MANILA - Is former Land Transportation Office (LTO) chief and President Aquino's shooting buddy Virginia Torres leasing land from farmer-beneficiaries of Hacienda Luisita?
This is the claim of the Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA-Pilipinas), who said Torres has been brokering lease agreements with cash-strapped farmer beneficiaries of the hacienda.
The Alyansa ng mga Manggagawang Bukid sa Asyenda Luisita (AMBALA) said Torres "now resides in Barangay Mapalacsiao in Hacienda Luisita and has been brokering lopsided and patently illicit lease agreements with cash-strapped farmworker beneficiaries (FWBs) in the said barangay since December 2013."
It said Torres has reportedly rented 200 hectares of agricultural land in Barangay Mapalacsiao.
The group said the lease or "aryendo" is a maneuver of the Cojuangco-Aquino family to retain control of the vast sugar estate, which was already ordered by the Supreme Court to be distributed to poor farmers.
Torres stepped down as LTO chief last year after a video of her playing a slot machine in a casino circulated online. The former LTO chief is a known ally and shooting buddy of President Aquino.
For his part, 1BAP party-list Rep. Silvestre Bello III said he does not see any impropriety if it is true that Torres is now leasing lands covered by the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) in Hacienda Luisita.
Bello said the reports must be validated first.
"Kung totoo, assuming true, wala ako nakikita illegality dahil lupa na CARP na, narelease na sa CARP beneficiaries pwede pa-lease yun. Wala illegality doon. How can she afford to lease yang mga lupa na iyan, di natin alam extent ng lease? Private citizen na siya. Wala ako nakikita impropriety," the lawmaker said.
Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares said the possibility of lands covered by the CARP being leased out is one flaw of the agrarian reform law.
"26 years na ABG CARP law. Palagi sinasabi ng Kongreso ito prublema sa CARP law. Ang dapat gawin, irepeal, magpanday ng bagong batas. Ang solution ng Congress, extend [CARP]. That's very unacceptable. Dapat pag failure, sa unang larga in-amend. Ngayon, extend na naman ng another five years. Lalabanan namin ang pag extend ng CARP law for another five years. It failed in its promise," he said.