protest at SC En Banc Session in Baguio City. (Photo by AMGL)
The regional farmers group Alyansa ng mga Magbubukid sa Gitnang Luson (Amgl, Farmers’ Alliance in Central Luzon) and its chapter Alyansa ng Manggawang Bukid sa Asyenda Luisita (Ambala, Farmworkers’ Alliance in Hacienda Luisita) warned the Cojuangco family and president Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III against blocking or disrupting the pending distribution of 4,915-hectares of agricultural land to 6,296 farmworker-beneficiaries (FWBs). The groups said that as the Supreme Court decided with finality that lands should be distributed, groups who are associated with the Cojuangcos or favored the junked Stock Distribution Option (SDO) are now claiming that they are in favor of “individual” land distribution.
Ambala, ULWU, the legitimate beneficiaries
“We are watchful of other groups who claim that they are legitimate farmworker-beneficiaries, especially those who supported the Cojuangco-Aquinos’ deception in pushing the SDO during the oral arguments at the Supreme Court in 2010,” Felix Nacpil said, Ambala chairperson.
“As they are calling for individual land distribution, we believe that this is the new approach of the Cojuangco-Aquinos, to buy out lands from farmworkers, lure us with quick money,” Nacpil said.
Ambala is calling for the immediate and free land distribution through collective ownership of legitimate farmworker-beneficiaries and urging the Filipino people to take note of organizations who have continued the struggle against the SDO and for land distribution. Ambala and the United Luisita Workers’ Union (Ulwu) are the legitimate organizations of farmworker-beneficiaries of Hacienda Luisita.
“While the SC decision is a victory against the Cojuangco-Aquinos attempt to revive the SDO, the full realization of land distribution is far from being fulfilled. The SC affirmed the Cojuangcos claim of ownership when everybody knows that they used Filipino taxpayers’ money in acquiring Hacienda Luisita in 1957,” Joseph Canlas said, Amgl chairperson.
SDO is CARP, unsuitability of CARPer
Amgl said that the next stage of the farmworkers’ struggle is about the process of how the Dept. of Agrarian Reform (DAR) would implement the decision of the Supreme Court.
“We want to remind the Filipino people that the failed SDO applied in Hacienda Luisita is the very implementation of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program or Republic Act 6657, it is provisioned as Section 31, thus, we should never be confused that SDO is different with CARP or its successor program CARP Extension with ‘Reforms’,” Canlas said.
Amgl is calling for the immediate and direct land distribution, collective ownership and not through the implementation of CARPer. DAR has yet to announce the exact manner of implementing the SC decision.
“We firmly believe that the Cojuangco-Aquinos and DAR would push through with CARPer and individual issuance of Certificate of Land Ownership Awards or CLOAs, as this is an effective means of getting back the land as what farmers from different parts of Central Luzon and the whole country are experiencing,” Canlas said.
“With individual distribution, the Cojuangco-Aquinos and their lackey organizations could easily deceive poor farmworkers who are in serious need of money just to survive for a day. They have done this when they executed the bogus referendum favoring the SDO on August 6, 2010,” he added.
Amgl also cited the unsuitability of Republic Act 9700 or CARPer as it provisioned the landowners attestation, cancellation of CLOAs and other anti-farmer provision of its predecessor law CARP.
“Imagine, in case the farmworkers could not cope up with the amortization, CLOAs would be cancelled and the land to be returned to the Cojuangco-Aquinos? At the minimum it would be foreclosed by the Land Bank and the government would take control of the land,” Canlas said.
“Aquino could easily influence DAR as it is under his control and he heads the Presidential Agrarian Reform Council or PARC,” he added.
Free land distribution
Amgl said that the issue of Hacienda Luisita has exposed the failure of the past and present government land reform program.
“The Hacienda Luisita issue has exposed the bias of any government land reform program to the landowners, especially the big landlords, rich and powerful politicians such as the Cojuangcos,” Canlas said.
Amgl said that even the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos’ land reform program Presidential Decree 27 and former president Corazon Aquino’s “centerpiece” program CARP have salvaged Hacienda Luisita from land reform.
“Marcos’ PD 27 exempted the hacienda as it only covered rice and corn lands, while Aquino’s CARP implemented the failed SDO. During these periods, the farmworkers who are the real owners of the land, worked in hardship while enriching the Cojuangco family,” Canlas said.
Amgl and Ambala asserted that there is no moral and just basis to compensate the Cojuangcos as it is a historical fact that they have used the Filipino people’s money to acquire the land and in the decades-long process of exploiting the farmworkers accumulated unimaginable wealth from the former’s blood, sweat and labor on the land.
“If the government would push through with compensating the Cojuangco-Aquinos, it should also implement the SC decision of paying back the farmworkers of P1.3 billion as share from the generated income of the systematic land use conversion of hacienda lands,” Canlas said.
Amgl said that if DAR would charge the farmworkers the SC decided price of P40,000 per hectare, or P196.6 million for the 4,915 hectares, the Cojuangco-Aquinos still owe them about P1.1 billion.
“The value of P40,000 per hectare appears to be low, but in aggregate the Cojuangco-Aquinos still want to rip the farmworkers off of P200 million. In another case, it would be the Filipino taxpayers to be burdened,” Canlas said.
“It is also a disgrace to compensate the Cojuangcos when they have killed farmworkers and supporters. The sacrifice of martyrs of the farmworkers’ struggle could only be cherished by the realization of free land distribution or genuine land reform,” he added.
Amgl appealed other sectors to oppose the compensation as it is immoral and exploitative to the farmworkers and Filipino people, as well as justice for the victims of Hacienda Luisita massacre and extra-judicial killings.
Ambala and Amgl affirmed that the SC decision is just a step forward and the farmwokers still face a big struggle. In 2004, Rizal Commercial Banking Corp. (RCBC) accepted the 184 hectare land in Brgy. Balete inside the hacienda as payment of the Luisita Industrial Park Co. (Lipco) for its loan obligations. Lipco is a Cojuangco-owned corporation.
“The SC recognized the transaction with RCBC, but it does not necessarily mean that it is just and legal,” Canlas said.
Amgl stated that the disputed land is supposed to be returned to land reform coverage as its conversion order issued by DAR in 1996 is deemed to be cancelled. The conversion order conditioned that the land should be developed in 5 years after its issuance but past year 2001, no development was made on the land.
“DAR knew that there was no development but they did nothing and waited for the farmworkers to petition the cancellation of the conversion order, thus, they did so last January 5,” Canlas said.
Ambala said that their petition has strong legal basis, thus, RCBC has attempted to eject farmers and construct fences around it. RCBC has attempted to disperse the farmworkers’ camp last October 28, 2011 and February 20 this year. It has also filed criminal charges against Ambala and Ulwu leaders, including its supporters such as Tarlac City councilor Emmie Ladera, sister of extra-judicial killing former city councilor Abel Ladera.
“The struggle is far from over, the Cojuangco-Aquinos should be totally isolated and exposed, with president Aquino who have done nothing to implement genuine land reform in the country. The Hacienda Luisita issue is the biggest thorn on his chest that he could never take out,” Canlas said. #