Two years after the landmark Supreme Court decision to distribute Hacienda Luisita to farm workers, genuine land reform and justice remain elusive in this vast and historic estate.
During the past two years, the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) and Malacañang have been working doubly hard, not for the expeditious delivery of agrarian justice, but in the crafting of one ploy after another to facilitate the Cojuangco-Aquinos’ latest circumvention of land distribution.
Luisita farm workers have undoubtedly been the focus of state efforts. Government has poured generous amount of resources and manpower into the DAR’s land distribution scheme which includes, among others, the construction of new military company headquarters right smack in disputed agricultural areas, the omnipresent deployment of regular army, paramiltary and SWAT units to complement the private security personnel and hired thugs of the Cojuangco-Aquinos who constantly sow fear among Luisita farmers and residents.
With this reign of terror and an elaborate swindle that targets farm workers and uses millions of pesos in public funds, the Aquino government has been expertly rubbing salt on the wounds of thousands of Luisita farmers who, for over five decades now of Cojuangco-Aquino feudal tyranny in the sugar estate, continue to be deprived of genuine land reform and justice.
Agrarian reform officials have been very consistent in hyping what they allege to be the DAR’s right-on-target achievements in Hacienda Luisita. The DAR’s loud pronouncements, however, have time and again betrayed the department’s utter duplicity, and its culpability for having completed nothing in Hacienda Luisita except for what has now become another classic example of sham land distribution.
The DAR’s direct hand in inflicting violence and injustice against farmworkers via the unlawful arrest and ensuing public threats of imprisonment against 5 members of farmworkers’ alliance AMBALA illustrates the extent to which the DAR could go in its long-running close collusion with the Presidential clan in the latter’s aggressive bid to dodge and sabotage land reform for the nth time and systematically reassert its big landlord interest.
The DAR makes a fool out of the public by stating that the problems with Luisita land distribution are now only about minor difficulties arising from the strictly technical challenge of placing concrete markers in the allocated farm lots or what is called “monumenting.” AMBALA meanwhile has, since July last year, already declared DAR’s land distribution in Hacienda Luisita as a concrete and monumental failure.
Again, farmworkers assert that the DAR has in fact committed blatant abuse of discretion in most, if not all the actual steps it has undertaken, leaving its supposed beneficiaries disenfranchised, violated and swindled. The failure of other government institutions such as the local police, local courts, the Department of Justice and the Supreme Court to immediately act and fairly address the farmworkers’urgent and legitimate grievances further perpetuates impunity.
From landmark SC decision to bogus DAR implementation
Here are dispositive portions of the Hacienda Luisita Supreme Court ruling and the current Luisita situation.
- SUPREME COURT ORDERED the revocation of the 1989 Stock Distribution Option (SDO) scheme
The DAR is currently pushing a new pro-landlord system very much similar in essence to the SDO scheme, which had already been revoked by the Supreme Court and which Luisita farm workers had fought against for years in a bloody struggle.
The BLOCK-FARMING SCHEME, if implemented, will allow a “farm manager” to control 30-60 hectares of individually-titled farmlots. As in the SDO, the so-called farmer beneficiaries would have to place their lots as their share in a block. They would have to split profits, if any, among their co-farmers while slaving away as typical landless farm workers which they have already been for decades. In a block farm, farmers have practically no control over their lots and, in a basic sense, have already lost their right to till.
“Farm managers,” meanwhile, are usually the leaders of the DAR’s Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries Organization or ARBO. These managers will also have access to so-called “support services” like credit and financial aid from public funds funnelled to the DAR, highly questionable amounts, in fact, given what have already been exposed in the pork barrel scam. In Hacienda Luisita, leaders of village-level ARBOs include known financier-dummies of the Cojuangcos, yellow agents and corrupted local leaders.
