Noynoy Aquino may not have stolen money from the nation’s coffers but he has been stealing land from the farmers of Hacienda Luisita. The issue of the farmers of Hacienda Luisita is not merely a test of his mettle as a presidential candidate but, more importantly, it is a test of his sense of justice.
By BENJIE OLIVEROS
MANILA — November 16 marks the 5th anniversary of the Hacienda Luisita massacre. It would be remembered that on that fateful day, the farmers of HLI who had been picketing the gates of the hacienda for 10 days were fired upon by soldiers resulting in the death of seven strikers and the wounding of 181.
Their only “crime” was to fight for the land they have been tilling for generations, which should be rightfully theirs. The farmers’ rightful claim does not only emanate from an issue of social justice — giving the land to the tillers — but also from the agreement entered into by the Cojuangco family when the patriarch Jose “Don Pepe” Cojuangco loaned the money to purchase the property from the Tabacalera from the Government Service Insurance System, the Manufacturer’s Trust Company of New York and the Chase Manhattan Bank in 1957.
The loan agreement with the GSIS clearly stipulated that the Cojuangco family should turn over the land to their farmer-tenants in 10 years or by 1967. The Cojuangcos were able to delay the turnover for three decades until they were able to, under the Cory Aquino administration, “legitimize” their hold to the land by applying the Stock Distribution Option (SDO) provided for by the administration’s Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law on Hacienda Luisita, instead of distributing it to the farmers. The insidious thing is, farmers whose services were terminated by HLI also lost their share. In 2004, the Hacienda Luisita management tried to terminate the services of 176 seasonal and 150 regular farm workers amid the deadlock in the collective bargaining negotiations. This caused the farm workers to declare a strike.
It would also be remembered that the application of the SDO on Hacienda Luisita had been declared null and void by the Department of Agrarian Reform in 2005. However, up to now, the Cojuangco family has been trying desperately to delay the turnover of the land to the farmers. Worse, they have reportedly imposed a deadline on the farmers who have been tilling the land to provide food for their families to desist from doing so and vacate the land.
The defenders of Senator Noynoy Aquino say that he and his family has got nothing to do with the management of Hacienda Luisita. But could they deny that they benefited and are continuously benefiting from the profits of Hacienda Luisita? Is it not to their interest to keep the land from the farmers?
Noynoy Aquino was quoted declaring that the Aquino family would be divesting their shares in Hacienda Luisita. However, he is completely missing the point. First, everybody knows that public officials who supposedly divest their interests in corporations merely employ dummies to cover for them, and besides, even if the Aquino family “divests” its interests in Hacienda Luisita, it still would belong to their clan, the Cojuangco family. Second, the issue hounding Noynoy Aquino is not only about personal interests but his political will to dispense justice.
Noynoy Aquino, along with his running mate Mar Roxas, is running under the slogan of change. But what change could Noynoy promise if in his own backyard justice is being denied to farmers? And we are not talking about a minority group in the country but a sector that comprise majority of the Filipino people.
The supporters of Noynoy Aquino claim that his main strength is integrity because he has not been linked to any corruption case. He may not have stolen money from the nation’s coffers but he has been stealing land from the farmers of Hacienda Luisita. The issue of the farmers of Hacienda Luisita is not merely a test of his mettle as a presidential candidate but, more importantly, it is a test of his sense of justice. (Bulatlat.com)