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Hacienda Luisita And President Noynoy

August 11, 2010

Nine calendar days from now the Supreme Court is scheduled to hear the petition on the controversial stock distribution option (SDO) for thousands of tenant farmers at the Cojuangco family’s sprawling Hacienda Luisita in Tarlac.

Manila Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo, head of the Catholic bishops’ National Secretariat of Social Action: President Aquino must not allow the same “black spot” that became his mother’s Waterloo” during her presidency to taint his administration.

We admired him when he stuck to his no wangwang (siren) policy… now, this is a real challenge for him to lead by example by putting pressure on his family to give what is due its workers under the land reform law.

The good bishop may or may not speak for the Church, but his statement is surely emblematic of the moral dimension of the controversy.

Christian Monsod, volunteer lawyer for some farmers and one of the authors of the 1987 Constitution:

I think the President should have involved himself as president. Forget about his being an Aquino or Cojuangco, Limampung taon na sa lupang yan sila ay nakinabang, panahon na na ibigay nila yan sa maralita.

This surely speaks to the underlying socio-political aspect of the hacienda conflict.

On the other side, this is now the official line:

Presidential Spokesman Edwin Lacierda:

Let me just state, he (Aquino) had no discussion or involvement in the compromise deal. He was just informed recently of the compromise…He does not know the details. He welcomes the development (signing of deal) because it was peaceful…He understands there will be people who will not be happy with it, pero ang mahalaga ay ang ninanais ng farmers. It went through a referendum.

Lacierda’s remark is anchored on President Noynoy assertion last week that he was no longer a party of interest in the dispute at the estate in Tarlac province as he had already divested himself of shares in the company owned by his Cojuangco relatives.

So we’re being told that this case is simply an “intra-corporate dispute.”

But it sadly misses the now inescapable standing of Noynoy as President.

The lay of the land:

The compromise deal gives the hacienda workers two choices – to retain their shares of stock, representing 33 percent of the corporation under the stock distribution option (SDO) or  get parcels of land from 1,366 hectares of the plantation.

The compromise agreement also includes a P150 million financial assistance for the farmer-beneficiaries.

HLI is said to have put the compromise agreement to a vote over a three-day period that supposedly resulted in 70 percent of the farmers accepting it.

But there are farmers who claim they were never told about the vote.

Critics claim there were deceptive tactics employed with the a deal-cum-stunt  “aimed at preempting the Supreme Court from ruling on the HLI petition against a Presidential Agrarian Reform Council and a directive of the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) canceling the SDO scheme and ordering the company to redistribute 4,915 hectares to farmer-beneficiaries.”

HLI is standing pat on the assertion that the ‘census’ census held from Aug. 6-8 at the Las Haciendas Clubhouse in Tarlac City “showed that 7,441 beneficiaries, or around 71 percent of 10,205 farmer-beneficiaries from the plantation’s 11 barangays signed the agreement.”

Speaking for the Cojuangco clan, Mr. Fernando Cojuangco has told journalists that Hacienda Luisita would uphold the decision of the 7,302 beneficiaries who opted to retain their stocks in the company and the 139 who chose to get plots of land.

The agreement is now expected to be submitted during the August 18 hearing on the HLI petition to overturn the Presidential Agrarian Reform Council decision in 2005.

That decision ordered the Cojuangcos to distribute 4,900 hectares of hacienda land to the farmers following a labor dispute purportedly because its stock distribution option (SDO) reached in 1989 did not improve their lives.

The case stemmed from a petition filed separately by three workers’ groups with the DAR in 2004 to revoke the SDO agreement. In the SDO scheme, farm workers agreed in 1989 to get a third of the shares of stock in HLI in lieu of land.

You are probably asking yourself why this particular case is touchy.

That’s because agrarian reform was a cornerstone campaign vow of his revered mother, President Cory.

After People Power she logically had to try to respond to the demands of peasants. She issued Presidential Declaration 131, which instituted the comprehensive agrarian reform under her administration.

She also came out with Executive Order 229 with Section 10 of that EO becoming the legal basis for the Stock Distribution Option that provided  for the distribution of stocks instead of parcels of land with the avowed intent of enabling beneficiaries to “receive a just share of the fruits of the lands they work.”

The succeeding administration of Fidel Ramos was marked by the intensified conversion and re-classification of land for high value crops with the government implementing the General Agreement on Tariff and Trade and joining the World Trade Organization. The Agriculture and Fisheries Modernization Act of 1997 was also passed, exempting exempted fish ponds from agrarian reform.

Under Joseph Estrada, another business scheme was implemented to pacify the struggle for land and justice.

This saw the formation of “partnerships” of big corporations and  small peasant cooperatives under the “corporative” concept perfected by tycoon Eduardo ‘Danding’ Cojuangco (who at that time was estranged from the Cojuangco-Aquino side of the family).

Then during the 9 years of Arroyo administration marred by corruption cases such as the Fertilizer Scam, NBN-ZTE scandal, Hello Garci Scandal.
GMA proudly bandied about agrarian reform as successful on the basis of the volume of land transfers.

But in truth, with sugar farmers not provided the promised safety nets to make their family-size holdings productive, ended up mortgaging their land award certificates to the old hacienderos and reverting to being daily-paid farm hands.

And quite glaringly, the Arroyo government even tagged militant farmers as members of the Communist Party of the Philippines and its armed wing the New People’s Army.

Of the 1,190 extrajudicial killings under the Arroyo administration, 561 were peasants and 119 were members of Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas.

(11 protesting farmers died in the Nov. 16, 2004 Hacienda Luisita massacre with police and hacienda security guards tagged as the shooters.

Today we face the reality is many landed families have been able to circumvent agrarian reform with a landed family may easily turning an hacienda into a livestock farm by buying cows or, of late, converting the estate or parts of it into an industrial estate.

This is compounded by the fact that local government units can also reclassify land use, resulting in massive land use conversion.

It now falls on the current Chief Executive to address the national agrarian reform problem that cries for a holistic resolution, taking in its social, religious, and political implications.

The long drawn out controversy at the Hacienda Luisita has undeniably become a litmus test of President Benigno Simeon Cojuangco Aquino III’s sworn commitment to do justice to every Filipino.

Readings from At Midfield:


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