'Hacienda Luisita deal a sham'

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Aug 07 2010 12:04 PM | Updated as of Aug 08 2010 08:33 AM

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) - The compromise reached between the farmer-beneficiaries of Hacienda Luisita and the Cojuangco-Aquino family is a "sham agreement" that will not end the conflict in the sugar estate, a leftist party-list group leader said.

"This compromise is a grand deception by the Cojuangco-Aquinos of farmers and the entire nation. It exposes the greedy character of the President's relatives," said Anakpawis Rep. Rafael Mariano.

"It will not end the conflict in the hacienda," he added. "Instead, this will add fuel to the conflagration of peasant resistance in Tarlac."

Anakpawis called on the Supreme Court, which is hearing a petition to revoke the existing stock distribution arrangement between Hacienda Luista Inc. (HLI) and farmers, to "junk this sham deal."

"The Luisita dispute is not simply about intra-corporate dispute as claimed and signaled by the landlord-President to the court. This is about agrarian reform, about social justice to Luisita farmers tied in more than half a century of bondage at the hands of the Cojuangco feudal lords,” Mariano said.

President Aquino said on Friday the matter was an intra-corporate dispute, and that he had divested his shares in HLI as required by under the law after assuming the presidency.

Under the agreement between HLI and farmer-beneficiaries, only 1,366 hectares (has.) out of the 4,915 has. owned by farmers are covered since this is the area representing the beneficiaries' 33% share in the company. 

The agreement provides that should farmer-beneficiaries decide to liquidate, lease or transfer their assets, they should grant HLI "the right of first refusal."

Mariano said the "sham deal is totally unacceptable." He said the 33% share of the farmer-beneficiaries in HLI represent 4,915 hectares of agricultural land, not 1,366 has. as provided in the agreement.

“The scheme has practically rendered impossible the break-up and distribution of the Luisita landholdings. The Cojuangcos still have control over the lands,” the Anakpawis leader said. 

Mariano, who is also chair of the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP), called on agrarian reform advocates to "condemn, expose and oppose the grand deception done by the Cojuangco-Aquinos to Luisita farmers."

“This grandiose deception by the Cojuangco-Aquinos in Hacienda Luisita exposes what kind of agrarian reform will be implemented under the Aquino administration. This so-called deal is a lethal blow to the peasantry’s struggle for genuine agrarian reform,” he said.

'Deal is invalid'

Meanwhile, lawyer Jobert Ilarde Pahilga, executive trustee of Sentro Para sa Tunay na Repormang Agraryo (SENTRA), called the Hacienda Luisita deal "invalid."

Pahilga, a lawyer of Hacienda Luisita farm workers who had sought revocation of the SDO before the Supreme Court, said the Cojuangco-Aquino family and the alleged farmers' representatives who signed the deal, may be liable for contempt.

Pahilga said the persons who signed the deal, purportedly on behalf of the farm workers, had no authority to enter into the settlement. He also said the deal is "illegal as it violates existing agrarian reform laws."

He said Noel Mallari, who claims to be the president of Alyansa ng mga Manggagawang Bukid sa Asyenda Luisita (Ambala), has never been president of Ambala, and had long been ousted from the organization for "acts inimical to the farm workers." 

He said the records of the case pending before the Supreme Court would reveal that Mallari claimed to represent FARM Luisita, not Ambala.

"This Mallari is an impostor," Pahilga said. "He is biting on an HLI proposal that was already vehemently rejected by the farmworkers in 2006."       

Pahilga said Mallari was the Vice-President of Ambala when its more than 6,000 members filed the petition to revoke the SDO before the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) in 2004.  When the case was pending with the DAR, he said Mallari was kicked out of Ambala as he secretly negotiated with the Luisita management without authority from the farm workers.

Pahilga said two others involved in the deal, Jose Julio Zuniga and Windsor Aadaya, were the clients of SENTRA in the case before the Supreme Court. 

He said Zuniga and Aadaya represented the Supervisory Group of Hacienda Luisita, which is composed of around 200 persons.

