On Aquino’s mid-term, tillers in Luisita, elsewhere still landless


MANILA — The year 2012 would have been joyous for the farmers of Hacienda Luisita, the vast sugar plantation controlled by President Benigno Aquino III’s family for nearly five decades. Aquino himself, during the campaign period in 2010, vowed to distribute the land by 2014.

In April, the Supreme Court issued its final ruling for the distribution of the more than 6,000 hectares of land to some 4,000 farmworker-beneficiaries.

For most of the year 2012, the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR), the office mandated to implement the SC decision, carried out what it called as “verification process.” On October 31, the DAR issued two lists of beneficiaries. The preliminary master list includes 5,365 potential farmer-beneficiaries who have been deemed qualified after two interviews and after submitting documents as proof of their employment. Another set, composed of 1,221 farmers, on the other hand, has been placed on a provisional list because of deficiencies in documentary evidence that would prove the validity of their claims.

Leaders of Alyansa ng Magbubukid sa Asyenda Luisita (Ambala) said the DAR’s list is questionable as many of the qualified beneficiaries were excluded while dummies of Cojuangco-Aquinos were included. This and “other legal maneuvers” sanctioned under the Comprehensive Agreement on Agrarian Reform Extension with Reforms (CARPer) prevent the distribution of land to the farmworkers.

In the DAR’s preliminary list, horse stable and house helpers of President Aquino’s relatives are listed.

Initial investigation by the Ambala reveals there were more than 50 “dummies” of Cojuangco-Aquinos in Balete village alone. Hacienda Luisita covers ten villages and three towns.

Bulatlat file photo

Leaders of Ambala told Bulatlat.com that they also received reports from their members that the Cojuangco-Aquinos promised to pay P90,000 ($2,195) for each farm worker for the P1.33 billion ($32.4 million) share from the sale of 580 hectares of land. The group believes the amount is in exchange for the farmers’ right to own the land.

In its decision, the high court ordered the Hacienda Luisita Incorporated to pay the farm workers their share of the sale of 580 hectares of land.

‘Pro-Aquino’ Chief Justice

When Aquino appointed Ma. Lourdes Sereno as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, farm workers at Hacienda Luisita became even more skeptical as they view Sereno as bias toward the Cojuangco-Aquino clan.

Jobert Pahilga, lawyer of Ambala, observed that Sereno echoed the opinion of Hacienda Luisita Incorporated on the issue of “just compensation.”

In her opinion, Sereno said the amount of compensation “should be reckoned from the fair market value, specifically as of the date of the issuance of the Notice of Coverage on 02 January 2006.” The DAR issued the notice of coverage in 2006 pursuant to the Presidential Agrarian Reform Council (Parc) resolution revoking the stock distribution option (SDO).

Using Sereno’s 2006 valuation, the vast hacienda controlled by the clan of President Benigno Aquino III for more than five decades would be worth P2 to to P2.5 million ($47,600 to $59,500) per hectare.

The issue of compensation has not been resolved by the SC decision, Pahilga said.

Agrarian Reform Secretary Virgilio de los Reyes confirmed this. In a report, Delos Reyes said that if the final valuation is contested, the issue will go to the DAR adjudication board, whose decision can be appealed to the special agrarian courts, the regional trial courts and all the way to the Supreme Court again.

If the Sereno-led Supreme Court will decide in favor of the Cojuangco-Aquinos, farmworkers would end up landless as they would not be able to pay the high amount of amortization.

Rodel Mesa, secretary general of the Unyon ng Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (Uma) and one of the leaders of Ambala, described Sereno’s opinion as “giving the land with the right hand and taking it back with the other.”

Mesa said that assuming that valuation is pegged at P1 million ($23.8 thousand) per hectare, farmworker-beneficiaries will have to shell out P67,000 ($1,595) per year for a period of 30 years.

Other issues such as the verification of beneficiaries, the previous sale of parcels of land and the claim of the Rizal Commercial Banking Corporation still stand in the way of the actual distribution of the land of Hacienda Luisita to the farmworkers; and the farmworkers fear what would happen when these issues reach the Sereno-led Supreme Court.

