By ANNE MARXZE UMIL, MARYA SALAMAT and JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
MANILA — While parties to the case are preparing their memoranda and farmers await the Supreme Court decision on the validity of the Hacienda Luisita Stock Distribution Option, a special committee was tasked by the Supreme Court to ”mediate” and come up with a win-win proposal or a ”happy compromise” between the Hacienda Luisita Incorporated (HLI) and farmers.
“We fear that this (mediation panel) would only delay the hearings on the case,” United Luisita Workers’ Union acting president Lito Bais told Bulatlat. The Supreme Court has yet to decide on the validity of the Stock Distribution Option, the 2006 decision of the Department of Agrarian Reform and the Presidential Agrarian Reform Council ordering the distribution of the land to the farm workers, and the lifting of the four-year old temporary restraining order.
Bais said he was impressed by the toughness of the SC justices during the first oral argument but it seemed to have retreated during the second oral argument on August 24 when the High Court recommended the formation of a mediation panel.
Jobert Ilarde Pahilga, legal counsel of Ambala and executive trustee of the Sentra para sa Tunay na Repormang Agraryo, said they agreed to join the mediation panel because it is a call for lawyers to resolve a case amicably. The Republic Act No. 9285, a law that institutionalizes the use of an alternative dispute system in the country, provides the legal grounds for a court to form a mediation panel. However, Pahilga said this is the first time that the Supreme Court would form a mediation panel before issuing its decision.
Peasant groups fear that the mediation panel would still push for the SDO but would insert reforms. Pahilga said, however, that the peasants’ desire for the physical distribution of land, not shares, should be clear by now and that it is no longer negotiable. The most that the mediation panel should discuss, according to Pahilga, is how to arrive at an agreement regarding who the real beneficiaries would be, the compensation to be given to the Cojuanco family and the basis for land valuation.
Hacienda Luisita farmers protesting in front of the Supreme Court. VIEW THE SLIDESHOW. (Photo by Clemente Bautista / bulatlat.com)
Despite their pessimism regarding the mediation panel, Pahilga said, they are still going to attend the panel’s hearings because “we do not want an agreement that sides with the Cojuanco family.” He added that the parties have the right to approve or deny the outcome of the supposed win-win proposal by the mediation panel. The first mediation panel hearing is scheduled on September 8, 2010.
Pahilga said the decision of the panel, once agreed upon by both parties, will be honored and adopted by the high court. “If not, the Supreme Court is expected to decide on the validity of SDO, the PARC decision and the lifting of the TRO.”
August 24 hearing
SC Chief Justice Renato Corona said “We would like to decide on this case as soon as we can,” but they extended by 10 more days the usually 20-day non-extendable period for the simultaneous filing of memoranda of all concerned parties.
A lot appears to be hinged on the memoranda to be submitted a month from now, because during the last two hearings the justices were asking the HLI lawyer to submit pertinent documents and proof of shares and benefits that actually went to farmers-beneficiaries, as well as those that went to the corporate owners.
Associate Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno said some records are not clear, such as the records on whether the DAR arrived at a fair valuation of the land. Among others, she said, the government should review the effect of (land use) conversions. She said she also sensed that some parties like the government and HLI do not seem to want to disclose some information.
Of all the lawyers of farmworkers-beneficiaries present during August 24’s hearing, only Santoyo who claims to represent Noel Mallari of the union Ambala, declared his belief that the SDO is valid and is in accordance with the law. But when Justice Jose Reyes asked him if he has any knowledge of the equivalent of one share of stock compared to the land area to be able to give the farm workers an intelligent choice, Santoyo said does not.
Santoyo’s representation was also questioned by Pahilga. Santoyo claims to represent Noel Mallari of the union Ambala, but according to Pahilga, Mallari has misrepresented himself as president of Ambala.
“Mallari has never been president of Ambala, he was ousted from the organization when he was caught negotiating with the management of Hacienda Luisita,” Pahilga told the justices.
Differences in Number of Beneficiaries
During the first and second oral arguments the justices questioned the increase in the number of farmers-beneficiaries in HLI, the dilution of shares of the original beneficiaries it engendered and the HLI’s questionable use of man-days in determining the amount of shares a farmer would eventually get.
But during the last hearing, some justices revealed that although they may question all these, they still use as basis the HLI claim that the beneficiaries now number 10,500 instead of the original 6,000.
These differences in the number of beneficiaries matter because the high court is now faced with seemingly contending farmers’ groups – for instance the 10,500 beneficiaries cited in the Aug 6 compromise agreement and supposedly represented by Santoyo, and the more than 5,000 represented by Ambala when it filed the petition against the SDO.
The HLI had previously boasted that about 70 percent of the 10,502 farmer-beneficiaries chose to keep their stocks in the corporation instead of getting land.