“The value of the hundreds of thousands of tons of Luisita sugar comes from the labor of the farmers and the mill workers. Without them, the Hacienda would have remained a vacant lot.The farmers have already paid for their lands many times over.” – Anakbayan
By INA ALLECO R. SILVERIO
President Benigno Aquino III is using his influence as executive to throw a monkey wrench in the preparations for the transfer ownership of the Hacienda Luisita sugar estate to qualified agrarian reform beneficiaries.
This was the allegation of the fisherfolk alliance Pambansang ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya), one of the long-time supporters of the farmworkers of Hacienda Luisita.
Pamalakaya chairman Fernando Hicap said Aquino would do well to remember that he is the president of the country and not the spokesperson of Hacienda Luisita Inc. (HLI). Hicap was reacting to the statement made by Aquino that the land owners of HLI deserve “just compensation from the government” once they relinquish their control over the sprawling 6,453-hectare hacienda, of which 4,915 hectares have been declared by the Supreme Court as immediately viable for land reform.
While he refused to directly comment on the Supreme Court’s decision declaring that Hacienda Luisita should be given to the farmworkers, Aquino said one sector should not be sacrificed just to accommodate the other on the issue of land distribution.
“Let us not forget that under existing agrarian reform policies, we are pushing for two objectives: first is the empowerment of the farmers, and then enough capital should be left such that there is also just compensation for the landowners,” Aquino was quoted as saying.
“Mr. Aquino, you are a public servant and compelled to uphold public interest and not the narrow interest of your family,”Hicap said. He said Aquino should stop defending other members of his family and their weakened claim to Hacienda Luisita.
Last weekend, Aquino said the proceeds from just compensation or the capital from acquired lands from former owners will be used by landowner to invest in other business. Critics, however, were quick to assert that the Cojuangco-Aquinos do not deserve even a single centavo “because they had already made themselves wealthy after decades of controlling HLI on illegal and immoral grounds.”
The Pamalakaya leader insisted that giving compensation to the family of Cojuangco-Aquino will make yet another mockery of justice.
“Why clamor for just compensation? Your family has done nothing for farm workers except subject them to injustice,” he said.
Hicap said aside from giving up immediately the 4,915 hectare for land distribution, the President and his family should immediately set aside P 1.33 billion ($30.9 million) for farmworker beneficiaries as decided in the 14-0 vote of the High Court.
He also said the two billion peso ($46.5 million) debt obligation of the HLI management to San Miguel Corporation (SMC) is a family affair transaction that should be resolved by and among members of the Cojuangco-Aquino clan.
Who owes SMC?
Pamalakaya cited a source close to the Cojuangco family that the two billion loan from the SMC constituted advances given around the year 2004 to HLI as payment for sugar products that the food and drink beverage company will use. When the Hacienda Luisita workers began their strike in 2004, however, the operations of HLI stopped and so did its supply of produce. Pamalakaya said the source has argued that the obligation to SMC should be paid either by the national government who will take over the land or by farm worker beneficiaries.
Hicap firmly said the farmworkers of HLI have nothing to do with the transaction between the SMC and HLI, and so their legitimate and legal claim to ownership of the land is not in the least affected.
“It was an agreement among the Cojuangco-Aquinos. The 6,296 farmer beneficiaries are actually victims of this business agreement because they benefitted nothing from it while the Cojuangcos made millions from their hard labor,” he said.
The fisherfolk leader said that the 67 percent controlling interest of the family of President Aquino in HLI gained P 2.7 billion ($62.7 million) from the sales of several parcels of land that include the sale of 200 hectares of land in 1995; the sale of Luisita Industrial Park; and from the sale of 80 hectare lot for Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway (SCTEX) road network.
“Granting the shares of P 1.3 billion ($30.2 million) awarded to farm worker beneficiaries constitutes 33 percent, and then the entire proceeds from the sale of parcels of lands could reach P4 billion ($93 million). If from this P 2.67 billion ($62 million) goes into the pockets of the Cojuangcos, then there’s the money to pay their family’s debt to SMC,” he explained.
Hicap said asserted the HLI management and the family of President Aquino is now using the P2 billion debt ($46.5 million) to SMC as a convenient excuse to pave the way for Eduardo “Danding” Cojuangco and the SMC’s takeover of the hacienda.
Aquino relatives are not to be pitied
Another group supporting the HLI farmers also slammed Aquino for demanding compensation. The youth organization Anakbayan pointed out that when the Cojuangcos took a loan from the Government Service Insurance System to purchase the HLI land in 1957, there was a stipulated precondition that the land would be returned to the farmers after 10 years or on 1967.
“The value of the hundreds of thousands of tons of Luisita sugar comes from the labor of the farmers and the mill workers. Without them, the Hacienda would have remained a vacant lot.The farmers have already paid for their lands many times over,” said Anakbayan chairman Vencer Crisostomo.
Crisostomo also chided Aquino for portraying his billionaire relatives as “kawawa” (pitiful) and deserving of any form of compensation. He said that among the presidential relatives, Danding Cojuangco has a net worth of $760 million or P32.68 billion as of December 2010. Two Cojuangco solons, Enrique of Tarlac and Carmen of Pangasinan, are worth P200 million ($4.65 million) and P96 million ($2.23 million) respectively.
The president himself, Crisostomo said, has a declared net worth of P55 million ($ 1.27 million), equivalent to what 6,000 Luisita farmers earned in 18 and a half years under the old “P9.50 a week” ($0.23) system.