Luisita farmworkers say ‘no’ to DSWD dole-outs

What farmworkers need is land; they legally own Hacienda Luisita and the recent SC decision affirmed that. They should be given all the help they need to make the land fully productive again.” – UMA

By INA ALLECO R. SILVERIO
Bulatlat.com

MANILA – The Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura and the Alyansa ng Mga Manggagawang Bukid sa Asyenda Luisita declared their opposition to the recent announcement of the Department of Social Work and Development (DSWD) that it will implement its dole-out program in the hacienda. They said the Benigno Aquino III administration’s recent tack to enter the farmworkers in the Self-Employment Assistance-Kaunlaran (SEA-K], the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program, the Social Pension for senior citizens and the Cash for Work Program all under the DSWD was aimed at further delaying the transfer of ownership of the hacienda to the farmworkers.

In a recent statement, Social Welfare Secretary Corazon Soliman said she has ordered the DSWD field office in Central Luzon to organize an inter-agency meeting to assess its short-term plans. She said the agency should also address “the pressing needs brought about by new developments in Hacienda Luisita.”

Soliman said the DSWD will look further into “other appropriate social service interventions needed by the farmers to ensure that they will not go hungry and further bear the brunt of poverty while waiting for their land titles.”

According to DSWD records, the SEA-K has been implemented since 2005 in 11 barangays in Tarlac City and Mabilog in Concepcion, and Montrico in La Paz. The program has also reportedly benefited 39 cooperatives with a total of 1,015 members. The agency has also reportedly released over P5 million ($ 116 thousand) as capital assistance for the cooperatives. As for the 3P program, it has released cash grants to 703 households in Concepcion and Tarlac City for the education and nutritional needs of children.

The two groups said that instead of foisting the dole-out schemes on the farmworkers, the government should push the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) to immediately release the necessary funds that will expedite the implementation of the final Supreme Court decision ordering with finality the distribution of Hacienda Luisita to its 6,296 farm worker beneficiaries.

Rodel Mesa, UMA secretary general said the farm workers will not settle for temporary relief measures, “They want to cultivate Hacienda Luisita. They want concrete productive measures that will help us in the long term.”

“DAR had funds enough to implement hard projects such as the construction of farm-to-market roads and buildings. It can immediately purchase hand tractors, water pumps and supply seeds and give all these to the farmworkers of Hacienda Luisita so they can begin improving their economic situation,” he said.

Mesa also pointed out the DSWD���s dole-out schemes will not help the farmworkers in the long run. “These are band-aid solutions and are far from enough to help the farmworkers improve their economic status. What farmworkers need is land; they legally own Hacienda Luisita and the recent SC decision affirmed that. They should be given all the help they need to make the land fully productive again,” he said.

The peasant leader also said the DSWD’s motives for offering its dole-out schemes to the farmworkers at the wake of the SC decision were also suspect.

“Aside from the already established issues of corruption attached to the DSWD’s management of the PPP program, the government might eventually use it against the farmworkers and undermine their claim to the land. The Cojuangco-Aquinos might also use it to bolster their arguments for higher compensation,” he said.

Mesa said it is the DAR that has the prerogative and should have the initiative to ensure that the farmworkers should have support service mechanisms that will go alongside the land distribution.

“This is to help farmworkers resist any attempts of loan sharks. Without support services, farmworkers might be forced to use their land as collateral for loans. The DAR is mandated to ensure that farmer beneficiaries receive whatever assistance they need to get back on their feet,” he said.

Slow action

In the meantime, UMA is already disappointed with what it said was the DAR’s slow action in implementing the SC decision.

“We are dismayed over the DAR’s reluctance to obey the high court decision. Waiting for the hard copy of the high court resolution is not an excuse to install the court’s order.”

According to reports, the DAR is still in the midst of refining its system to screen and validate the farmworker-beneficiaries or their successors-in-interest. It said that because the lands of Hacienda Luisita are composed of 16 titles divided into 176 lots, the division of the land into parcels prior to distribution is a “tedious process” and that it will have to coordinate with the Land Registration Authority and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

It also announced that the determination of the initial valuation of the Hacienda Luisita lots will be left to the Land Bank of the Philippines “taking into consideration the conditions set by the Supreme Court and existing applicable guidelines.”

“We warn DAR Secretary Virgilio Delos Reyes that he will be in contempt if he doesn’t implement the SC’s decision. He’s taking his sweet time while the Cojuangco-Aquinos are on the offensive telling the whole country they want P10 billion ($ 232.55 million) as compensation, ”he said.

Ambala has already offered its help to the DAR in finalizing the list of legitimate beneficiaries. Since 2011, it has also begun cultivating areas of the hacienda and positioning beneficiaries around the hacienda’s 10 villages.

“The DAR can use our own lists for the screening procedure of identifying legitimate farmworkers. It doesn’t have to start from scratch, and it will make the entire process faster and more efficient,” Mesa said. ()

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