Hacienda Luisita farmers to SC: Stop land conversion

“Clearly, there is no other purpose for the transfer of ownership of the 500 hectares but to evade the coverage of the said portion of their landholdings from the CARP,” they said. To date, the land has remained undeveloped, the petitioners said.

By RONALYN V. OLEA
Bulatlat.com

MANILA – Farm workers of Hacienda Luisita have filed a motion Sept. 13 asking the Supreme Court to revoke the conversion order on 500 hectares of the Hacienda Luisita estate and distribute this to farm workers.

In a decision promulgated July 5, the high court said farmer-worker beneficiaries (FWBs) may opt for land distribution or remain as stockholders of the Hacienda Luisita Inc. (HLI).

Owned by the family of President Benigno S. Aquino III, the more than 6,000-hectare hacienda has been placed under stock distribution option (SDO) after then president Corazon Cojuangco-Aquino promised to implement agrarian reform. SDO is one of the non-land transfer schemes allowed under Aquino’s Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP). SDO bred more misery for the FWBs and in October 2004, farm workers staged a strike against the HLI management. On November 16 of the same year, the protesting farm workers were fired at by state agents, killing seven.

In its July 5 decision, the high court said of the 4,915-hectare agricultural land, the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) would segregate the 500-hectare Hacienda Luisita estate, the 80.51-hectare sold to the government as part of the Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway (SCTEX) complex and individual lots that each FWB is entitled to. After the segregation, the remaining area shall be distributed to FWBs who opted not to remain as HLI stockholders. The SC also said the HLI management is entitled to compensation.

On August 14, 1996, the DAR approved the application for conversion of the 500-hectare land from agricultural to industrial use.

In their petition to the SC, the Alyansa ng Magbubukid sa Haceinda Luisita (Ambala) argued that the conversion order “merely allowed the HLI to transfer land to other family-owned corporations that are also major HLI stockholders.”

In December 1996, the HLI ceded 300 hectares of the 500 hectares to Centenary Holdings, Inc., also a stockholder. The remaining 200 hectares was transferred to Luisita Realty Corporation in 1997 and 1998. Later, the Centennary sold the 300 hectares to Luisita Industrial Park Corporation (Lipco). Subsequently, in November 2004, Lipco transferred the 184 hectares of the 300-hectare to RCBC as payment for its loan obligations.

“It is clear that the HLI did not comply with its obligations mandated under the conversion order. Specifically, it did not pursue the proposed development plan that was contained in the application for conversion and instead disposed of the 500 hectares to other Cojuango-owned companies and to the Rizal Commercial Banking Corporation (RCBC),” the petitioners said.

“Clearly, there is no other purpose for the transfer of ownership of the 500 hectares but to evade the coverage of the said portion of their landholdings from the CARP,” they said. To date, the land has remained undeveloped, the petitioners said.

The petitioners said even if RCBC acquired the land in good faith, the bank is bound by the terms and conditions of the conversion order issued by DAR. The conditions state that the landowner and future landowner(s) of the property approved for conversion shall not change its use to another use not authorized under the conversion order without prior consent from DAR.

The petitioners argued that the conversion order issued by the DAR for the 500-hectare land should be revoked for the following reasons:

1) Non-compliance with the conditions of the conversion order;
2) Failure to commence any development work on the property within one year from the issuance of the conversion order;
3) Non-completion of the development plan on the property within five years from the issuance of the order;
4) Failure to submit written request for extension within six months before the lapse of the five-year period.
5) Failure to submit quarterly reports on the status of development to various government agencies as required by law;
6) Non-observance of the conditions for the use of the land as authorized in the order;
7) Unauthorized change in the use of land from the development plan as approved in the order without the prior consent and approval of DAR;
8 Unauthorized sale, transfer or disposition of the land without DAR’s prior consent and approval.

The Ambala asked the high court to order the revocation of the conversion order and order the coverage of the 500 hectares, including the 184 hectare acquired by RCBC, as part of the agricultural land to be distributed to FWBs.

In an interview with Bulatlat.com, Lito Bais, Ambala chairman, said if the 500 hectares will not be distributed to them, each of the FWB will be entitled to only 0.68 hectare of agricultural land.

The motion for reconsideration filed by Ambala on the July 5 decision of the high court remains pending. Bais expressed hope that the high court will not dismiss their motion for reconsideration.

Meanwhile, members of Ambala have started cultivating the RCBC contested property for agricultural use. Bais said more than 200 families have joined the cultivation of the said land.

Bais said agents of the HLI management, together with soldiers deployed in the hacienda, have been trying to ease them out of the RCBC land.

Bais reiterated that Hacienda Luisita is for the FWBs, not for the Cojuangco-Aquinos. Asked about Aquino’s hands-off policy on the land dispute, Bais said: “I want him to face me and let us talk.” ()

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