125 Luisita farmers disqualified as land reform beneficiaries

“There should be no need to require farmworkers to apply for the purchase of lands that they already own. There is, therefore, no basis for the DAR’s imposition to farm worker beneficiaries to sign the Affidavit of Purchase and Farmers’ Undertaking.”

By RONALYN V. OLEA
Bulatlat.com

hli-sibayan

MANILA – Florida Sibayan was born and raised inside Hacienda Luisita. At 15 years old, she started working in the vast plantation, planting and cutting sugar canes for eight to 12 hours a day.

When the Supreme Court issued its final ruling, April 24, 2012, ordering the Cojuangco-Aquino clan to distribute over 4,000 hectares of land to the thousands of farm worker beneficiaries, Sibayan welcomed it with all her heart. For her, the decision is an affirmation that she and other poor farm workers are the rightful owners of the land.

More than two years after the landmark decision, the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) disqualified Sibayan and 124 other farm workers as beneficiaries of the land reform program. In a decision signed by Assistant Secretary Dennis Barrantes dated August 26, the DAR said the failure of 125 farm workers to sign the Affidavit of Purchase and Farmers’ Undertaking (Afpu) “can and should only be construed as an express waiver to be awardees under the agrarian reform program of the government.”

For Sibayan, this is just unacceptable. “Why should we pay for the land that is rightfully ours?” she told Bulatlat.com in a phone interview.

Sibayan, chairwoman of the Alyansa ng Magbubukid sa Asyenda Luisita (Ambala), said she and their members did not participate in the DAR’s raffle draw system of land distribution. They did not receive lot allocation certificates and did not sign the Affidavit of Purchase and Farmers’ Undertaking.

The Affidavit of Purchase and Farmers’ Undertaking, according to a previous press release from DAR, manifests the willingness of the farmer-beneficiaries to abide by their obligation under the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program, which is to (a) cultivate the farm lots allotted to them, (b) pay the amortization based on the lands’ assessed value as well as the real estate taxes, and (c) desist from committing prohibited acts.”

No factual and legal basis

Jobert Pahilga, lawyer of Ambala and executive director of the Sentro para sa Tunay na Repormang Agraryo (Sentra) argued that the DAR’s order has no factual and legal basis and was issued in violation of the rights of farm worker-beneficiaries to due process of law.

“There should be no need to require farmworkers to apply for the purchase of lands that they already own. There is, therefore, no basis for the DAR’s imposition to farm worker beneficiaries to sign the Afpu,” Pahilga said.

Pahilga argued that the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) law does not provide as basis for disqualification of a beneficiary, the failure or refusal of the farmer to sign the Afpu. Pahilga said failure to claim a lot allocation certificate or even their Certificate of Land Ownership Award (Cloa) is also not a ground to disqualify farmers.

Pahilga noted that the disqualification notices were sent out to the farm workers even as an omnibus motion questioning the validity of DAR’s system of land distribution is pending with the high court. As early as July 2013, Ambala filed the said motion seeking to invalidate the raffle system of land distribution, stop the DAR from collecting amortization payments, and from compelling the farm worker beneficiaries to sign the Afpu, among others.

Ambala, through Pahilga, filed with DAR a motion protesting the disqualification, Sept. 23.

For Ambala, the DAR’s actions would pave the way for the Cojuangco-Aquinos to regain control of the land.

The Unyon ng Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (Uma) estimated that the amortization of each farm worker beneficiary would amount to P837, 000 ($19,000), excluding interest and payment of land taxes. The amount is based on Agrarian Reform Secretary Virgilio delos Reyes’s previous statement that the Hacienda Luisita Inc. would be paid P1.2 billion ($27.46 million) as compensation for the land.

Under the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program, the amortization shall be paid in 30 years in 30 equal amortizations. Failure to pay the amortization for an aggregate of three years will result in foreclosure. Foreclosure would mean cancellation of certificate of land ownership awards (CLOA) and often results in the re-concentration of land to the landlords.

Now 54 years old, Sibayan said they would not give up.

Sibayan was only two years old when, in 1957, Jose Cojuangco Sr. took control of the Central Azucarera de Tarlac and Hacienda Luisita through loans from the Manufacturer’s Trust Co. The Central Bank and the Government Service Insurance System (GSIS) endorsed the loan application of the Cojuangcos provided that the land would be distributed to the farmers after ten years. At 12, she and her family should have owned a piece of land to till and would never have to toil for one of the richest families in the country.

With determination, Sibayan said in Filipino, “The land is ours.”

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