Block-farming and the ARBO would only reinforce the practice of coercing cash-strapped farmers to enter into illicit lease agreements with sugarcane production financiers, a modus very much designed to favor the Cojuangco-Aquinos’ relentless effort to ultimately retain control of vast tracts of land that have supposedly been already subjected to distribution. Presidential “Kabarilan”and Casino Queen Virgie Torres is but one of these financier-dummies doing business for the Cojuangcos.
Block-farming is particularly intended to provide the Central Azucarera de Tarlac (CAT) with the nearest steady supply of raw sugarcane. With only a nominal dismantling of Hacienda Luisita, and with the Cojuangco-Aquinos still very much able to impose control over land use and farm labor, the CAT can still maintain, to the detriment of small Luisita farmers, normal operations as the biggest buyer of sugarcane in Central Luzon.
- SUPREME COURT ORDERED the distribution by the DAR of 4,335 hectares, including other tracts that it would find to be agricultural in use, to 6,296 FWBs. Each should supposedly receive no less than a 6,886 square meter agricultural lot.
After the FF Cruz survey, the DAR found only 4,099 hectares — more than 300 hectares chopped off from the original area found in the SC ruling– for distribution to 6,212 (instead of 6,296) DAR selected FWBs, each to receive a 6,600 sq. meter farmlot, or more than 200 square meters less than the SC-prescribed minimum. AMBALA also laments the underhanded insertion of unqualified names in the FWB masterlist, and the unexplained exclusion by the DAR of a number of bonafide farm workers such as the oldest farmworker families who lived in Luisita even before the Cojuangco take-over in 1958, and kin of victims of the 2004 massacre and subsequent killings.
An elaborate “land coverage swindle” is behind these glaring discrepancies. The original land area of Luisita is widely known to be 6, 453 hectares, but only 4,915were declared by the Cojuangcos to be agricultural in use when the SDO scheme was implemented in 1989. Of these thousands of hectares, only 500 hectares were legitimately approved by the DAR for land use conversion in 1996, thus the Supreme Court order to subtract this figure along with 80.5 hectares of the Subic Clark Tarlac Expressway (SCTEX) to come up with 4,335 hectares for land distribution.
The 500-hectare area now fenced by LRC and RCBC, however, is still a subject of a pending petition for revocation of conversion order as it remains undeveloped, idle and still fit for agricultural use almost two decades after the area was approved for conversion. The RCBC and the LRC, as other spin-off entities and corporate avatars of the Cojuangco-Aquino family, were merely used to juggle profits while deliberately dodging land distribution.
It must not be forgotten that the SC further instructed the DAR to find and subject to land reform all other agricultural areas which the Cojuangco-Aquinos have failed to declare in the SDO. The DAR did issue a notice of land reform coverage for another 358 hectares of land in Barangays Balete and Cutcut in December 2013. But this notice, on the very same day that it was issued, did not stop the Cojuangco-Aquino-owned Tarlac Development Corporation (TADECO) from bulldozing farmers’ ricefields and crops, burning down homes and farmhuts and fencing the whole area with concrete and barbed wires.
AMBALA asserts that at least a thousand hectares of agricultural land must be subjected to land reform on top of the 4,099 hectares which the Cojuangco-Aquinos, through its collusion with the DAR, have made the public believe to be the only coverable Hacienda Luisita lands. Farmworkers say that these lands were purposely hidden by the Cojuangco-Aquino clan through underhanded maneuvers and the exertion of its immense influence in government. AMBALA recently sent a letter to the Provincial Agrarian Reform Office attached with voluminous land titles and documents to prove that the Cojuangcos have swindled not only Luisita farmers, but the whole Filipino people with its illegal and immoral claims on Hacienda Luisita.
Despite repeated written and personal requests, the DAR never furnished AMBALA a copy of the Hacienda Luisita land survey conducted by the FF Cruz firm, the subsequent per barangay subdivision plan and the results of the raffling of lot allocation certificates to beneficiaries. From the start, the DAR never even bothered to include AMBALA representatives to participate in the actual survey.
