“The farm workers of Hacienda Luisita had been through so many referendums already. All of these were merely used by the Cojuangco family to deceive the farm workers and keep the land.” – Lito Bais United Luisita Workers Union acting chairperson.
By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
MANILA — After two days of hearings, the mediation panel that was formed by the Supreme Court to arrive at a win-win agreement in the agrarian dispute at Hacienda Luisita is suggesting that another referendum among the farmer beneficiaries be held.
In the said referendum, the farm workers would be made to choose between physical land distribution either to individuals or to a cooperative, or remain under the Stock Distribution Option (SDO). “We called on the Supreme Court to revoke the SDO. But it seems that the mediation panel is paving the way for its legality by calling for a referendum,” United Luisita Workers Union acting chairperson Lito Bais told Bulatlat.
The SDO has been implemented at Hacienda Luisita for some 20 years now. It supposedly entitles the farmer beneficiaries to own shares of stock of Hacienda Luisita Inc. (HLI). In 2005, however, the Presidential Agrarian Reform Council ruled that the SDO is unconstitutional as it failed in its objective of improving the lives of farmers.
Peasant leaders walk towards their supporters gathered in front the gate of Supreme Court during the first day of the hearing. (Photo by Janess Ann J. Ellao / bulatlat.com)
While the results of the referendum will not apply uniformly to all – those voting for land distribution would be given parcels of land while those voting to remain under SDO would be given shares – Bais said, it will still be oppressive to those who would be deceived or forced into voting for the SDO because of poverty. if 10 people are deceived into signing for the SDO , it wool mean 10 families would be made to suffer. He added that ULWU is deeply concerned for the welfare of the farmworkers in Hacienda Luisita because “we have martyrs, those farm workers who have died for our struggle for our right to the land we till. But SC gave life, yet again, to the SDO that killed them.”
Bais said the Cojuangco family would find it easy to outmaneuver the farm workers of Hacienda Luisita. “They will offer money to those who would sign up for the SDO,” he said, “They have done it recently so they know that it would be easy to do because life is hard inside the Hacienda.”
Bais said the farm workers of Hacienda Luisita had been through so many referendums already. All of these were merely used by the Cojuangco family to “deceive the farm workers and keep the land.”
“We do not want this (referendum) because it is divisive ,” said Jobert Pahilga, legal counsel of Ambala and executive trustee of Sentro Para sa Tunay na Repormang Agraryo (SENTRA).
Luisita farm workers have been through many referendums, which, they say, are all part of the Cojuangco-Aquinos’ plan to keep the land. (Photo by Janess Ann J. Ellao / bulatlat.com)
In 1989, there were two referendums facilitated by the Department of Agrarian Reform and the provincial and municipal officials of Tarlac. On both occasions, peasant leaders were harassed and intimidated by the military into agreeing to the SDO. Under such conditions, Bais said, they were not able to go around the villages inside the hacienda to inform and educate the farm workers about the SDO and how it would worsen their already poor living conditions.
Military presence and harassment of peasants also intensified weeks before the HLI management announced the compromise agreement, which was forged on August 8, 2010. The referendum was conducted two weeks before the scheduled oral argument at the SC. Bais said, in a previous interview with Bulatlat, this is one of the tactics of the Cojuanco family “to influence the outcome of the SC decision.”
As another referendum will take place inside Hacienda Luisita, Bais fears that the military presence and the harassment of some peasant leaders would intensify.
Rejecting the Mediation Panel
Pahilga said they have reason to believe that the mediation panel and the issues that would be discussed are pre-arranged. “They did not want to talk about the decision of PARC to revoke SDO,” he said, “If only the SC decides on the case based on its merits, we are sure to win.” During the start of the mediation hearing on September 8, Pahilga said, one of the justices suggested right away to implement a “reformed” SDO, believing that it only failed because of poor implementation.
“But as we have said earlier, our call for the physical distribution of the land is not negotiable,” Pahilga said.
Farm workers from Hacienda Luisita and from other haciendas with land disputes, gather along Taft Avenue corner Padre Faura to remind the mediation panel of their demands. (Photo by Janess Ann J. Ellao / bulatlat.com)
On the same day, Sentra filed a manifestation before the SC to “discontinue and terminate the mediation and to immediately resolve the case on the merits” as not doing so would only benefit the Hacienda Luisita Inc.”
“The subject matter of the case – the validity of the stock distribution option – is one that could not be resolved my mediation or by agreement of the parties,” their manifesto read.
Sentra also urged the high court to take action as “…the case is already ripe for decision,” adding that the recent oral arguments have made it clear that the position of the HLI management and the petitioner-intervenors, Rizal Commercial Banking Corporation and the Luisita Industrial Park Corporation “has no legal and factual basis to stand on.”
“By requiring the parties to undergo mediation proceedings in the hope that a compromise agreement would be reached thereafter would make it appear that the Honorable Court is trying to evade the issues and is not giving due consideration to the decision of PARC.”
The third mediation hearing is scheduled on September 14, Tuesday. (Bulatlat.com)