Has the distribution of land at Hacienda Luisita been completed as declared by President Benigno Aquino III and the Department of Agrarian Reform? No, and here’s why.
By RONALYN V. OLEA
MANILA – After the April 24, 2012 Supreme Court ruling ordering the distribution of land to the farm workers of Hacienda Luisita, many have thought that the decades-old land dispute would be over.
Besides, in his fourth State of the Nation Address (Sona), President Benigno Simeon Cojuangco Aquino III declared that farmers would start getting land titles by September this year.
To this day, however, not one of the 6,296 farmworker-beneficiaries neither got hold of original land titles nor started cultivating any piece of land distributed by the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR). The DAR is mandated by the high court to implement the SC ruling.
The Cojuangco-Aquinos who had reigned over the more than 4,915 hectares for more than five decades are doing everything to keep the land in its control. The clan of President Aquino, mainly through DAR, has frustrated land distribution through the following tactics.
1. Using the bogus agrarian reform law
The DAR implemented the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) and its extension law in Hacienda Luisita.
Under the law, landlords are given the right to choose beneficiaries. In a previous Bulatlat.com story, Agrarian Reform Secretary Virgilio delos Reyes admitted that the DAR’s list was drawn using as basis the HLI management’s list containing 6,296 names, the Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) list in 1989, as well as other documents with evidentiary value. The Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilpinas (KMP) revealed that even the horse stable hands of the Cojuangcos’ Australia-bred horses are included in the list of beneficiaries while legitimate farm workers were delisted.
CARP also states that landlords shall be given “just” compensation and farmers must pay amortization. During the distribution of land allocation certificates (LAC), farmworker-beneficiaries were made to sign the Application to Purchase and Farmers Undertaking (Apfu). A previous press release from DAR stated that the signing of the undertaking manifests the willingness of the farmer-beneficiaries to abide by his/her obligation under the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program, which is to (a) cultivate the farm lots allotted to them, (b) pay the amortization based on the lands’ assessed value as well as the real estate taxes, and (c) desist from committing prohibited acts.”
According to the Unyon ng Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (Uma), the amortization of each farm worker beneficiary would increase from P48,938 ($1,119.70) to P837,411 ($19,160), excluding interest and payment of land taxes. Uma said it is impossible for farm worker beneficiaries to pay such huge amount of amortization. Under the CARP, the amortization shall be paid in 30 years in 30 equal amortizations. Failure to pay the amortization for an aggregate of three years will result in foreclosure. Foreclosure would mean cancellation of certificate of land ownership awards (CLOA) and often results in the re-concentration of land to the landlords.
What DAR distributed to famworker-beneficiaries this year were photocopies of CLOAs. Their original copies, DAR officials said, would remain with the Land Bank of the Philippines until payment is completed.
On the other hand, Delos Reyes said during the budget hearing last August 8, the Cojuangco-Aquinos would be paid a total of P1.2 billion ($27.459 million) as compensation for the lands to be distributed in Hacienda Luisita.
2. Refusing to honor collective ownership
From the very beginning, the Alyansa ng Manggagawang Bukid sa Asyenda Luisita (Ambala) has made it known to DAR that the farmworker-beneficiaries opt for collective ownership. The farmers’ organization started its bungkalan (tillage) campaign since 2005 and has since developed a system of assigning farm lots to farmworker-beneficiaries.
Even as the collective ownership of land is allowed under the Constitution and Republic Act No. 6657 or Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Extension with Reforms (CARPER), DAR refused to heed the farmworker-beneficiaries’ choice and instead implemented a raffle system of land distribution.
In an urgent omnibus motion filed by Ambala before the SC, July 23, Ambala said it has shown that the conditions for collective ownership of the land are present and applicable to Hacienda Luisita. “Sadly, the DAR neglected Ambala’s call for collective ownership of the land and is imposing to the FWBs [farm worker beneficiaries] a method of land allocation that is not acceptable to them and which violates their right to collective ownership.”
The raffle system, according to Ambala, is a clear attempt to divide their ranks.
The group also lambasted it for being ridiculous. The farm workers in Asturias village, for example, have been assigned lots in Mutrico village while farmers in Balete village received lot assignments in Pando village, which is in Concepcion town of Hacienda Luisita. Hacienda Luisita covers ten villages in three towns of Luisita, La Paz and Concepcion, Tarlac province. Balete is in Luisita, Tarlac.
