BY ABNER BOLOS
The strike may have been lifted last December 8, 2005, but the struggle of the farm workers of Hacienda Luisita, Inc. (HLI) is far from over. Among the unresolved issues are coverage of land distribution and number of agrarian reform beneficiaries.
Farm workers in Hacienda Luisita asked the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) to put under land distribution the entire 6,453 has. that originally comprised the plantation before it was placed under the stock distribution plan (SDP).
The United Luisita Workers’ Union (ULWU), Alyansa ng mga Manggagawang Bukid sa Asyenda Luisita (AMBALA, or the Alliance of Farm Workers in Hacienda Luisita) and the supervisory group, which petitioned for the investigation of the SDP, also asked DAR to compel Hacienda Luisita, Inc. (HLI) to render an accounting of its business operations and the proceeds of the sale of portions of the estate since the approval of the SDP in 1989.
These were among the nine pleadings contained in the farm workers’ response to Hacienda Luisita management’s appeal regarding the revocation of the SDP. The response was submitted to the Presidential Agrarian Reform Council (PARC) last January 16 and was signed by four lawyers from the Public Interest Law Center (PILC) headed by United Nations judge ad litem Romeo Capulong.
Frivolous and dilatory
Brushing aside management’s appeal as “frivolous and dilatory,” the farm workers asked DAR secretary Nasser Pangandaman to “take immediate appropriate steps to execute and implement” the PARC decision that called for the compulsory acquisition of 4,915 has. covered by the SDP for distribution to the farm workers.
“The arguments they raised have long been settled by the courts in favor of land reform beneficiaries. Aside from our counter-arguments we also presented specific proposals, which will bring to light what really happened in the decades that the Cojuangco family controlled the hacienda,” Capulong told union officers and former plantation supervisors in a meeting held on the day the union’s response was submitted to the DAR.
In its January 2 motion for reconsideration, the HLI management argued that the PARC has no jurisdiction to revoke the SDP because only “a proper action in court and not an administrative body like the PARC” can nullify the 1989 agreement between the corporation and the farm workers which served as the basis for the SDP.
The HLI management also argued that there was no due process in the revocation of the SDP and that the PARC violated the right to property guaranteed by the Philippine constitution. The union lawyers, however, cited a 2004 Supreme Court decision that states, “All controversies on the implementation of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) fall under the jurisdiction of the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR), even though they raise questions that are also legal or constitutional in nature.”
The union lawyers also said that the HLI management and its lawyers were “duly notified and had, in fact, actively participated” when the DAR special task force started investigations on the SDP in November 2004.
Historic and legal right
“We are asserting our historic and legal right to the entire 6,435 has. that originally comprised the hacienda. The records will prove that management arbitrarily excluded some 1,538 has. immediately before SDP took effect in 1989,” ULWU president Rene Galang told Bulatlat in an interview.
Galang explained that before the Cojuangco family assumed control of the hacienda from the Compania General de Tabacos de Filipinas (Tabacalera) in 1958, the farm workers had petitioned the government to distribute the land.
But the Cojuangco family managed to secure loans from the government, which enabled them to purchase the land from the Spanish owners on the condition that the land will be distributed to the tillers after 10 years, Galang said.
The Cojuangco family reneged on the agreement and was ordered by the Manila Trial Court in 1985 to distribute the land to the farm workers, Galang recalled.
“The clan did not legally own even a single square foot of hacienda land before the SDP took effect. But when a member of the family, former president Corazon Cojuangco-Aquino became president, it was all too easy for them to ignore our claim and manipulate the implementation of the SDP. In the process, they arbitrarily reduced the CARP coverage,” Galang said.
The 120-hectare Luisita Industrial Park, one of the hubs of Central Luzon’s growth triangle used to be a sugar plantation and was not subjected to application for land use conversion because it has been excluded in the CARP coverage of the hacienda, according to Jojo Zuniga, one of the supervisors who petitioned against the SDP in 2003.
By virtue of the SDP revocation, the union also wants a review of all transactions involving the land after 1989 in order to see how the HLI and other corporations formed by the Cojuangco family generated income from the estate.
HLI is the corporate owner of the sugar plantation where the farm workers supposedly own 33% shares of stocks. It is a spin-off corporation of the Tarlac Development Corp. (TADECO), the Cojuangco-owned corporation that took over the plantation and the sugar mill in 1958.
