“Obviously, Malacañang’s unseen hand played a major role in the anti-farmer decision of the Supreme Court.” Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas
by INA ALLECO R. SILVERIO
Farmers of Hacienda Luisita still have a long way to go to attain justice and the Supreme Court has done nothing to mitigate their suffering,In a decision released July 5, 2011, the Supreme Court voted 6-4 remanding the land conflict case to the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR). The High Court ordered the DAR to hold a “new referendum” on the issue.
The SC affirmed the 2005 order of the Presidential Agrarian Reform Council (PARC) revoking the Stock Distribution Option (SDO) but called for a referendum to let the farmers decide whether to remain with the corporation and retain their shares or be given land. The dissenting justices argued that since the SDO has been revoked, the land should be distributed to the 6,296 farm worker-beneficiaries.
The PARC initially allowed the SDO, but this decision was reversed under the Macapagal-Arroyo administration, prompting the managers of the Hacienda Luisita, Inc. (HLI) to question it before the High Court.
In the SC’s latest ruling, the DAR was ordered to immediately schedule meetings with the said 6,296 farm-worker beneficiaries to explain to them the effects, consequences and legal or practical implications of their choice. The farm workers will be asked to decide via secret balloting.
In the meantime, those wish to continue as an HLI stockholder is entitled to 18,804.32 HLI shares, and, in case the HLI shares already given to him or her is less than 18,804.32 shares, the HLI is ordered to issue or distribute additional shares to complete said prescribed number of shares at no cost to the farmworkers.
Those who do not belong to the original 6,296 qualified beneficiaries are not entitled to land distribution but will remain as HLI shareholders. All salaries, benefits, three percent production share and three percent share in the proceeds of the sale of the 500-hectare converted land and the 80.51-hectare Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway(SCTEx) lot and home lots, which some 10, 502 farmworkers have supposedly received would be honored. The 10, 502 farm workers are supposedly comprised of 6,296 original farm worker beneficiaries and 4,206 non-qualified farm worker beneficiaries. Whatever decision the farmworkers will make will supposedly be respected with no obligation to refund or return what have been given to them.
The Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) called the decision a “a massive betrayal.”
KMP secretary general Danilo Ramos said the SC decision is tainted and the result of the Supreme Court’s collusion with the Aquino administration and the ruling clique within it.
“The SC decision smacks of cowardice of the justices,” Ramos said. “This decision is a brutal attack against the rights of the farmworkers of Hacienda Luisita. In 2004, seven farmworkers were killed and hundreds were injured. Now the SC has perpetrated its own massacre, allowing the Cojuangco-Aquinos to continue their injustices against thousands of farmers and their families. The High Court’s decision will not end the more than half-a-century-old agrarian conflict in Hacienda Luisita. It will fuel greater agrarian unrest,” he said.
“Obviously, Malacañang’s unseen hand played a major role in the anti-farmer decision of the Supreme Court,” he said. He said that the SC’s referendum recommendation was no different from what the Cojuangco-Aquinos pushed for in 1989 and in August last year.
“The Cojuangco-Aquinos continue to evade land distribution and this year, it’s doing so with the backing of the Supreme Court,” he said.
Rodel Mesa, Alyansa ng mga Manggagawang Bukid sa Asyenda Luisita (Ambala) spokesperson said that HLI farmworkers have long made their stand against referendum proposals. In August 2010, the Cojuangco-Aquinos pushed for a compromise deal but the farmworkers outrightly rejected it.
“It (the decision) signals the start of a more intense struggle of Hacienda Luisita farm workers. Hacienda Luisita farm workers are now bound to assert their rights to own the lands,” he said. Mesa is also secretary general of the Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA).
For his part, Anakpawis Rep. Rafael Mariano said the SC’s decision was “deceitful” and that it favors the landlord administration of President Aquino against the farmworkers of HLI.”
“The SC decision is deceitful and unacceptable. It allows the Cojuangcos to continue controlling the use, disposition and benefit from the fruits of the land. The decision shows that the Cojuangco-Aquinos and the President himself have no plans of giving up Hacienda Luisita for land distribution,” he said.
Mariano said that the SC has exposed itself to be an extension of Malacañang and that it was fast transforming itself into an “Aquino Court.”
“It has already come out with another anti-farmer ruling on the case of the coco levy funds,” he said.
The SDO agreement was used by the Cory Aquino administration in 1989 to evade land distribution in Hacienda Luisita. Instead of including the 6,453 hectares Hacienda Luisita in the coverage of land reform, the Cojuangco-Aquinos used the SDO to give shares of stocks to farmers-beneficiaries.
“For more than two decades, farmers-beneficiaries have been fighting for the compulsory land distribution of Hacienda Luisita, but the Cojuangco-Aquinos have managed to manipulate the law and put barriers in the way of the farmworkers and their just, moral and legitimate claim to the land. This new referendum the High Court is recommending is useless; it’s just another ploy to deny the farmworkers the land and to keep HLI under the control of the Cojuangco-Aquinos. This early we are already certain that it will be rigged to favor of President Aquino’s family,” Mariano said.
The peasant leader turned lawmaker called on farmers-beneficiaries in Hacienda Luisita to oppose the SC decision and boycott the referendum. He said that peasant advocates and farmers-beneficiaries from Hacienda Luisita will hold protests against the decision and continue to press for their rights to own the lands of HLI.
In a statement, the National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL) said that it “views the SC decision as having, in essence, failed to breathe life to the very reason of agrarian reform, which is to give land to the landless, to distribute humongous landholdings lie those of President Aquino’s family to the 6,000 farmers who have been tilling the land with their own hands.“
The NUPL added, “The decision missed a historic opportunity to take a moral high ground to free once and for all the farmers from feudal penury. It could have defined in concrete terms what social justice is in the gut.”
The SC ruling was written by Justice Presbitero J. Velasco Jr. Those who concurred were Justices Teresita J. Leonardo de Castro, Lucas P. Bersamin, Mariano C. Del Castillo, Jose Portugal Perez, and Roberto A. Abad. In the meantime, Justices Arturo D. Brion, Martin S. Villarama Jr., Jose Catral Mendoza, and Maria Lourdes P. A. Sereno voted against the majority saying that HLI should be put under the coverage of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) with the hacienda’s landholdings distributed directly to the farmworker beneficiaries.