The DAR Employees Association, meanwhile, has lodged a complaint before the Ombudsman regarding overpriced payment to the FF Cruz firm for the Hacienda Luisita land survey.
- SUPREME COURT ORDERED the accounting of the books of the Hacienda Luisita, Inc (HLI) and payment to farmworkers of their share of proceeds of HLI’s sale of the 500-hectare property to RCBC and LIPCO and 80.5 hectares used for the SCTEX amounting to Php 1.33 billion;
The DAR, even at the onset, had consciously subverted the auditing process when it failed to immediately recognize and appoint the OMLL, the auditing firm of choice of farm workers as represented by AMBALA and of all other parties to the SC case, except for the HLI which is the main subject of the audit. The DAR purposely delayed the process by seeking the SC’s opinion on a no-brainer decision.
Under the Sereno leadership, the Supreme Court issued last March an order appointing, instead of just one credible auditing firm, three accountants to take on the task of evaluating the books of the HLI. AMBALA, however, contends that, to maintain the credibility and independence of the audit, only one auditing firm, OMLL, should be appointed. Upon background check, the two other entities, according to AMBALA, appear to have had ties with the Cojuangco-Aquinos. Deloitte is a firm openly endorsed by the HLI to the SC, while Carisa May Pay Penson is a former employee of the KPMG firm which AMBALA had previously sought to disqualify for having had business ties with the Cojuangcos. Penson, furthermore, is technically not a qualified accountant.
- SUPREME COURT ORDERED the issuance, for free, of the 240-square meter homelots allocated to farmworkers in 1989; and 18,804 shares of stocks of the HLI to 4,206 non-qualified FWBs who will remain as stockholders;
The Cojuangco-Aquinos have transferred ownership of parcels of the Hacienda Luisita property to several of their corporate avatars. This was cunningly done in order that the Cojuangco-Aquinos may hide their investments and profits from the Luisita farm workers and sugar mill workers, the HLI’s supposed co-owners. The historic 2004 Hacienda Luisita strike of thousands of farm workers and sugar mill workers was triggered by the very recognition of this grave anomaly and injustice. The strike, despite great odds and sustained violent attacks by the Cojuangco-Aquinos, resolutely pushed for the revocation of the SDO and to put a stop to land use conversion. If properly accounted for, the HLI and the Cojuangco-Aquino family may be obligated to compensate farm workers not just with the Php 1.33 billion returns but with all other hefty revenues from its illegitimate transactions involving Hacienda Luisita property.
Until now, Luisita farmworkers still do not have proper documents and land titles to prove ownership of their homelots located in the barangay proper of each of the 11 villages. They have become easy prey to deceitful transactions, harassment and eviction. Threats of further dislocation and demolition of homes loom especially in barangays Balete, Cutcut, Lourdes, Central and Mapalacsiao where agricultural areas have been transformed into walled garrisons and plastered with tarpaulin banners announcing “DEVELOPMENT SOON TO RISE.”
The Cojuangco-Aquinos aggressive land grab efforts, coupled with the Aquino administration’s actions to railroad Charter Change and pave the way for unhampered foreign investments, threaten to wipe out the whole agricultural community of Hacienda Luisita in favor of an elitist and foreign-controlled Luisita Ecozone project. The Cojuangco-Aquinos have been employing bribery, deceit and fake petitions to prop up their illegal and immoral claims.
- SUPREME COURT ORDERED the payment by the DAR of just compensation to HLI for agricultural land at the price prevailing in 1989.
AMBALA asserts that Luisita farmworkers should not be treated like any ordinary claimants of government land reform benefits. They have long been in fact the rightful, original Luisita landowners whom the Cojuangco-Aquinos, through decades of swindle and terror, have severely disenfranchised. AMBALA, thus, maintains that the Cojuangco-Aquinos, in finally relinquishing claim over Hacienda Luisita, deserve not a single peso in return.
