Hacienda Luisita farmers may finally see the conclusion of their decades-old struggle to own the sprawling sugar plantation in Tarlac province owned by relatives of President Benigno Aquino III.
The Supreme Court is expected to deliver on Tuesday its final verdict on the ownership dispute over the 4,915-hectare agricultural estate during its en banc session at the close of its annual summer session in Baguio City.
Jose Midas Marquez, the court’s administrator and spokesperson, told reporters that the 15-member tribunal was expected to resolve appeals, five months after it unanimously ordered the dismantling of the hacienda.
“It was taken up [during the April 17 en banc session] and again it will be taken up [Tuesday]… So, most probably, we will have a ruling [Tuesday],” Marquez told reporters.
An official of the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR), however, said that the tribunal may not be able to resolve the issues Tuesday as it had asked the department to submit by May 7 comments on matters raised by Hacienda Luisita Inc. (HLI).
HLI said it was hoping that the rift between impeached Chief Justice Renato Corona and
Mr. Aquino would not affect the justices in ruling on “just compensation” for the company.
Antonio Ligon, HLI counsel and spokesperson, said the Cojuangco-owned firm was expecting the magistrates to consider the legal arguments it raised in challenging portions of the ruling the court handed down on Nov. 22, 2011.
In that decision, the tribunal ordered the total distribution of the hacienda to 6,296 registered farm worker-beneficiaries and pegged the just compensation to HLI based on the hacienda’s market price in 1989.
“We still believe in the integrity and independence of the Supreme Court as an institution,” Ligon told reporters in a chance interview.
Asked if HLI was anxious that the conflict between Corona and the President may affect the court’s ruling, Ligon said: “If we allow ourselves to be disturbed by that, then we will only bring chaos to our system.”
As to Corona’s claim that the high court’s November 2011 ruling was the main reason the President wanted to unseat the Chief Justice, the HLI lawyer said: “We just hope that the rest of the justices who did not share that belief would not be affected.”
“I don’t think [Corona’s impeachment] should affect the court as an institution,” Ligon added. “As counsel of HLI, I will give due respect to the court.”
2006 market value
Instead of the 1989 market price, the court should have pegged the value of the hacienda at its fair market value in 2006, the year then Agrarian Reform Secretary Nasser Pangandaman issued the “notice of coverage” for the sugarcane plantation, Ligon said.
He said the right reckoning period was 2006 when the notice of coverage was issued.
“And if you are to be very strict about it, the reckoning period should only start at the time the government is making the payment to the landowner, which is only now,” Ligon said.
Include home lots
The HLI lawyer said the court should include the valuation of the “home lots” which the HLI had given to farm worker-beneficiaries who availed themselves of the stock distribution option (SDO) as part of the total compensation for HLI.
“If the SDO was considered null and void, therefore any benefits arising from being a shareholder should not take effect. Those home lots should be taken back. That’s just fair,” Ligon said.
“[The government must] pay the landowner for that because they will have no [reason] to give those home lots since the SDO was [revoked],” he added.
In a previous interview, Marquez said the right compensation for HLI must be based on Hacienda Luisita’s 1989 market price.
“The Supreme Court has declared that the just compensation for Hacienda Luisita was the Nov. 21, 1989, rate,” Marquez said.
He said that 10 of the 14 justices, who participated in the deliberations, agreed with the ponente, Associate Justice Presbitero Velasco Jr., that the valuation of the lands should be computed according to the prevailing rates when Hacienda Luisita implemented the stock distribution scheme on Nov. 21, 1989.
Marquez said three of the justices had argued that just compensation for the landowners should be determined by the DAR and Land Bank of the Philippines.
Only Associate Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno, the President’s first appointee to the high court, believed that the compensation must be pegged at the Jan. 2, 2006, rate.
“This should be the guideline of DAR in setting the just compensation (for Hacienda Luisita). The decision of the majority should be respected,” Marquez said.
“Based on this guideline, the DAR will have to check the 1989 rates. Then the DAR can already decide how much is the just compensation.”
A TV network earlier reported that the expropriation of the sugar plantation owned by the President’s relatives may reach P5 billion, an amount that the DAR denied.
Mr. Aquino himself believed that owners of agricultural lands covered by agrarian reform should be “rightly paid.”
“Agrarian reform has a second part. Let us not deplete capital. That means there should be just compensation so that the owners of land do not end up having their land taken from them, that they be rightly paid,” said Mr. Aquino, who has repeatedly claimed he had given up his share in the estate.
“The capital that is returned to them can be invested in other industries that can help add more jobs in the country,” he said.
Originally posted: 9:28 pm | Monday, April 23rd, 2012