“Ang DAR naka-TRO, ang bungkalan hindi,” (The Department of Agrarian Reform [DAR] is under a temporary restraining order [TRO], cultivation is not.) Jorge Gatus, 47, president of the farm workers’ cooperative in Barangay Mapalacsiao, Hacienda Luisita told DAR officials in a recent dialogue.
BY ABNER BOLOS
Gitnang Luzon News Service
Posted by Bulatlat
Vol. VII, no. 35, October 7-13, 2007
“Ang DAR naka-TRO, ang bungkalan hindi,” (The Department of Agrarian Reform [DAR] is under a temporary restraining order [TRO], cultivation is not.)
Jorge Gatus, 47, president of the farm workers’ cooperative in Barangay Mapalacsiao, Hacienda Luisita told DAR officials in a dialogue held last October 5 at the agency’s office in San Fernando Pampanga.
Officers of the United Luisita Workers’ Union (ULWU) sought a dialogue with DAR to complain about the latest move of the Cojuangco family to convince the farm workers to agree on a supposed out-of-court settlement that will drastically reduce the size of land to be distributed.
On December 22, 2005, shortly after the 13-month long strike ended, the government through the DAR decided that the vast sugar estate owned by the family of former President Corazon Cojuangco Aquino should be distributed to some 5,000 farm workers.
But the process of land distribution stopped when the Supreme Court granted a temporary restraining order in favor of the Cojuangco family on June 14, 2006.
Unlike ordinary TROs issued by the courts which are valid only for a specific number of days, the TRO that prohibited DAR from distributing 4,915 has. at the hacienda has no expiry date and is in effect ‘until further orders’ from the court.
The TRO resulted in a legal impasse and created an uneasy calm at the hacienda with both contending parties working for their own goals.
Since last month and up to this writing, the farm workers were being asked to sign a proposed agreement between Hacienda Luisita Inc. (HLI), the hacienda’s corporate owner, and the farm workers wherein HLI offers to voluntarily distribute 1,366 has. and pay P130 million ($2,905,027 at an exchange rate of $1=P44.75) to the farm workers. The one-page document also offers free home lots to the farm workers.
ULWU and the Asembliya ng mga Manggagawang sa Asyenda Luisita (AMBALA, Assembly of Farm workers of Hacienda Luisita), the farm workers’ organization that filed the original petition to DAR to revoke the stock distribution option (SDO) in the hacienda immediately denounced the move saying it is meant to “sabotage” land distribution.
In a statement, AMBALA chairperson Rene Galang said the Cojuangco family will retain 3,549 hectares out of the 4,915 hectares covered by land distribution and that “delays in land distribution allows the Cojuangco family to maneuver and sabotage land reform.”
The supposed agreement was signed by two former hacienda supervisors–Jose Julio Zuniga and Windsor Andaya, and two former union officers–Ildefonso Pingol and Noel Mallari whom AMBALA described as “Cojuangco hirelings.” AMBALA accused the four of “misrepresenting the farm workers in the fake proposal.”
The document titled “Posisyon Naming mga Manggagawang Bukid sa Hacienda Luisita” (The Position of Farm workers in Hacienda Luisita), also contained a supposed counter-offer of the four original signatories wherein they asked that 2,000 has. instead of 1,366 has should be distributed, P200 million ($4,469,273) instead of P130 million ($2,905,027) should be paid, free titles of the home lots, work priority in establishments at the hacienda and 30 percentof the proceeds of the 500 has. earlier sold by HLI.
Part of the document states, “Sa pamamagitan ng liham na ipinaabot ng DAR sa management ng HLI, nagpahayag ng kahandaang makipag-usap ang HLI at dito nagsimula ang serye ng mga meetings at pag-uusap” ( By virtue of a letter from DAR to the HLI management, the HLI expressed its willingness to negotiate thus, a series of meetings and talks were initiated.)