“The continued non-distribution of Hacienda Luisita is the single biggest proof of CARP’s failure for the past twenty-four years,” KMP chairman and Anakpawis Rep. Rafael Mariano. “The Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR), obviously sanctioned by President Aquino and his relatives, is implementing a rigorous and deceitful land distribution process in Luisita to delay actual land distribution to farmers.”

The target set by the DAR to distribute Hacienda Luisita land between May and June next year is just a shot at the moon.

Way below the targets

The same goes with the other distribution targets of DAR under CARPer.

During the budget hearing in Congress, Delos Reyes admitted that the government could not accomplish its land distribution targets by 2014.

Based on DAR data, majority of the 249, 369 hectares distributed from July 2010 to June 2012 under Aquino are either public lands or ‘easy acquisitions.’

Mariano noted that “a big portion of the total agricultural lands are still in the hands of landlords and private corporations.”

Based on DAR’s remaining balance in its target for Land Acquisition and Distribution (LAD), 94 percent or 900,188 hectares are privately owned agricultural lands. Out of this, only 62 percent will be covered under Compulsory Acquisition and 85 percent or 816, 491 hectares will be paid by the government through “just compensation.”

According to independent think-tank Ibon Foundation, Aquino has the worst land distribution performance.

In a paper by Sonny Africa, Ibon executive director, under Aquino, only an average of 9,324 hectares were distributed monthly in 2011 compared to Arroyo’s 9,342 hectares (2001-10), Estrada’s 10,106 hectares (1999-2000), Corazon Aquino’s 16,878 hectares (1988-92) and Ramos’ 24,759 hectares (1993-98). The Aquino administration is also the most below-target in its accomplishment at 55.9 percent of targeted area for distribution compared to Corazon Aquino (56.4 percent), Estrada (73.5 percent), Ramos (82.6 percent) and Arroyo (82.9 percent).

At the current rate the extended agrarian reform program CARPer is already five years behind schedule with its June 2014 target, Ibon’s Africa pointed out.

“CARP is no less than a milking cow of big landlords. Only hacienderos like Aquino have profited immensely from CARP,” KMP deputy secretary general Randall Echanis said in a statement.

From 1972 to June 2005, the total amount of approved Land Bank of the Philippines (LBP) compensation to 83,203 landowners for only 1.3 million hectares has already reached P41.6 billion ($783.2 million, based on an exchange rate of P53.115 per US dollar) in cash and bonds, or an average of P500,463 ($9422.25) per landlord. The five-year extension of CARP or CARPER, (2009-2014) was allotted a P150-billion budgetary.

Mariano revealed there are various maneuvers done by landowners to evade land distribution or reclaim ownership of lands previously distributed to farmers.

“History proved the futility of CARPer and its predecessor CARP, in addressing the problem of landlessness and agricultural backwardness in the country,” Mariano said. “CARP institutionalized land monopoly in the countryside.”

Only 9,500 families composed of biggest landowners of the country own the 20 percent or 2,820,000 hectares of agricultural lands. “It caused widespread landlessness, locking out farmers from opportunities for decent livelihood. As a result, poverty and unemployment are at highest in the countryside with 71% of poor Filipinos living in rural areas,” Mariano said.

Mariano opposed the proposal of Cagayan De Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez and Abante Mindanao Rep. Maximo Rodriguez to further extend the CARPer for another five years.

The Rodriguez brothers filed House Bill 6614 seeking to extend CARPER, due to conclude in 2014, for another five years.

Mariano said extending CARPer is “equivalent to perpetuating the decades-old suffering of poor Filipino peasants who endure landlessness, land grabbing and rural poverty due to the pro-landlord CARPer.”

Mariano reiterated the need for “a new and progressive agrarian reform program that will genuinely resolve the widespread problem of landlessness among the Filipino peasantry.”

The Anakpawis representative filed House Bill 374 or the Genuine Agrarian Reform Bill (GARB) that aims to dismantle land monopoly and ensure free land distribution to farmers. (https://www.bulatlat.com)

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