugar estate, Hacienda Luisita, Inc.
BY DABET CASTAÑEDA
After nine months of investigation, the Department of Land Reform’s (DLR, formerly the Department of Agrarian Reform or DAR) Task Force Hacienda Luisita (TF-HL) failed to present a comprehensive report on the implementation of the Stock Distribution Option (SDO) in Luzon’s largest sugar estate, Hacienda Luisita, Inc. (HLI).
This prompted House Committee Chair Rep. Gregorio Ipong on May 30 to adjourn the hearing. “Hindi na namin kayo ipapahiya ng husto” (We won’t humiliate you too much), Ipong told the agrarian officials in exasperation.
The hearing was held at the Ramon V. Mitra Hall at the House of Representatives in Quezon City.
The TF-HL was created pursuant to Special Order No. 789 Series of 2004 in response to the clamor of the farmworker beneficiaries of HLI for the department to come out with a firm stand regarding the controversy confronting them and the management of the HLI and in connection with the compliance of the Memorandum of Agreement (MoA) for the SDO.
In the last quarter of 2003, two petitions from the farmworker beneficiaries and the supervisory group were filed at then DAR. In particular, the supervisory group’s petition questioned the non-compliance by the HLI management of the MoA while the farmworkers’ petition called for the revocation of the SDO.
After a year, no action had been taken by the DLR. Since then, calls for the revocation of the SDO has heightened and, coupled with unfair labor practices and illegal retrenchment issues, the HLI workers went on strike simultaneously with mill workers from the Central Azucarera de Tarlac (CAT) on Nov. 6 last year.
The strike hogged the headlines when seven strikers and their supporters were killed during a violent dispersal at the picketline in Tarlac City.
Lawyer Ibra B. Omar Al Haj TF-HL chair and director of the Bureau of Agrarian Legal Affairs (BALA) told the committee that the report is taking too long to finalize because the 11-man team comprising the task force are divided on certain issues.
Omar said some of his colleagues think that RA 6657 or the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program should be amended while others say that the matters should be passed on to the Department of Labor and Employment (DoLE). Other members say that the matters are agrarian in nature over which the DLR has jurisdiction.
Omar promised the committee that they would resolve the issue by this week.
One of the controversial findings of the task force is on the legality of the conversion of the 500 hectares of the HLI land into residential and industrial purposes.
While the task force initial report noted that the conversion was legal given that the land transfer has been completed when the Presidential Agrarian Reform Commission (PARC) approved the SDO in 1989, Omar believes there has been a violation of the conversion because the land in question has not been developed until today.
Omar told the committee that any agricultural land converted for other purposes has to be developed within five years. If not, the conversion order should be subject for revocation.
It was also Omar who informed the committee that the conversion was done nine years ago but the land remains idle. “Mabigat yun, walang nabago dun sa lupa” (That’s significant, the land underwent no change), he said.
The revocation of the land conversion was also part of the farmworkers’ petition. However, it is the Petition for Extension filed by the HLI management Nov. 14 last year that the committee is expediting, Omar said.
The HLI management had no representation during the inquiry.
Heavy military presence
Meanwhile, Rene Galang, president of the United Luisita Workers’ Union (ULWU), who was present during the inquiry, appealed to the committee to also look into the heavy military presence now being felt all throughout the 6,000-hectare sugar estate. He said that eight out of 11 villages comprising the hacienda have military detachments.
According to Galang, the Northern Luzon Command (NolCom) 7th Infantry Division (ID) has deployed one company of soldiers that include the 48th Infantry Battalion (IB) of the 702nd Brigade, the 69th IB and the 24th IB of the 703rd Brigade, and a company of Citizens Armed Forces Geographical Unit (Cafgu). Scout Rangers from Camp Tecson in San Miguel, Bulacan and soldiers from the 71st IB from Fort Magsaysay in Nueva Ecija have also been deployed in the hacienda.
“Instead of helping to resolve the strike, NolCom under Lt. Gen. Romeo Dominguez, is conniving with the Cojuangco family to terrorize the people and violate their basic rights,” Galang said in a statement.
He added that the soldiers conduct house-to-house visits and frighten the union members against joining the picket. The union leader called for the immediate pull-out of the military from the hacienda.
Galang said the deployment of soldiers in the hacienda escalated after the burial of Tarlac City Councilor Abel Ladera – a victim of extra-judicial killing – on March 9. It also came in time for the TF-HL ocular investigation which it conducted on March 15.
In a letter dated March 11, HLI Corporate Secretary Emmanuel Cochico asked the DLR to postpone its investigation in the hacienda because there have been sightings of armed elements from the New People’s Army (NPA) inside Hacienda Luisita.
The letter also confirmed the deployment of three army companies from Fort Magsaysay in Laur, Nueva Ecija to “augment the lone company of soldiers on guard in the area.”
Cochico said the HLI management asked for the postponement of the investigation because they could not answer for the safety of the DLR officers if and when an armed confrontation arises.
But Galang told Bulatlat that the deployment of soldiers in the hacienda was meant to instill fear among the union members and leaders who have stood their ground at the picketline. Bulatlat