“The SC decision lacks any sense of social justice.”
By RONALYN V. OLEA
MANILA — After waiting for more than six years, the farmworkers of Hacienda Luisita remain empty-handed.
In a resolution, the Supreme Court said that the Hacienda Luisita Incorporated (HLI) already complied with its order to distribute unspent funds from the P1.33-billion ($32.44 million) sale of its 580.51-hectare land to 6,296 farm worker-beneficiaries.
“There is no more unspent balance available for distribution,” the SC said. The high court’s three-member audit panel claimed that HLI’s legitimate corporate expenses from 1998 to 2011, including the taxes and expenses related to the sale, and the three-percent share already distributed to the beneficiaries “far exceed the proceeds of the sale” of the subject lot.
The resolution enraged the Alyansa ng mga Manggagawang Bukid sa Asyenda Luisita (Ambala).
In a statement, Ambala pointed out that the audit panel is composed of two audit firms selected by HLI — Reyes Tacandong & Co. and Navarro Amper & Co. (Deloitte). Ambala further said that the lone accountant chosen by the SC, Carisa May Pay Penson, is a former employee of the KPMG, which, Ambala said, had business ties with the Cojuangcos.
Ambala earlier sought to disqualify Reyes Tacandong & Co. and KPMG but to no avail. Its preferred accounting firm, Ocampo Mendoza Leung and Lim (OMLL), meanwhile, was removed by the SC for “lack of interest.” The group refuted this, saying the OMLL attended three meetings called by Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) from July to September 2016.
For Renato Mendoza, Ambala secretary general, the “SC decision lacks any sense of social justice.”
Mendoza said the SC resolution does not explain HLI’s “legitimate corporate expenses.” He said the HLI is one of only several companies of the Cojuangco-Aquino families and it could have conveniently rechanneled the P1.33 billion ($32.44 million) share of the farmworker beneficiaries to the said companies.
Mendoza said the resolution “is another blow to the credibility of the SC, which is now controlled by President Duterte.”
Luisita farmworkers are seeing the connivance of the Cojuangco-Aquinos and the Lorenzos who own 51 percent of the Central Azucarera de Tarlac (CAT) and President Duterte in Hacienda Luisita.
The group recalled that the husband of Sara Duterte, Manases Carpio, was among those who opposed the nomination of then Agrarian Reform Secretary Rafael Mariano. Carpio was one of the legal counsels of the Lorenzo-owned Lapanday Food Corp. of Martin Lorenzo.
The former agrarian reform secretary issued orders in favor of the farmworker beneficiaries.
Ambala’s Mendoza said, “There is no other choice then but to rally the FWBs [farmworker beneficiaries] against this unjust decision of the SC and the continued control of the Cojuangcos-Aquinos and even the Lorenzos of the lands in the Hacienda.”
Since the 50s, the 6,443-hectare sugar plantation has been controlled by the family of President Benigno Cojuangco Aquino III.
In 1957, the Cojuangcos purchased the Hacienda Luisita through a loan from the Government Service Insurance System (GSIS) and Central Bank with the condition that the land would be distributed to the farmworkers after ten years. But the Cojuangco-Aquinos never gave up control of the vast sugar estate in the decades that followed.
In a unanimous vote on April 24, 2012, the Supreme Court affirmed the distribution of 4,916 hectares of Hacienda Luisita land to the original farm-worker beneficiaries. It also directed DAR to audit the $32.44 million, which was part of the proceeds when the HLI sold 580 hectares to Rizal Commercial Banking Corporation (RCBC) and Subic Clark Tarlac Expressway (SCTEX).