The farm workers are complaining that a year since the Supreme Court decision became final and executory, they are nowhere near owning the land that is rightfully theirs while the Cojuangco-Aquino clan has already been given an advance payment and the decisions of the Department of Agrarian Reform would result in President Aquino’s family retaining control over the land.
By RONALYN V. OLEA
MANILA – For the farm workers of Hacienda Luisita, the recent moves of the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) run contrary to the decision of the Supreme Court ordering the distribution of land to farm-worker beneficiaries.
The DAR is mandated to implement the Supreme Court decision ordering the distribution of 4,915 hectares of Hacienda Luisita land to the original 4,296 original farm-worker beneficiaries.
Based on documents from the Land Bank of the Philippines (LBP), copies of which were obtained by the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP), the size of the land for distribution has been reduced to 3,394 hectares.
Furthermore, based on the three memoranda by the LBP to Agrarian Reform secretary Virgilio delos Reyes dated May 6, 2013 , a “certification of deposit” amounting to P34.05 million ($803,580) has been given to the Hacienda Luisita Inc. (HLI) as compensation for 497 hectares. The valuation of 3,394 hectares of land in Hacienda Luisita is pegged at some P230.65 million ($5.44 million) or P67,957.21 ($1,603.79) per hectare.
These documents, coupled with the DAR’s campaign for sugar block farming in Hacienda Luisita, bode ill for farm workers who have struggled for decades for their land.
Lito Bais, chairman of United Luisita Workers Union (Ulwu) was furious over the advance payment to the family of President Benigno Aquino III. “The Cojuangco-Aquinos do not deserve any compensation,” he said. “We, the farm workers, the rightful owners of the hacienda, must be the ones being compensated by the government. We have proven to the Supreme Court that the land is ours.”
Under the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) and its extension law, landlords are entitled to “just compensation.”
In 1957, the Government Service Insurance System (GSIS) granted a loan to the Cojuangcos with the condition that Hacienda Luisita be subdivided to the tenant farmers after ten years. The distribution did not happen in 1967 and in the next decades that followed.
In a statement, the KMP called the P230-million ($5.44 million) compensation “overpriced and lofty.”
Antonio Flores, KMP secretary general, said the LBP’s valuation is “way beyond the 1989 valuation of Hacienda Luisita that was pegged by the Cojuangcos themselves at P40,000 ($944) per hectare.”
In 1989, the stock distribution option (SDO) was implemented in Hacienda Luisita. Farm workers were given shares of stock, with land as their share in capital, valued at the said price.
The KMP questioned the government’s “overzealousness” in compensating the President’s family but was slow in turning over to the farmer-beneficiaries the P1.33 billion that the Cojuangco-Aquinos family received from the sale of 500 hectares in the hacienda.
Bais accused the DAR for sitting on the selection of auditing firm. The high court had directed the DAR to determine whether HLI has P1.3 billion to pay the farm worker beneficiaries.
“Majority of the stakeholders has chosen an auditing firm but the DAR said the decision should be unanimous. How could that be? We and the Cojuangco-Aquinos could never agree on this matter,” Bais said.
Peasant groups also noted the reduced size of the land stated in LBP documents.
Bais complained that they were not notified by the DAR in the conduct of surveys. “Almost 1,000 hectares have been excluded,” the peasant leader said.
The KMP estimated that the reduced size of the land would mean farmer-beneficiaries receiving only half a hectare each. The group said the farm workers would then be “vulnerable to the Cojuangco-Aquino family’s buyback scheme.”
Bais said the sugar block farming being proposed by DAR in Hacienda Luisita serves the interest of the Cojuangco-Aquinos. He said the DAR is currently holding an information drive to entice farm worker-beneficiaries to participate in block farming.
According to the DAR’s “Block Farm Project” briefer, agrarian reform beneficiaries (ARBs) will retain ownership of the lands, will be hired as farmhands, depending on the ARB organizations’ (ARBO) arrangements with individual enrollees and that financing scheme maybe through partnership, joint venture, contract growing, foreign funding, loans, etc. whichever is agreeable to the ARBO.
“Management of the farm will be coached and guided for at least two cropping seasons. Profit-sharing arrangement shall depend on the agreement between the block farm enrollees, ARBO officers and financiers,” the briefer states.
“We are against the DAR’s block farming. It will pave the way for the Cojuangco-Aquinos to regain control of our land,” Bais said. “We are not fools.”
Flores said Hacienda Luisita farm workers are “being pushed to the wall by the Cojuangco-Aquino-controlled DAR.” “They are offered with a very expensive tiny portion of the land and then enticed by Aquino’s DAR with sweet and juicy promises of so-called support services if, they would enter into the sugar block farming scheme,” Flores said.
“It’s 1989 all over again,” Flores said recalling that “in 1989, the farm workers were duped by the Cojuangcos and the DAR to enter into the stock distribution option (SDO) scheme promising that they will become stockholders of Hacienda Luisita, Inc.”
Flores said the DAR’s claim that the beneficiaries will retain ownership over the lands is “totally deceptive” saying “real ownership should be accompanied with control over the lands.”
“The issue here is control. The CLOA (certificate of land ownership award) to be distributed by the DAR next month is a mere scrap of paper that requires farmers to pay for the land in a period of 30 years,” Flores said.
Under CARP and its CARPer, farmers shall pay amortization for a period of 30 years.
“Under the block farming scheme, Luisita farmers will continue to be waged farmhands, cannot claim ownership because they don’t have control over the lands, and are forcefully tied with the onerous conditions of so-called partnership, joint venture, contract growing, and other arrangements, similar to the stock distribution option scheme.”
Flores noted that even the Supreme Court in its landmark decision last year stated that “the policy on agrarian reform is that control over the agricultural land must always be in the hands of the farmers.”
Flores maintained that “under the guise of providing so-called support services, the DAR paved the way for the President’s family to control the whole process of production. Controlling the cycle of production is tantamount to controlling the lands.”
Bais said they are opposed to sugar block farming.
“Based on our experience, only the capitalists benefit from sugarcane production,” Bais said.
For more than 50 years, farm workers of the Hacienda Luisita served as laborers in the vast sugarcane plantation. Since 1989, the stock distribution option (SDO) was implemented in Hacienda Luisita. The limited days of work and extremely low pay compelled farm workers to stage a strike in 2004.
“We do not need the DAR,” Bais said. “We will implement our own version of agrarian reform.”
Bais said that this Thursday May 30, they will start planting vegetables. “We will continue to cultivate the land for palay production,” he added.