3. Reducing the size of land for distribution
There are two ways how the Cojuangco-Aquinos did this.
First is through the land survey. In the 05 July 2011 decision of the high court, the total number of hectares up for distribution should be 4,915.75 hectares. The DAR, however, arrived at the total land area of only 4,099 hectares, saying that it excluded residential areas, canals, roads, firebreaks, a cemetery, buffer zones, lagoons, fishponds, eroded areas, and legal easements.
In its petition before the high court, Ambala argued that the said areas – residential, canals, roads, firebreaks, a cemetery, buffer zones, lagoons, fishponds, eroded areas, and legal easements – had already been excluded from the coverage of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law through the stock distribution option (SDO) scheme in 1989. Thus, it should not be deducted again from the lands up for distribution.
Ambala also said the conduct of the land survey was not transparent. In a previous Bulatlat.com story, Florida Sibayan, acting chairwoman of Ambala, said the DAR agreed to their request to oversee the land survey, but Ambala did not receive any notice. She said they were surprised to know that the survey had been completed.
Second is through Cojuangco-Aquinos-owned companies claiming ownership over hundreds of hectares of land.
Based on the initial documents gathered by the Unyon ng Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (Uma), the Tarlac Development Corporation (Tadeco) is claiming ownership over at least 461 hectares of land in the villages of Balete, Cutcut and Central.
According to the Sentro para sa Repormang Agraryo (Sentra), counsel for the Ambala, the SC decision directing the DAR to cover all agricultural lands of Hacienda Luisita for agrarian reform, included the land being claimed by Tadeco. Tadeco, Sentra said, has already divested its ownership of the subject land as all the agricultural lands of Hacienda Luisita were ordered distributed to the farmworkers.
In its complaint of unlawful detainer against the farmworker-beneficiaries, Tadeco alleged that the subject parcels of land are not covered by the agrarian reform program, but Sentra noted that the company did not attach any order for exemption or exclusion of the property from agrarian reform coverage as issued by the DAR. Sentra argued further that while Tadeco, in its complaint, stated that the subject lands are intended for future expansion into commercial or residential use, it also admitted that the lands are actually agricultural in use at present.
Moreover, in the memorandum issued by then Agrarian Reform Secretary Nasser Pangandaman on Dec. 23, 2005 ordering the distribution of the entire Hacienda Luisita to farmworker-beneficiaries, the lands being claimed by Tadeco were included.
Pangandaman’s order was pursuant to the Presidential Agrarian Reform Council Resolution No. 05-32-01 S. 2005 revoking the stock distribution option (SDO) in Hacienda Luisita.
The Hacienda Luisita Incorporated (HLI), not Tadeco, filed a temporary restraining order against the said PARC resolution.
In a notice of coverage recently issued by DAR and published in the Philippine Star, Dec. 12, at least 358.22 hectares of land being claimed by Tadeco in Balete and Cutcut villages are up for distribution.
4. Filing charges against farm workers, supporters
The Cojuangco-Aquinos, through its corporation Tadeco, filed charges of unlawful detainer against 81 farmers in Cutcut village and 21 farmers in Balete village for occupying lands being claimed by Tadeco.
In its motion to dismiss the charges against the farmers, Sentra argued that the complaint fails to aver facts constitutive of unlawful detainer. The counsel for the farmers also asserted that the present case is agrarian in nature and should be solved by the DAR or its adjudication board.
Supporters of the farmers were not spared from charges. On Sept. 17, eleven farmers and supporters, including Anakpawis Rep. Fernando Hicap, were arrested by elements of the local police. They were charged with illegal assembly, malicious mischief, illegal trespass, and direct assault. They were later released on bail and Hicap and Catholic nun Pat Fox were dropped from the charge sheet.
On Dec. 21, elements of Philippine National Police (PNP) Tarlac arrested eight farmers. The arrests ensued as farmers attempted to block a bulldozer from destroying more farm lots in Balete village.
5. Mobilizing military, police, security guards
In several instances, policemen and suspected soldiers aided the security guards hired by Tadeco in harassing farmers.
The Dec. 21 arrests were directly supervised by the Tarlac PNP Provincial Director Alex Sintin, and Tarlac City PNP OIC Chief Bayani Razalan.