MANILA, Philippines (1st UPDATE) - The farmers and management of Hacienda Luisita Inc. (HLI) have hammered out a compromise deal, ending a two decades-long dispute over the sugar plantation owned by the clan of President Benigno Aquino III.
Representatives of HLI and 3 labor unions representing farmers signed an agreement early Friday in Tarlac, giving farmers the choice to retain shares of the company under a stock distribution option (SDO) signed 21 years ago, or own a parcel of land in the plantation.
Around 1,400 hectares comprising a third of the 6,500-hectare hacienda will be put up for distribution.
The agreement also includes a P150 million financial assistance for the 12,000 farmer-beneficiaries of HLI.
Over 800 farmers from 10 barangays attended the signing of the agreement, and most of them voted in favor of the SDO.
"We are happy [with the deal]," one farmer said. "We have reached an agreement," another added.
However, Lito Bais, acting president of United Luisita Workers Union, contested the compromise deal, saying that all 4,915 hectares of the sugar plantation that were subjected to the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) should be distributed among farmers. Bais' group did not attend the signing of deal.
"Kung kailan magdedesisyon ang korte, saka may settlement," said Bais.
Supreme Court spokesman Midas Marquez told reporters that the High Tribunal is awaiting manifestations from parties in the Hacienda Luisita land distribution case regarding the reported settlement signed Friday before the court can act on this development.
Marquez said the manifestations should be submitted on Monday so they could be calendared for Tuesday's en banc session. The Supreme Court will then decide whether to proceed with the August 18 oral arguments on the case. The court is hearing a petition by HLI questioning an earlier directive from the Department of Agrarian Reform that the hacienda be distributed following a violent strike that killed 7 people in 2004.
Akbayan solon lauds settlement but…
Akbayan party-list Rep. Kaka Bag-ao welcomed the compromise deal to end the 21-year land dispute, but said the SDO option should be scrapped.
“We welcome the news of the Aquino family’s agreement to propose a settlement with the agrarian beneficiaries of Hacienda Luisita. We see this as show political will of President Aquino that gives him the moral high ground in leading his administration in the implementation of agrarian reform," Bag-ao said.
“However, the Stock Distribution Option scheme is the heart of the problem in Luisita and that is the reason why it cannot possibly be a part of the solution."
She said the SDO goes against the intent of agrarian reform. She noted that the settlement agreement also erred in interpreting the law when it assumed that farmers are only entitled to one-third of the sugar estate because they own one-third of the HLI shares.
“The farmers are entitled to the whole of the land of the hacienda with the exception of the lands that may be retained by the land owners under the law. The value of the land is equivalent to 1/3 of the shares of stocks. Kaya 1/3 ng stocks ang pagmamay-ari ng mga magsasaka dahil ito ang halaga ng buong lupa ng Hacienda,” Bag-ao clarified.
Former President Corazon Aquino, the late mother of Benigno Aquino, enacted CARP in 1988 mandating the distribution of all agricultural lands to farmers to promote social justice. Only 4,915 hectares of the 6,500-hectare sugar plantation were classified as agricultural.
Hacienda Luisita was exempted from the distribution when the sugar estate was placed under the SDO, a non-land transfer scheme that converted sugar workers into stockholders, with take home pay of P9.50 per day. - Reports from Jing Vallejos and Ina Reformina, ABS-CBN News