Luisita farmworkers determined to fight for their land

By RONALYN V. OLEA
Bulatlat.com

MANILA – Farmworker Rodel Mesa could never be more certain: “The Cojuangco-Aquinos will never give up Hacienda Luisita.”

The clan of President Benigno Aquino III seemed to be defeated with the April 24, 2012 final decision of the Supreme Court (SC) ordering the distribution of more than 6,000 hectares of land in the hacienda. Aquino himself publicly announced he would respect the high court’s decision provided his family would be given ‘just compensation.’ The Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) also repeatedly assured the public that it is in the process of executing the SC decision.

On the ground, however, Mesa said the Cojuangco-Aquinos are exhausting all tactics to maintain their control over the vast hacienda, including “exploiting the loopholes in the high court’s decision and in the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program Extension with Reforms (CARPer).”

The secretary general of the Unyon ng Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (Uma) said representatives of the Cojuangco-Aquinos are offering P300,000 to P350,000 ($7,100 to $8,300) to farmworker-beneficiaries to waive their right over the land. “They tell farmers that it is better to remain as workers in the plantation than to till a small piece of land,” Mesa told Bulatlat.com. “They are exploiting the poverty of the people.”

Under the stock distribution option (SDO) scheme implemented in Hacienda Luisita, the management decided the number of days of work of each farmworker. In 1989, the Cojuangco-Aquinos gave farmworkers shares of stocks instead of land.

Jobert Pahilga, lawyer of the Alyansa ng Magbubukid sa Asyenda Luisita (Ambala) and executive director of Sentro para sa Tunay na Repormang Agraryo (Sentra), said if a farmworker waives his right over the land, the property will remain with the Hacienda Luisita Incorporated. “If they will be able to entice many farmers, they maintain control of the vast portion of the hacienda.”

Mesa said another group linked to the Cojuangco-Aquinos is enticing farmworkers to apply for individual certificates of land ownership award (CLOA) and offering a lease agreement for a period of ten years.

Under CARPer, there is a ten-year prohibition for the farmers to sell the land. After ten years, the Cojuangco-Aquinos may legally buy back the land.

Pahilga said that while the SC final ruling revoked the SDO in Hacienda Luisita, it does not prohibit other non-land transfer schemes allowed under CARPer such as joint venture agreement, profit-sharing, among others.

“Aquino and her mother Cory are fooling the public into believing that they are champions of land reform,” Mesa said. Now 53, Mesa said their struggle for land is older than he is.

For more than five decades, the Cojuangco-Aquinos managed to evade land distribution.

In 1957, the Cojuangcos acquired the Hacienda Luisita land through a government loan with a condition that the land shall be distributed to the farmers after ten years. In 1967, the Cojuangcos refused to distribute the land, saying that there were no tenants in the hacienda.

The same argument was used by the Cojuangcos when the Manila Regional Trial Court ordered the Tarlac development Corporation (Tadeco) to surrender Hacienda Luisita to the Ministry of Agrarian Reform. When Corazon Cojuangco-Aquino became president, the stock distribution option (SDO) was implemented in the hacienda, with the Cojuangcos again evading actual land distribution. In 2005, when the Presidential Agrarian Reform Council (Parc) issued a resolution revoking the SDO, the Cojuangco-Aquinos went to the Supreme Court and filed a petition for temporary restraining order. The TRO lasted for six years until the SC final decision in April this year.

As in the past, Mesa said, the Cojuangco-Aquinos are using state agents to suppress the farmworkers of Hacienda Luisita. He said soldiers have set up detachments in all villages, doing surveillance work against Ambala leaders and members.

More than 50 leaders and members of Ambala are also slapped with criminal charges, including arson, physical injury, grave coercion and occupation of real property.

“Under CARPer, we have no hope. We rely only on our unity,” Mesa said. “We will continue to fight for genuine agrarian reform.”

Under CARPer, landlords shall receive just compensation, which will be paid in part by farmer-beneficiaries through amortization. With a high amortization rate, farmers would end up losing the land already awarded to them. (see related story: With Sereno-led SC, what’s at stake for Luisita farmworkers?)

Some of the farmworkers have already cultivated the land for livelihood. “That is the importance of the Supreme Court decision; no one could prevent farmers from cultivating their own land.”

“Whatever the Cojuangco-Aquinos are up to, the farmworkers must assert their ownership over the land,” Pahilga said.

“The land is ours,” Mesa said. “We, too, will never give it up.” ()

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