Stock Distribution Option: Land Reform
That the plight of farm
workers at Hacienda Luisita in Tarlac has already faded from the
mainstream media limelight does not mean that there is now peace in the
area. Last April 22, some 1,500 farm workers agreed to withdraw their
shares in Hacienda Luisita, Inc. (HLI), demand that stock distribution
option (SDO) be revoked and opt for land distribution instead.
By Abner Bolos
What happens when
tillers are given stock certificates instead of land? Is it still land
reform in essence?
At Hacienda Luisita
in Tarlac (north of Manila), 15 years of the stock distribution option (SDO)
has found land owners engaged in a raging conflict with tillers, to the
point where lives have been claimed from the ranks of the latter.
The bitter labor
dispute in the vast sugar plantation owned by the family of former
President Corazon Cojuangco-Aquino broke out in November 2004 when work
for the members of the 5,000-strong United Luisita Workers’ Union (ULWU)
was reduced to only one day a week, their wages and benefits greatly
diminished and hundreds were laid off from work.
Promises in 1989
In 1989, at the start
of SDO implementation, the farm workers were promised that owning shares
of stock in the Hacienda Luisita Inc. (HLI) – the corporation put up by
the Cojuangco family to manage the 6,443-hectare sugar plantation – is
better than actual land distribution. As stock holders, they were supposed
to own 33 percent or P196.6 million ($3.6 million, based on an exchange
rate of P54.20 per US dollar) of the total shares of stocks of HLI
amounting to P590,554,220 ($10,895,834.32). The latter is the value of the
4,915 hectares covered by the SDO.
The SDO, stipulated
in the Comprehensive Land Reform Law (CARL or Republic Act 6657), was
implemented in the hacienda. The objective of any land reform program is
to give land to the tillers. Through the SDO scheme, however, only the
shares of stock are distributed. In the case of Hacienda Luisita, the farm
workers’ share in HLI is the hacienda land itself, the remaining 66
percent being capital stock and other non-land assets.
As co-owners of HLI,
the SDO is supposed to provide a better life for farm workers through
stable jobs, higher incomes, improved benefits and shares from company
profits. What they got was the opposite. More than 1,000 farm workers have
lost their jobs since 1989. The corporation reduced their workdays to only
one day a week and their net pay to a measly P9.50 ($0.18) a day.
For the farm workers,
while the SDO and land ownership were not among the issues that directly
led to the strike, these proved to be major problems that now plague them
and the Cojuangco family.
Last April 22, when
negotiations to end the strike reached another impasse, some 1,500 farm
workers massed up at the picket line in Gate 1 of the sugar mill and
agreed that they will now withdraw their shares in HLI, demand that SDO be
revoked and opt for land distribution instead.
The decision to
withdraw their shares, already a thorny legal and corporate question, was
made because the farm workers felt cheated through the SDO. They then
reaffirmed their claim on the land, their livelihood and their homes.
Leaders of a group of
plantation supervisors who, in October 2003, petitioned the government to
investigate SDO and demanded a re-negotiation for a new Memorandum of
Agreement, also came and voiced their support for the revocation of the
The supervisors are
in the same boat as the farm workers. They are also stockholders who
believe that the corporation cheated them of their rights in the SDO and
that the stock certificates in their possession are worthless.
The SDO not only
worsened the plight of the farm workers. It also allowed the Cojuangco
family to profit immensely from the land. Some 1,532 hectares which was
part of the original 6,443-hectare hacienda land were excluded in the SDO
and remained in the hands of the Tarlac Development Corporation (TADECO),
a Cojuangco-owned corporation which negotiated the 1958 purchase of the
hacienda from the original Spanish owners. Never told of this move, the
farm workers were surprised to learn later that former sugar cane lands
were turned into commercial and factory sites.
Only about 4,415
hectares remain as cultivable out of the 4,915 hectares originally covered
by the SDO. In 1995, 500 hectares were sold to corporations also owned by
the Cojuangcos. The family earned billions of pesos from the land
supposedly owned by the farm workers. HLI apparently served as the
instrument where the Cojuangco family imposed its will on the farm workers
whom it also calls “co-owners.”
Should the land use
design of the Cojuangco family for the hacienda push through, not a single
hectare will be spared. The entire plantation will be transformed into a
vast residential, commercial and industrial site. In the process, the
hacienda people’s claim on the land will vanish.
Moral and legal?
The Cojuangco family
maintains that the SDO is “moral and legal,” saying that since 1989, the
hacienda has ceased to be an agrarian issue but a corporate matter. For
the farm workers, the SDO snatched the land away from their hands and must
be revoked for them to be able to reclaim the land.
The SDO made life
more difficult not only for the farm workers but also for the 700-strong
members of the Central Azucarera de Tarlac Labor Union (CATLU). Its
members operate the sugar mill. As land use conversion remained unabated,
land planted to sugar cane shrunk and so did the volume of raw sugar that
goes to the mill for processing. Over the years, more than 500 sugar mill
workers have lost their jobs as entire departments were closed and
management resorted to “cost-cutting” measures.
CATLU members joined
the strike not only because their wages and benefits are low but also
because they did not wish to be scabs to the plantation workers’ strike.
The sugar mill and plantation workers and their families comprise 10
barangays in the hacienda with a population of about 35,000. All of them
are in danger of being displaced or deprived of work in the land use plan
of the Cojungco family. As workers who labor for the same master, they
feel they share the same destiny and must fight together to defend their
Since the Nov. 16,
2004 massacre of seven striking workers, Hacienda Luisita has become known
as a place where the blood of workers flow freely whenever they assert
their right to the land and their livelihood.
The striking workers
continue to guard their picket lines surrounding the sugar mill. Since
March, some 300 soldiers from the Northern Luzon Command (NOLCOM) have
been deployed in the barrios of the hacienda. The generals of NOLCOM said
that the soldiers were sent to “protect” the people from the New People’s
Army (NPA) and the Communist Party of Philippines (CPP) which the military
blames for “orchestrating” the strike.
The people of the
hacienda however see the soldiers’ presence as the Cojuangco family’s way
of putting an end to the strike and have called for their withdrawal. The
land question in Hacienda Luisita persists and so does the conflict
between the people and the Cojuangco family. Bulatlat
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© 2004 Bulatlat
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