Hacienda Luisita farmers hail Corona ‘agrarian reform champion’By Vincent Cabreza
Inquirer Northern Luzon
BAGUIO CITY—Chief Justice Renato Corona appeared at the second floor veranda of the Supreme Court’s summer compound on Tuesday to witness long feuding groups of Hacienda Luisita farmers take a common stand to express their gratitude for his role in a decision that would finally allow them to take possession of their land.
Ecstatic cheers from weeping farmers shattered the silence on the court premises, after the tribunal allowed Hacienda Luisita farmers to keep their lands at a very low cost.
Lito Bais, president of the United Luisita Workers Union (Ulwu), teared up when he declared to his supporters that the fight had been won.
“Tama na ito sa amin. Tama na ito (This is enough for us. This is it),” Bais said.
Bais said the decision would allow Ulwu and its rival union Ambala (Alyansa ng Manggagawang Bukid sa Asyenda Luisita), to make genuine peace with other groups, so they could collaborate on making their land profitable without the possibility of being bought out again by big landholders.
“We can now plant what we want to plant on our lands. In the early days, we were prohibited from planting what we want on the sugar plantation,” he said.
More praise for Corona
Hours before the ruling was announced, hundreds of farmers, representing the Association of the Original 1989 Farmworkers of Hacienda Luisita, displayed a streamer at the court gates which described Corona as their “champion of agrarian reform.”
Another group, claiming to represent farmers of Tarlac and Pangasinan, showed up with placards expressing gratitude to Corona.
Its organizer, who identified herself as Cheche Lakbayan, said the group was there to say it appreciated the court “for ruling on the side of Luisita farmers and for offering inspiration to other agrarian reform beneficiaries still awaiting a ruling regarding their respective farmlands.”
“Our agenda here is to say, maybe other farms covered by agrarian reform should also benefit the way Luisita farmers have benefited,” Lakbayan said.
Some 40 members of Ambala and Ulwu went to the compound and were briefly barred from joining the picket lines.
When they were finally allowed to set up their own picket line outside the compound, some of their members chastised President Benigno Aquino III for his alleged attempt to replace the high court’s justices with his own “robots.”
Lawyer Jobert Pahilga, who represents Ambala, said the court granted the farmers justice by studying facts. He said the decision should not be tied to the feud between Corona and Mr. Aquino.
Corona earlier accused the President of orchestrating his impeachment because of the high court’s November 2011 ruling to distribute the Cojuangco family’s Hacienda Luisita to farm workers.
Rafael Bibas, who represents a farmers’ group in Mindanao, said he showed up not to praise Corona but to warn Luisita farmers against agreeing to a new deal with a corporation that would try to lease their lands.
But leaders of Ambala here said Mr. Aquino’s hand was behind their woes.
The court arranged a thanksgiving Mass, purportedly at the request of farmers, which was led by Baguio Bishop Carlito Cenzon.
Cenzon said the decision was “a victory favorable to farmers.”
“We at the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines are supporting this cause, and God answered our prayers. We’ve been praying and lobbying for these farmers. But this is just a small victory, we are hopeful that the land that they’re fighting for will finally become theirs,” Cenzon said.
Joan Fernandez, an organizer of farmers at Hacienda Luisita, said the court’s decision was just.
“This ended our long wait to own the land. The ball is in the DAR’s hands now. It should start and hasten the process of distributing the land,” she said in Filipino, referring to the Department of Agrarian Reform.
Fernandez appealed to Mr. Aquino to ask his relatives not to delay the process by further appealing the high court’s decision.
Fernando Hicap, Pamalakaya chairman, welcomed the decision of the court.
“But it would be more liberating and triumphant to farm workers if HLI will not receive a centavo at all. At any rate, the decision is still a worthy and well-deserved victory for struggling farm workers,” he said. With reports from Jo Martinez-Clemente and Tonette Orejas, Inquirer Central Luzon, and Desiree Caluza, Inquirer Northern Luzon