Luisita farmers blast Sereno for 'selling out'

by Ina Reformina, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Mar 06 2012 04:15 PM | Updated as of Mar 07 2012 06:14 AM

MANILA, Philippines - Farmers of Hacienda Luisita have accused Supreme Court (SC) Associate Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno of "selling out" her concurring and dissenting opinion in the landmark Hacienda Luisita agrarian reform dispute case in exchange for her alleged bid to be the next Chief Justice.

A small group of farmers belonging to the Alyansa ng mga Manggagawang Bukid sa Asyenda Luisita (Ambala) and Unyon ng mga Mangagawa sa Agrikultura (Uma) held a picket at the Supreme Court this morning, urging the High Court to issue a final ruling favorable to over 6,000 of the Cojuangco-owned sugar estate's farm workers.

During the demonstration, the farmers slammed Sereno, who, in her opinion, said Hacienda Luisita, Inc. (HLI) and Luisita Realty, Inc. shall be entitled to the payment of just compensation for the agricultural lands based on their fair market value as of Jan. 2, 2006.

The Supreme Court, voting unanimously, ordered last Nov. 22 the total distribution of Hacienda Luisita to original farmworker-beneficiaries.

The High Court's decision entitled HLI to just compensation for the agricultural land that will be transferred to the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) to be reckoned from Nov. 21, 1989, the date of issuance of the Presidential Agrarian Reform Council's (PARC) Stock Distribution Plan (SDP)-approving Resolution No. 89-12-2.

"[In] her Dissenting Opinion, Associate Justice Sereno stipulated that the Cojuangco-Aquinos must [be] compensated according to the current market value as the time of the taking; soliciting for a whopping P10 billion contradicting the court's 1989 position as the time of reckoning with a mere 1 percent of what HLI is currently demanding," a joint statement from Uma and Ambala read.

"We are reminding Justice Sereno that it is against the public interest what she had done. Her Dissenting Opinion had served as an apocalyptic warning... The Hacienda Luisita farmers will not pay a cent... Her personal interest is a disservice to the farm workers. We condemn her action to hamper the eventual distribution of Hacienda Luisita in the highest order and it will be dealt with resounding and massive protest if she will not change her ways.

"Obviously, she [wants] to be Chief Justice in the soonest possible time," the statement read.

In her opinion, Sereno concurred with the "outright distribution of the agricultural lands" but stated that "[b]ased on its own rules and formula, DAR shall give a preliminary and objective valuation of the covered lands, whose values shall be pegged to the time of the Notice of Coverage issued on 02 Jan. 2006."

"Although I agree with the majority with respect to the revocation of the Stock Distribution Option Agreement, the immediate compulsory coverage of the agricultural lands in Hacienda Luisita under the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law, and their immediate distribution to the qualified farmworker-beneficiaries, I maintain my dissent regarding the following: (a) the amount of just compensation to be awarded to petitioner Hacienda Luisita, Inc., and Tarlac Development Corporation should be reckoned from the fair market value under the law, rules and jurisprudence, specifically as of the date of the issuance of the Notice of Coverage on 02 January 2006..." a portion of Sereno's Concurring and Dissenting Opinion read.

In calling on the High Court to stand firm on its Nov. 22 ruling, the farmers said the "14-0 Decision should be above and over [the Justices'] personal interests."

"[Pres.] Aquino and his relatives will never stand down on their consolidated and systematic legal offense running for gain and control of Hacienda Luisita... unless the court will send its clear message that their exploit ends here..." the Uma-Ambala joint statement read.

Mr. Aquino, who divested his shares in Hacienda Luisita, has repeatedly denied these allegations.