A year after SC order, Luisita farmers back in streets

“We cannot rely on DAR to implement genuine land reform. We cannot rely on Noynoy Aquino. We must continue implementing our own version of agrarian reform.” – United Luisita Workers Union

By RONALYN V. OLEA
Bulatlat.com

MANILA — One year after the Supreme Court ordered the distribution of Hacienda Luisita land to farm worker-beneficiaries, not a single parcel of land has been given back to the rightful owners.

This was the main message of the four-day Lakbayan para sa libreng pamamahagi ng lupa sa Asyenda Luisita (Journey for the free distribution of land in Hacienda Luisita) staged by more than 200 farm workers and their supporters.

The Lakbayan started April 24 in Hacienda Luisita, Tarlac City and ended at the foot of Chino Roces (formerly Mendiola) bridge.

“Three years of the Aquino presidency and one year since the Supreme Court ordered the distribution of the land, we remain landless,” Rodel Mesa, chairman of Alyansa ng Magbubukid sa Asyenda Luisita and secretary general of Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA) said.

For two days, the farm workers, including the old, endured the summer heat and walked for 51 kilometers from Tarlac City to Angeles City and then to San Fernando City in Pampanga.

From San Fernando City, they boarded jeepneys and held a caravan to Plaridel, Bulacan and then to Marilao, Bulacan. From there, they traveled to Monumento, Caloocan City, still on a convoy.

On April 26, at around 3:00 p.m., the farm workers reached Manila. From Monumento, they trod some eight kilometers toward the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR).

Supporters from various groups joined them in a vigil in front of DAR, April 26.

On the morning of April 27, they marched from DAR to Times Street in Quezon City. Elements of the Quezon City Police District blocked the protesters a few meters away from the ancestral house of the Cojuangco-Aquinos.

“Don’t you know that this is where the most voracious family live?” Mesa told the policemen in Filipino, referring to the Cojuangco-Aquinos who have controlled the Hacienda Luisita for more than five decades.

Mesa said the Cojuangco-Aquinos, after benefiting from the land for more than 50 years, have the gall to demand compensation. “They have insatiable hunger for money,” Mesa said.

Under the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) and its extension law, landlords shall be paid ‘just compensation.’

Farm worker-beneficiaries, on the other hand, have to pay amortization for a period of 30 years.

In their petition to the high court, the Hacienda Luisita Inc. (HLI) management argued that the valuation of the land must be pegged at P1 million per hectare or $23.8 thousand.

Based on this valuation, a 0.7 hectare of land would range from P50,000 to P60,000 per year ($1,190 to $1,428).

In March, Agrarian Reform Secretary Virgilio delos Reyes said farm workers will not get any land if they will not sign a promissory note.

De los Reyes said DAR personnel will make farm workers sign an “application to purchase” and “farmers’ undertaking�� of responsibility to develop the land they will receive. The DAR chief added that the farmers would have to state what crops they intend to plant and on which part of the hacienda.

Speaking during a program at the foot of Chino Roces bridge, Joseph Canlas, chairman of Alyansa ng Magbubukid sa Gitnang Luson slammed the promissory note.

“Why ask the farmworkers to sign a commitment to pay for the land when not a single parcel of land has been distributed?” Canlas said.

Upon reaching the Chino Roces bridge, farm workers buried a copy of the DAR’s promissory note.

What accomplishment?

Meanwhile, Lito Bais, chairman of United Luisita Workers Union (Ulwu), criticized the DAR for flaunting its achievements on Hacienda Luisita. The agency is mandated to implement the high court’s decision.

In a report, delos Reyes said the distribution of land is on track.

“The DAR has not done anything yet,” Bais said.

So far, the DAR released a final list of farm worker-beneficiaries. The Ambala, however, said the DAR “bloated the number of beneficiaries to 6,212 and included dummies of Cojuangco-Aquinos.”

Alleged “Cojuangco loyalists,” including HLI supervisor Windsor Andaya, Noel Mallari, Julio Suniga, Eldie Pingol, HLI engineer Rizalino Sotto, and Edgardo Aguas, incumbent chairman of Central village inside Hacienda Luisita, are also in the DAR’s list. In a previous interview with Bulatlat.com, Bais said these are the persons who signed a compromise agreement with the Cojuango-Aquinos in August 2010.

The Supreme Court also ordered the Cojuangco-Aquinos to pay the farm workers P1.33 billion ( $32.4 million) from the sale of more than 200 hectares of land in Hacienda Luisita.

The DAR has not selected an auditing firm to implement the decision.

Bais said, however, that the DAR is “obviously favoring an auditing firm linked with the Cojuangco-Aquinos.”

The peasant leader was referring to Reyes Tacandong & Co., which is among those who submitted a letter of intent to the DAR. The audit firm’s top officials reportedly used to work for SGV & Co. Philippines, which is the auditing firm of HLI.

Meanwhile, Sevillano Luna Jr., secretary general of Anakpawis, said that under CARP, Hacienda Luisita will never be distributed to the farm workers.

Luna said that the provisions of CARP favor the landlords, particularly the rigid process in selecting beneficiaries, valuation of land, among others.

Own version of agrarian reform

“We cannot rely on DAR to implement genuine land reform. We cannot rely on Noynoy Aquino. We must continue implementing our own version of agrarian reform,” Bais told his colleagues.

“We must cultivate the land,” Bais added.

The farm workers have started cultivating portions of Hacienda Luisita land and planted palay, vegetables and other crops. The bungkalan (cultivation) program of Ambala and Ulwu covers six out of 10 villages of Hacienda Luisita.

Bais said they intend to cover all the villages. By June, the groups are eyeing 1,300 hectares of land to be planted with palay, vegetables and fruits.

By October, Bais said they will plant palay to 500 more hectares of land.

“There is no other way. We have to struggle to achieve victory,” Bais said. “The support of the Filipino people is with us.” ()

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