Furthering the 43-year Delay of Land Reform in Hacienda Luisita A Litmus Test for Noynoy Aquino

From SDO to LEM, Dividing and Deceiving the Peasants Again

Based on its original agreement with the government from the time the Cojuangcos, helped by Benigno Aquino, bought Hacienda Luisita with loans pooled and guaranteed by the Philippine government, Hacienda Luisita should have been distributed to farmers and tillers in 1967. But through various legal maneuvring plus use of force, the Cojuangco family has held on to the hacienda for four decades and three years more.

Former strongman Ferdinand Marcos had used the 1950’s agreement of the Cojuangcos with the government against his then rival Ninoy Aquino by threatening them with land reform. The case Marcos filed against the Cojuangcos’ TADECO was dismissed in 1988 when Cory Aquino herself became president.

Today, as Cory’s son Noynoy prepares to take over Malacañang, the Cojuangco family is once again faced with another case in the Supreme Court threatening them with land reform. Then and now, the peasants in Hacienda Luisita are up in arms against the Cojuangcos’ bloody and deceitful moves in keeping control of the hacienda.

It can be remembered that after dismissing the Marcos case against Hacienda Luisita, the Cojuangcos evaded actual land distribution to tillers and farmers through a stock distribution plan (SDP). It temporarily doused the peasant protest as the poor farmers were disarmed by “owning” paper shares of stocks instead of actual, physical land in 1989. Simultaneously the Cojuangcos also began carving out the hacienda through land use conversions. So now, what used to be 6,453 hectares of agricultural lands had been severely reduced as more than 3,500 hectares had been earmarked, as early as 1995, for conversion into commercial, industrial and residential uses. Up to 2,000 hectares of the hacienda had been sold off or rented out to foreigners, local businessmen and politicians.

But the farmer- “beneficiaries” of the SDP continue to “live in want, in abject poverty highlighted by the resulting loss of lives in their vain/futile attempt to be financially restored at least to what they were before the CARP (SDP) was implemented. While they were then able to make both ends meet, with the SDP, their lives became miserable,” as the PARC and DAR itself reported in 2005, a year after the Hacienda Luisita farm workers’ strike ended in massacre.

The reason for the farmers’ extreme poverty, the Presidential Agrarian Reform Council or PARC and the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) conceded, is because the “land remain under the full ownership and control of the original owner, the HLI/TADECO.”

The agriculture department finally agreed to revoke the SDO and include the Hacienda Luisita lands under coverage of CARP in December 2005. But barely had the “initial step in the still lengthy process of compulsory acquisition of private agricultural lands” begun when the Supreme Court granted the Cojuangcos the temporary restraining order (TRO) it requested.

TRO’s usually last for only a few months, but this particular TRO retaining Hacienda Luisita in the hands of the Cojuangcos has lasted for four years already, noted UMA (Union of Farm Workers).

(Photo by Janess Ann J. Ellao / bulatlat.com)

So last June 10, farmers from big landholdings and haciendas joined the rally led by KMP in front of the Supreme Court to urge it to lift the TRO. Its lifting, they said, would remove the obvious legal bar to the initial steps to land reform in Hacienda Luisita, and hopefully lead the way to implementing land reform here and in other huge landholdings.

Under TRO, farmworkers faced a dangerous waiting game with the Cojuangcos. Extra-judicial killings continued to decimate influential supporters and leaders of Luisita farmers, while the Cojuangcos were ceding portions of the hacienda to “creditors” such as the RCBC, or selling off parcels such as what became part of the SCTEX highway.

When Cory’s death jumpstarted the presidential candidacy of Noynoy, the Cojuangcos got a second wind. From just buying time through TRO, they started flexing more muscles to set the stage for keeping Luisita.

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