The SC, however, has ruled that the Cojuangco-Aquinos would have to be compensated. Such remuneration, according to the high court, shall be pegged at the estate’s 1989 value, or about Php 40,000 per hectare. Even before the actual distribution process, or months before the DAR’s Luisita farce completely unravelled, the department had already disbursed Php 471.5 million pesos to HLI in so-called “just compensation,” easily more than double the value initially prescribed by the SC. The DAR justifies this by saying that Php 304 million of the total amount is the actual cost of the land property while the remainder is the cash equivalent of matured 10-year LBP bonds computed using the prevailing 91-day T-bill rates from 1989 to 1999. The HLI lawyers meanwhile commented that the said amount is still very minimal. Many believe that the Cojuangco-Aquinos will try to negotiate further and push it to the billion level.
Such landlord compensation racket is especially disturbing not only because Luisita farm workers remain destitute, but also because what the government has paid the Cojuangco-Aquinos could, in all likelihood, be the very same fund which is now being used to sustain the massive project of deception and terror in the hacienda.
Hacienda Luisita will remain Cojuangco-Aquino country with DAR’s help & CARPER
DAR landlord talking heads Sec. Gil delos Reyes and Undersecretary Tony Parungao can boast as long as they want about their agency’s so-called achievements in distributing Hacienda Luisita to thousands of farm workers.
The government’s dismal land reform record in Hacienda Luisita and other traditional strongholds of hacenderos like the Negros Island, speaks for itself. With shameless bureaucrats like delos Reyes and Parungao, the powerful Cojuangco clan is assured of loyal back-rubbing. Their lies, however, will never expunge their crimes against the peasants and the Filipino people.
Eduardo Cojuangco, Jr., cousin of Luisita kingpin Jose “Peping” Cojuangco, Jr., still controls 5,030 hectares of lands under the so called “corporative scheme.” Another 2,536 hectares owned by 10 landlords are still under the Stock Distribution Option (SDO) scheme which was similarly implemented in Luisita under the CARP. According to NFSW, 1,905 SDO “beneficiaries” still live like typical farm workers with the same dismal conditions as in any other hacienda. Dividends, or shares in the capital stock received by farmworker-beneficiaries range only from P340 to P500 annually.
The SDO scheme in Tarlac brought extreme poverty and suffering to farmworkers and prompted thousands to rise up and strike against the Hacienda Luisita, Inc. management. The SDO was revoked in Hacienda Luisita via a landmark Supreme Court decision two years ago. However, this same big landlord scam is still in effect in 10 Negros haciendas leaving thousands of hectares of agricultural land under the control of a handful of powerful and scheming landlords .
DAR’s land distribution travesty in Hacienda Luisita has, since July last year, not only caused confusion but also massive dislocation of farmers. The DAR’s cunning manuevers that allowed around two thousand hectares of agricultural lands to be exempted from distribution have now given the Cojuangco-Aquinos the green light to violently evict hundreds of farmers from the plots that they have long been tilling. Delos Reyes, Parungao and other yellow agents in the DAR have been going out of their way to justify the heightened atrocities against agrarian reform beneficiaries by publicly stating that there is nothing illegal in the Cojuangco-Aquino’s bulldozing of crops and fencing of agricultural lots.
Without sensing any irony in their shameless actions, agrarian reform personnel have also recently caused the unlawful arrest of five farmers associated with the Alyansa ng mga AMBALA, practically threatening all other hapless farmers that they could face years of imprisonment if the DAR so wishes. The DAR it seems has forgotten that the SC decision was precisely in favor of AMBALA, the main petitioner in the landmark case representing thousands of farmworkers fighting for genuine agrarian reform and social justice in Hacienda Luisita.
The history of agrarian struggle in Luisita, Negros and the whole Philippine countryside has long proven the DAR’s active role in serving the interests of big landlord families such as the Cojuangcos and the Aquinos. The landlord-sponsored CARP and its extension CARPER, have long been a costly and violent farce that must be ended. ##