Farm Workers, Cojuangco-Aquinos Battle Over Luisita

by Ronalyn V. Olea

Farm workers belonging to Alyansa ng Manggagawang Bukid sa Hacienda Luisita (Ambala) will troop today to the Supreme Court to reiterate their demand to revoke the stock distribution option (SDO) and distribute Hacienda Luisita, the sugar estate owned by President Benigno S. Aquino III and his family.

The SC will hold today oral arguments on the petition for certiorari filed by the Hacienda Luisita Inc. (HLI) management against the 2005 resolution of the Presidential Agrarian Reform Council (PARC) and Department of Agrarian Reform revoking the SDO and ordering the distribution of land to the farm workers.

Today’s oral arguments is the “first agrarian dispute to be heard by justices in open court and involves the President’s landlord clan,” said Anakpawis Rep. Rafael Mariano. “We call on the Supreme Court justices to put an end to the historical injustice suffered by landless farmers and farm workers of Hacienda Luisita at the hands of the Cojuangcos.”

To evade land distribution, HLI in 1989 implemented the SDO as one of the non-land transfer schemes stated in the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law (CARL).

In its resolution, the PARC said that the policy of “no-work no-shares” – workers who supposedly co-own the hacienda do not earn shares if they do not work — is contrary to law and public policy. It also said the setup under the 1989 memorandum of agreement is one-sided in favor of the HLI and that the farm workers remain ordinary farmers and the land remain under the full ownership and control HLI. It concluded that the farm workers’ economic conditions become onerous, their lives becoming more miserable.

According to the guidelines released by the high court, the oral arguments will focus on the following:

* Whether or not PARC has jurisdiction, power and/or authority to revoke the 1989 SDO agreement, and whether the council, in 2006, followed due process in ordering the revocation of the agreement;

* Whether or not there is a legal basis to revoke the SDO agreement;

* Whether the DAR and PARC are the real parties-in-interest in the case;

* “Whether or not the rights, obligations, and remedies of the parties to the SDOA are now governed by the Corporation Code and not by the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law;” and

* “Whether Luisita Industrial Park Corporation (LIPCO) and Rizal Commercial Banking Corporation (RCBC), as transferees of a portion of Hacienda Luisita, may invoke the doctrine of innocent purchaser for value in the instant case.”

But Gleoresty Guerra, assistant chief of the Supreme Court public information office, said the oral arguments may also discuss the controversial compromise deal hatched by HLI management on Aug. 6. The HLI management and persons claiming to be representatives of the farm workers signed a compromise agreement. The so-called deal purportedly offers two options: SDO or land, and the HLI management claimed that the farm workers voted for SDO, the same scheme that led to the death of seven striking farm workers in the 2004 massacre.

“Even if it (compromise agreement) is not mentioned in the guidelines, there is no prohibition (against it being tackled),” Guerra told reporters on Tuesday.

Mariano said the Supreme Court will also be put “on trial” on the controversial agrarian dispute involving the HLI.“The Hacienda Luisita land dispute is the first acid test of the Supreme Court under the Aquino administration. The Cojuangco-Aquinos have put the Supreme Court on trial here,” Mariano said.

“The world is watching how the Supreme Court will handle the Luisita case,” Mariano added. “Will it allow itself to be an accessory to the crime of the Cojuangco-Aquinos, circumvention of the law, and foul play? Or will it act as the people’s sentinel over rights and welfare, and the very essence of social justice?”

Mariano, also chairman of the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP), said that the “strongest argument of farmers against the SDO is that it was used by the Cojuangco-Aquinos to evade land distribution.” With the sham deal, the President’s relatives are deceiving the farmers for the second time around,” Mariano said.

“The Cojuangco-Aquinos’ aim is to prevent our big chance of winning at the Supreme Court. The agreement is a desperate measure to preempt or influence the Supreme Court in its decision,” Lito Bais, acting president of the United Luisita Workers Union (Ulwu), said in an open letter addressed to his colleagues.

“It is scandalous how the Cojuangco-Aquinos lord over on the land that should have been ours since 1967 and again in 1985. They pocketed billions of profit from land use conversion which is prohibited under CARL,” Bais said.

In 1985, a Manila trial court ordered the distribution of Hacienda Luisita land to the farm workers. When Corazon Cojuangco-Aquino became president, the case was dismissed by the Court of Appeals (CA).

Jobert Ilarde Pahilga, Ambala legal counsel and executive trustee of the Sentro Para sa Tunay na Repormang Agraryo (Sentra), said that the SDO is unconstitutional. “The law states that land, not pieces of paper, must be distributed to the farmers,” she said in an earlier interview with Bulatlat.

“The Cojuangco-Aquinos will not succeed in their schemes. No matter how long it takes, we will never give up the fight because we are the legal and legitimate owners of the Hacienda Luisita land,” Bais told his co-farm workers.

Aquino’s “hands-off policy” was also criticized by Bais. “Those who voted for Noynoy [Aquino] are disgusted for he has not shown any semblance of good will and fulfill his promise. Now, the true colors of a president raised from the sweat of the toiling farm workers are exposed. He is mum and just waiting, hoping that the scheme of his relatives would succeed.” (Bulatlat.com)

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