“We would like also to validate through official records that the clan unjustly amassed wealth from the land while we were driven deeper into destitution. We will apply legal remedies to recover what is rightfully ours,” Galang said.
Earlier, ULWU asked DAR to declare void all land use conversion orders previously granted on areas forming part of the original 6,453 has. property. The union also asked DAR to order HLI not to sell or mortgage any portion of the land. In 1996, HLI sold a 500-hectare lot for P1.2 billion ($22658610.27, based on an exchange rate of P52.96 per US dollar).
In its January 16 response to management’s appeal, ULWU also asked DAR to order the Register of Deeds of Tarlac Province and Tarlac City to annotate the PARC Resolution on the Registrars’ copies of the titles to the HLI properties and to desist from registering all future transactions involving hacienda land.
ULWU and Alyansa ng Magbubukid sa Gitnang Luzon (AMGL or Alliance of Farmers in Central Luzon) have also moved against “saboteurs” who allegedly seek to benefit from the expected land distribution.
Last January 18, ULWU officers along with AMGL chair Joseph Canlas asked provincial agrarian reform officer Alfredo Reyes not to recognize and grant assistance to members of Peace Foundation, a non-government organization based in Manila.
Canlas told Reyes that the group which was “not in any way involved in the strike suddenly emerged and is trying to grab credit and gains” from the SDP revocation.
“Wala ang mga mananabotaheng iyan noong panahon ng sakripisyo at kahirapan ng mga manggagawang bukid sa pakikipaglaban para sa karapatan sa lupa. Ngayon ay gusto nilang katawanin ang mga manggagawang bukid at pakinabangan ang kanilang pinaghirapan,” (These saboteurs were not present when the farm workers endured sacrifices and hardships in their struggle for their right to the land. Now, they want to represent the farm workers and benefit from their sacrifices.) Canlas said.
In response, Reyes said, “all parties who intend to take part in the validation and land distribution process will have to do so under the umbrella of ULWU.”
AMGL, a regional chapter of the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (Peasant Movement of the Philippines), is one of the principal supporters and advisers of ULWU along with party-list organizations Bayan Muna (People First), AnakPawis (Toiling Masses) and Gabriela Women’s Party.
Elizabeth Magcalas, municipal agrarian officer of Concepcion town, told union officers that the Peace Foundation, represented by Noel Mallari, received some P49,000 ($925.23) worth of seedlings as assistance to the land reform beneficiaries in the hacienda.
Reynaldo Bulanadi, ULWU director for Barangay Pando, Concepcion said that during the dialogue, Mallari’s group refused to give the seedlings to the farm workers unless they join the Peace Foundation.
One of the contentious issues in the CARP coverage is the number and identification of beneficiaries. ULWU said that there were originally about 5,500 union members. But the company master list totaled 6,296 in 1989.
During the PARC hearing held last December, management lawyer Vigor Mendoza claimed that the number of farm workers in the company master list reached 11,955.
ULWU argued that management has arbitrarily included in the master list people who are not farm workers. The additional names in the list are personal or confidential agents of the company.
Reyes announced that DAR validation teams will conduct field investigations in the barangays inside the hacienda from January 16 to 30 and that the preliminary screening of beneficiaries and the survey of the lots covered by the titles subject to CARP will last from February 18 to April 18. He said that he expects the validation and documentation of Luisita beneficiaries will be accomplished before the end of June.
Union officials also decried alleged continuing human rights violations in the hacienda.
ULWU director Joey Romero of Barangay (Village) Mapalacsiao said that five union officers received death threats recently. He also told Bulatlat that on the night of December 24, a van full of armed men parked near his home and waited for him. He said that soldiers continue to conduct surveillance operations and harass union leaders.
On January 13, the wife of Balete barangay chair Rodel Galang was slapped by goons who were in the company of soldiers. A week before, a barangay tanod of Balete was mauled by soldiers resulting in severe head wounds that required 12 stitches. The victims have filed complaints with the police.
The union asked DAR “to create the proper conditions necessary to effectively implement the PARC Resolution by ordering the de-militarization and dismantling of the private army of management” in the 10 barangays comprising the hacienda. Bulatlat.com