By BENJIE OLIVEROS
The Hacienda Luisita agrarian dispute has been hitting the headlines recently. And it is not because the land has been distributed to the farmworkers in fulfillment of the 1957 loan agreement between the Cojuangco family and the government, and the order of the court in 1985. Nor is it about social justice: giving the land to the tillers who have multiplied the Cojuangco family’s wealth many times over and have fed them for generations by making the land productive in exchange for a pittance, which the Hacienda Luisita Inc. (HLI) calls as wages and ‘share.‘
What is being bannered is a so-called ‘compromise agreement‘ wherein the farmworkers were made to choose between retaining their ‘shares of stock‘, through the stock distribution option (SDO), or claim their small parcel of land. Those who chose the SDO were promised a financial assistance package of P150 million ($3.3 million), a seemingly huge amount but when divided among the roughly 10,000 farmworkers amounts to a mere P15,000 ($330) per family, assuming that it would be given equally. According to the news, some got as low as P100 ($2.20) while some received around P4,000 ($88) when the first installment of P20 million ($440,722) was distributed on Thursday August 12. Another way of looking at it is that the farmworkers were paid P150 million ($3.3 million) in exchange for giving up their claim to the 6,474 hectares of land occupied by HLI.
Insidiously contained in the agreement is HLI’s claim that the farmworkers were entitled to only 30 percent of the land “devoted to agriculture” or equivalent to the 33 percent shares of stock supposedly ‘owned’ by the farmworkers. Thus, even if the farmworkers opted for land instead, they are to be immediately deprived of more than 70 percent of the land, including the 2,373 hectares which HLI claims is not part of the land “devoted to agriculture.” Consequently, it cemented the claim of HLI over the lion’s share of the land even if the 1957 loan agreement clearly stipulated that the whole 6,474 hectares of land would be transferred to the farmers and not just a small portion of the hacienda.
Actually, the term ‘compromise’ is a misnomer. The Cojuangco family did not compromise anything, they merely bolstered their unjust claim to the land through the agreement. On the other hand, the farmworkers were made to give up their rightful claim for a pittance.
If the ‘compromise agreement’ would not be stopped, the farmworkers are back to where they were before the 2004 strike, which claimed the lives of seven of their colleagues. They would be back to receiving P9.50 ($0.209) per day for their labor. They would be given work a few days a week. And they would slide back to a life of poverty and misery under the Cojuangcos. In other words, they would be back to their previous situation that was made the basis of the Presidential Agrarian Reform Council in revoking the SDO – for not improving the lives of the farmers. Worse, with the manner by which the HLI has been converting agricultural lands to other uses, the farmworkers would soon be kicked out of the land, especially since the ‘compromise agreement’ stipulates that they could no longer question the validity of the conversion of the lands to non-agricultural use and would “hereby express support and/or interpose no objection to the further developments of HLI lands even for non-agricultural purposes.”
Is this the “change” that President Benigno Simeon Aquino III has been promising? How could he promise that a change for the better would be forthcoming if he could not implement it in his own backyard?
President Aquino’s claim that he has a very small share in HLI, which they supposedly divested already, is a lame excuse. He is the president of the country; and If he could not persuade his family to give what is due to the farmworkers, how could he convince others to do as well?
Presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda, in making an excuse for President Aquino’s seeming hands off policy on the agrarian dispute at HLI, said in so many words that it is a damn-if-you-do, damn-if-you-don’t situation for the president. Well, Lacierda and President Aquino are totally missing (or concealing) the point. Definitely, it would not be a damn-if-you-do, damn-if-you-don’t situation if President Aquino would tell his family to give up their unjust claim to the land and distribute it to the farmers.
How could President Benigno Simeon Aquino III wash his hands off an issue of social justice, and in his own backyard to boot? If the farm workers of Hacienda Luisita who have a legal, moral, and just claim to the land are deprived of it, how could other farmers expect that the land they have been tilling for generations would be awarded to them?
The emerging ‘settlement’ of the Hacienda Luisita agrarian dispute is the best argument against the government’s ‘comprehensive agrarian reform program.’ It is also a clear indication of the kind of change (or the lack of it) that the Filipino people could expect from the second Aquino administration. (Bulatlat.com)