After the Supreme Court issued the Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) that prevented the DAR to revoke the SDO and distribute the land to the farmers, Pahilga said the two no longer communicated with SENTRA. 

"SENTRA learned that they were given vast tract of land by Luisita management to cultivate and planted with sugar cane.  Thus, while the farm workers were struggling daily to make a living, they lived affluent lives courtesy of the Luisita management.  Even then, SENTRA already learned that they were co-opted by the Luisita management.  Thus, we do not anymore wonder why they signed the deal.  However, we do not know whether in signing the agreement, they were given the green light by the rest of the members of the Supervisory Group," Pahilga claimed.

"The same is true with Edilberto Pingol. He was the Vice-President of United Luisita Workers' Union (ULWU).  But contrary to their assertion in the agreement, ULWU is not a party to the Supreme Court case.  HLI management very well knows this.  Moreover, Pingol could not represent ULWU as he was not given the authority to represent the farm workers' union," Pahilga said.

Even worse than original SDO

Pahilga said the deal signed on Friday is even "worse that the original SDO agreement of 1989."

"The agreement stated that the farm workers have two options - to continue with the SDO scheme or to have the land actually distributed to them.  In the event that the farm workers opt for actual land distribution, they will be given the equivalent percentage of the size of the land from the remaining HLI land actually devoted to agriculture, with a total area of 4,102 hectares, approximately.  This means that the farm workers will only be given 33% of the 4,102 hectares, which in effect, will total only to 1,400 hectares.  This 1,400 will be divided to the farm workers who will opt for land distribution while the rest of the land will remain with HLI," he explained.

He said HLI has no right to retain the rest of the land because they should be covered by the existing agrarian reform program. Under the existing law, agricultural land in excess of 5 hectares shall be distributed to the farmers. 

Thus, Pahilga said "HLI is subverting the law to maintain their control and ownership of Hacienda Luisita."

'The referendum is illegal'

He also said the "referendum" conducted by the HLI management purportedly to make the farm workers choose whether they would continue under the SDO scheme or get a piece of HLI lands "is also illegal."

"It is illegal because the PARC decision to cover the HLI lands for agrarian reform still stands, and unless this decision is reversed, the lands are effectively under the jurisdiction of DAR". Pahilga said.

He explained that the TRO issued by the Supreme Court merely restrained the implementation of the Presidential Agrarian Reform Council's (PARC) decision, but the decision is valid as things stand.

Pahilga said only DAR has the "authority to decide what to do with the HLI lands as they are already placed under the agrarian reform program."
 
He also pointed out that the "referendum" was not supervised by DAR. He said the HLI's act of conducting a "referendum" was in defiance of the DAR. 

Pahilga said Supreme Court had already set on August 18 the oral argument on the HLI petition against the PARC's decision. He said it was was HLI who went to the Supreme Court to question the validity of the PARC decision. Thus, he said the HLI should wait for the Court to decide instead of trying to "pre-empt" the court.
  
"What the HLI is doing is a repeat of the manufactured referendum in 1989, which mothered the protracted strife that now bedevils the farm workers community in Hacienda Luisita," he said.

Pahilga said "the Cojuangcos-Aquinos have not really learned their lessons in 1989."
   
"We will definitely question in the Supreme Court the validity of the deal and the standing of these individuals with whom HLI management negotiated and hold them in contempt of the court," Pahilga said.

"The agreement was intended to muddle the issue and pre-empt the outcome of the case now pending with the Supreme Court. The HLI management very well knew that they will not win the battle in the Supreme Court. For one, PARC's resolution to revoke the SDO, as it did not improve the lives of the farm workers but made them more miserable, was unanimous.  For another, HLI had violated several agrarian reform laws and the SDO scheme is clearly unconstitutional and unjust," he said.

Choose: SDO or land?

Representatives of HLI and 3 labor unions representing the farmer-beneficiaries 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 has. of the sugar plantation that were covered by 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 on Friday 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.