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Return workers’ land

I will side with the tenants since you know that it is against the law

Kristina Maralit

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Since it is prohibited by law, President Rodrigo Duterte said he would not honor repurchases of land covered by the comprehensive agrarian reform program (CARP) and urged landlords to return the properties to their former tenants.

He also bewailed anew the land reform exemption granted to the Cojuangco clan-owned Hacienda Luisita during the administration of the late former President Corazon Aquino, calling it the “fly in the ointment” that ruined the program.

“During my watch, I will not honor that sale. The land was repurchased from poor tenants. Maybe for the first time in his life he got hold of so much money,” Mr. Duterte said during the decommissioning of arms and forces of communist groups in Capiz.

“And yet when it is gone, dissipated, either intentionally or as a result of their daily expenses, they will have nothing left,” he said.

The President cited the case of Hacienda Luisita in his address. “But the law says that there will be land reform, although Cory exempted their family’s land,” he said.

“If they would insist, because it is prohibited to buy properties covered by land reform and tenants wanted to recover ownership and you refuse, I will side with the tenants since you know that it is against the law,” the President firmly stated.

Trail to defeat emancipation
On 22 July 1987, Cory Aquino issued Presidential Proclamation 131 and Executive Order 229 that both outlined her agrarian reform program.

On 18 May 1988, the Court of Appeals dismissed the government case filed during the term of former President Ferdinand Marcos against Tarlac Development Corp. (TADECO) to surrender Hacienda Luisita for distribution.

On 10 June 1988, Republic Act 6657 or CARP was signed into law by President Cory Aquino, but it included a stock distribution option (SDO) that allowed landowners to distribute shares of stock instead of land to farmers that the estate owned by the Cojuangco-Aquinos availed of.

Some 4,915.75 hectares of the Hacienda were transferred to Hacienda Luisita Inc. (HLI) on 23 August 1988 that subsequently had 92.9 percent of farmers voting in favor of SDO.

In 2003, hacienda workers filed a petition to have the SDO agreement revoked, and in 2005, the DAR cancelled the stock distribution agreement. It was cited that the SDO had failed to improve the lives of the more than 5,000 farmer beneficiaries.

Massacre mars program
On 16 November 2004, violence erupted between protesters, the police and military forces over the sham agreement between farm workers and owners of the Hacienda.

At least seven people were killed and 121 were injured, 32 from gunshot wounds in an incident that came to be known as the “Luisita massacre.”

A month after the Luisita massacre, picket lines were established around the hacienda. Soon after, eight people who supported the farmers’ cause or had evidence supporting their case were murdered one by one.

The killings began on 8 December 2004 with the death of Marcelino Beltran, a retired army officer turned peasant leader.

In 5 July 2011, the Supreme Court in a landmark decision held the PARC’s order revoking Hacienda Luisita Inc.’s stock distribution plan. Under the plan is the stock distribution option agreement that allowed farmers to pick between shares of stock and land.

Hacienda lease deal
The Cojuangco clan of former President Benigno Aquino III was paid some P471.5 million as compensation for turning over the Hacienda Luisita land to farm workers beneficiaries.
Tadeco, however, claimed parts of the land and Aquino’s ally Virgie Torres who used to be Land Transportation Office (LTO) chief brandished land lease agreements to kick out farmers from the land they have been tilling.

Torres offered farmers P7,000 as one-year rent for land that they now own after the SC ruling. The land beneficiaries said personnel from the Department of Agrarian Reform were aware of the lease agreements.

The scheme of enticing farmers into lease agreements or the “aryendo” system was implemented by dummies of the Cojuangco-Aquinos, such as Torres who reportedly leased around 200 hectares in one barangay alone.

Days after the SC decision, Alyansa ng Magbubukid sa Gitnang Luson said at least 80 percent of the land are back to sugarcane production. The group blamed the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) for “ensuring that the Cojuangco-Aquinos maintain control of the vast plantation.”

Areas tilled by protesting farm workers were destroyed by security guards and goons hired by Cojuangco-Aquinos, often with the aid of DAR officials.

Give genuine help
The President also warned CARP farmer-beneficiaries against selling their lands to former owners.

“If you (landlords) want to help them, give them money or buy (crops) from them. But for you to get the land back, I don’t think I will honor that. Look, I’m telling you now that during my time, I will not honor that sale,” he added.

Another group of farmers pushing for land reform in Hacienda Luisita and other landholdings were also violently dispersed by police and soldiers in Mendiola, Manila on 22 January 1987.

“Far and in between the years that it was fighting… I mean the tenants, there were a lot who died. A lot of people died… invested blood, just to realize, until late today, the land that should have been theirs,” Mr. Duterte said.

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