House Scolds DLR for Delay in Luisita Probe
Members of the
Department of Land Reform’s Task Force Hacienda Luisita got a beating from
the House Committee on Agrarian Reform for the much delayed report on its
investigation on the implementation of the Stock Distribution Option in
Luzon’s largest sugar estate, Hacienda Luisita, Inc.
BY DABET CASTAŃEDA
After nine months of
investigation, the Department of Land Reform’s (DLR, formerly the
Department of Agrarian Reform or DAR) Task Force Hacienda Luisita (TF-HL)
failed to present a comprehensive report on the implementation of the
Stock Distribution Option (SDO) in Luzon’s largest sugar estate, Hacienda
Luisita, Inc. (HLI).
This prompted House
Committee Chair Rep. Gregorio Ipong on May 30 to adjourn the hearing. “Hindi
na namin kayo ipapahiya ng husto” (We won’t humiliate you too much),
Ipong told the agrarian officials in exasperation.
The hearing was held
at the Ramon V. Mitra Hall at the House of Representatives in Quezon City.
The TF-HL was created
pursuant to Special Order No. 789 Series of 2004 in response to the clamor
of the farmworker beneficiaries of HLI for the department to come out with
a firm stand regarding the controversy confronting them and the management
of the HLI and in connection with the compliance of the Memorandum of
Agreement (MoA) for the SDO.
In the last quarter
of 2003, two petitions from the farmworker beneficiaries and the
supervisory group were filed at then DAR. In particular, the supervisory
group’s petition questioned the non-compliance by the HLI management of
the MoA while the farmworkers’ petition called for the revocation of the
After a year, no
action had been taken by the DLR. Since then, calls for the revocation of
the SDO has heightened and, coupled with unfair labor practices and
illegal retrenchment issues, the HLI workers went on strike simultaneously
with mill workers from the Central Azucarera de Tarlac (CAT) on Nov. 6
The strike hogged the
headlines when seven strikers and their supporters were killed during a
violent dispersal at the picketline in Tarlac
Lawyer Ibra B. Omar
Al Haj TF-HL chair and director of the Bureau of Agrarian Legal Affairs (BALA)
told the committee that the report is taking too long to finalize because
the 11-man team comprising the task force are divided on certain issues.
Omar said some of his
colleagues think that RA 6657 or the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program
should be amended while others say that the matters should be passed on to
the Department of Labor and Employment (DoLE). Other members say that the
matters are agrarian in nature over which the DLR has jurisdiction.
Omar promised the
committee that they would resolve the issue by this week.
One of the
controversial findings of the task force is on the legality of the
conversion of the 500 hectares of the HLI land into residential and
While the task force
initial report noted that the conversion was legal given that the land
transfer has been completed when the Presidential Agrarian Reform
Commission (PARC) approved the SDO in 1989, Omar believes there has been a
violation of the conversion because the land in question has not been
developed until today.
Omar told the
committee that any agricultural land converted for other purposes has to
be developed within five years. If not, the conversion order should be
subject for revocation.
It was also Omar who
informed the committee that the conversion was done nine years ago but the
land remains idle. “Mabigat yun, walang nabago dun sa lupa” (That’s
significant, the land underwent no change), he said.
The revocation of the
land conversion was also part of the farmworkers’ petition. However, it is
the Petition for Extension filed by the HLI management Nov. 14 last year
that the committee is expediting, Omar said.
The HLI management
had no representation during the inquiry.
Heavy military presence
Galang, president of the United Luisita Workers’ Union (ULWU), who was
present during the inquiry, appealed to the committee to also look into
the heavy military presence now being felt all throughout the
6,000-hectare sugar estate. He said that eight out of 11 villages
comprising the hacienda have military detachments.
According to Galang,
the Northern Luzon Command (NolCom) 7th Infantry Division (ID)
has deployed one company of soldiers that include the 48th
Infantry Battalion (IB) of the 702nd Brigade, the 69th
IB and the 24th IB of the 703rd Brigade, and a
company of Citizens Armed Forces Geographical Unit (Cafgu). Scout Rangers
Tecson in San Miguel, Bulacan and soldiers
from the 71st IB from Fort Magsaysay in Nueva Ecija have also
been deployed in the hacienda.
“Instead of helping
to resolve the strike, NolCom under Lt. Gen. Romeo Dominguez, is conniving
with the Cojuangco family to terrorize the people and violate their basic
rights,” Galang said in a statement.
He added that the
soldiers conduct house-to-house visits and frighten the union members
against joining the picket. The union leader called for the immediate
pull-out of the military from the hacienda.
Galang said the
deployment of soldiers in the hacienda escalated after the burial of
Tarlac City Councilor Abel Ladera – a victim of extra-judicial killing -
on March 9. It also came in time for the TF-HL ocular investigation which
it conducted on March 15.
In a letter dated
March 11, HLI Corporate Secretary Emmanuel Cochico asked the DLR to
postpone its investigation in the hacienda because there have been
sightings of armed elements from the New People’s Army (NPA) inside
The letter also
confirmed the deployment of three army companies from Fort
Magsaysay in Laur, Nueva Ecija to
“augment the lone company of soldiers on guard in the area.”
Cochico said the HLI
management asked for the postponement of the investigation because they
could not answer for the safety of the DLR officers if and when an armed
But Galang told
Bulatlat that the deployment of soldiers in the hacienda was meant to
instill fear among the union members and leaders who have stood their
ground at the picketline. Bulatlat
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© 2004 Bulatlat
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