WikiLeaks cables: Hacienda Luisita case affects other landowners

by Jojo Malig,

Posted at Nov 24 2011 11:23 PM | Updated as of Nov 25 2011 08:11 AM

MANILA, Philippines - The Hacienda Luisita case has far-ranging implications for the landholdings of other wealthy families in the Philippines who have avoided land reform so far, a US diplomatic cable published by anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks says.

Cable 05MANILA4929, labelled unclassified but sensitive, said the Philippine government's 2005 order for the sugar estate owned by the Aquino-Cojuangco clan will have a deep social impact.

Now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was President at the time when the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) released a report recommending that the Presidential Agrarian Reform Council (PARC) scrap Hacienda Luisita's Stock Distribution Option (SDO) and place the sugar plantation under the coverage of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP).

The issue later reached the Supreme Court, which has now ordered the distribution of 4,915.7466 hectares of Hacienda Luisita to more than 6,000 farmer-beneficiaries.

The October 17, 2005 cable, sent purportedly by then-US Deputy Chief of Mission and Charge d'Affaires Paul Jones, said "it is not clear whether the Arroyo administration is trying to send a message" to other rich landowners that distributing land will solve unrest in the countryside.

Arroyo has since left the Palace and is now facing a multitude of electoral sabotage and plunder allegations.

Her successor, Benigno Aquino III, belongs to the Aquino-Cojuangco clan, which owns Hacienda Luisita.  He already divested less than 1% of his share in the sugar estate in July 2010, days after he assumed office.

Case may drag on for years

The US embassy memo expected the Hacienda Luisita case to drag on for years. "Mission contacts have told us that they believe the family could postpone implementation of the DAR recommendation for years given the ponderous nature of the Philippine judicial system."

Opposition figures during Arroyo's tenure had claimed that Malacañang pushed Luisita's distribution to farmers "because of former president [Corazon] Aquino's support for the anti-Arroyo camp."

"In July, [Corazon] Aquino came out against Arroyo, urging her to resign immediately.  Secretary Pangandaman, however, denied allegations that the DAR decision was politically motivated, averring that the investigation was launched even before Aquino called for the resignation of President Arroyo (which is accurate)," the cable said.  "When asked to comment, Aquino -- who is not involved in the management of the estate though she owns part of it -- has kept her own counsel."
It also gave a brief background on the row involving the hacienda, one of the largest pieces of privately-owned land in Luzon.
"The dispute over Hacienda Luisita stretches back to 1957, when the Cojuangco clan -- one of the wealthiest  families in the country -- purchased the property with the help of a government loan on condition that the property  would eventually be subdivided among its workers.  This  condition was never met, despite periodic protests from workers," the cable said.

Closely watched
Another US embassy cable, 05MANILA5988, sent to Washington in Jones' name said "landowners will be watching closely as the influential Cojuangcos battle in the courts to keep their property intact."
 "Landowners indeed have some reason to be concerned with the potential fallout," it added. "Farmers in other localities are already passing around resolutions at their plantations calling for redistribution of land."

It also cited the suspicion of unnamed "observers" who believe that the Arroyo administration's order to distribute the land "had more to do with enmity toward former president Aquino, who turned against President Arroyo... than any genuine support for general land reform."

Hotbed of unrest

Other US embassy cables said Hacienda Luisita issue was a hotbed of unrest for decades, with left-wing groups -- legal or underground -- using the government's failure to distribute the land in their campaigns.

Quoting the military, cable 05MANILA887 said "extremist leftist groups linked with the Communist Party of the Philippines/New People's Army (CPP/NPA) are involved in instigating unrest at the estate."

Following a clash at the estate in 2004 that left at least 7 dead and dozens wounded,  the Armed Forces Northern Luzon Command declared the farmers' strike a "matter of national security."

The AFP said it seized documents showing that the CPP-NPA infiltrated the ranks of farmers' groups in Hacienda Luisita and were orchestrating the labor unrest. 

The cable also that said a radical labor union that has ties to the CPP-NPA "continues to send operatives to the Hacienda Luisita area."

Cable 06MANILA2154, which profiled leftist organizations in the Philippines, also accused a militant labor group's "operatives" of "[helping] spark violence at Hacienda Luisita."