‘It’s the end of three generations of slavery’By Inquirer Central Luzon, Tonette Orejas
HACIENDA LUISITA, Tarlac—Ace Luna and his son, Ener, watered a hectare of sugarcane Wednesday, siphoning the dark brown and stinking water drained from the Central Azucarera de Tarlac, a sugar mill owned by the family of President Benigno Aquino III.
“I don’t feel like a slave anymore,” said Luna, 45. His 22-year-old son used a shovel to gather the soil in circles to trap the water near the canes.
In a hut in Barangay (village) Balite, where the Alyansa ng mga Manggagawang Bukid sa Asyenda Luisita (Ambala) is holding office, around 50 people gathered Wednesday, some as early as 6 a.m., to celebrate what Felix Nacpil Jr., Ambala president, called an “incomplete victory.”
Nacpil’s father and namesake is afraid for him.
Nacpil Sr. feared his son would suffer the fate of Ricardo Ramos, president of the United Luisita Workers Union (Ulwu), who was murdered, after the strike last year.
“If the lands in Luisita are finally given to us, this will end three generations of slaves of the land and landowners,” Nacpil Sr. said.
He said his parents, Tomas and Felisa, were among the first to clear the forest for a Spaniard who originally owned the mill and the plantation then tilled with tobacco.
“I’m too happy. I cannot describe it to you,” the older Nacpil said.
The feeling of freedom came a day after the Supreme Court issued a final ruling that set the value of the estate, as just compensation to the Cojuangco family, at the price prevailing in 1989.
That year, Tarlac Development Corp. (Tadeco) teamed up with 6,296 farm workers to form Hacienda Luisita Inc. (HLI) under the stock distribution option (SDO) in the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP), which the late President Corazon Aquino began in 1988.
Family’s 1st landowners
Luna said the high court’s decision also gave justice to his parents, Artemio and Norma who, like him, worked as daily wage earners at the plantation. He said Ener and his four other children might just be the first landowning members in the family. He finished Grade 4 while his son reached Grade 6.
For this cropping season, he leased out a one-hectare land in Barangay Mapalacsiao for P10,000.
“I will ask the planter to whom I leased this one-hectare property to share with me half of the proceeds because I am now the owner of this land,” he said.
He had himself and Ener hired as laborers, too. But he has no title to show ownership of the property yet, staking a claim on it after the 2004 strike when the Cojuangcos and HLI decided to stop planting.
“We had to eat,” he said, explaining why he took over the land.
Luna also plans to till rice and vegetables when he finds the money to support this enterprise.
Leonila Layco, 66, expected personnel from the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) to arrive to start the survey. No DAR employee came though.
Filomeno Inocencio, DAR Central Luzon director, said a team would come next week to explain the acquisition and distribution processes.
The Certificate of Land Ownership Award (CLOA) could be produced within six months to a year, he said.
Nacpil, 30, likened the happiness he was feeling to the joy a first-time father feels. “My exhaustion was removed,” he said.
In Baguio City, where he and 30 farm workers went to listen to the ruling of the high court on Tuesday, he said he shed tears of joy and hope.
But what was not clear was how HLI will do what the court had ordered them to do: pay farm workers P1.3 billion for the lands it sold to Rizal Commercial Banking Corp. (RCBC) and the areas sold for the construction of Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway (SCTEx).
“We need to clarify this in an oral argument on May 2,” he said.
Fight not over
Nacpil said for Ambala, the “fight is not yet over and complete.”
They are still claiming the 500 ha the Cojuangcos transferred to Luisita Industrial Park, which sold these to a Japanese company in 1996. The RCBC took over the property in 2006 when the Japanese firm failed to pay for the land. The case is being heard in a local court.
Much of the 4,915 ha ordered distributed by the Supreme Court has been leased to sugar planters, according to a study by the Center for Research and Special Studies. The leases are known locally as “ariendos.”
Nacpil said Ambala would not recognize the ariendos even if the leases were paid in advance. “Those are illegal arrangements,” he said.
Ambala, he said, prefers to pay the amortization for the land in 30 years. At P40,000 per hectare, he estimated that to be at P111 monthly.
“Our original demand was to distribute these lands for free. The Cojuangcos have benefited from Luisita for 50 years already,” he said. “We should protect our victory.”
Farm workers want to immediately use the land to feed their families, said Virginia Paligutan, 81.
She was emotional on Tuesday night because the high court’s decision gave justice to her son, Val, and nephew, Abel Ladera. Val, a New People’s Army rebel, died from wounds in an encounter with soldiers last year. Ladera was murdered after the 2004 riot.
“It’s good to be fighting for your rights. Many people will benefit from this fight,” she said.
Federico Lasa Jr. said his father, who died last year of a liver ailment, and brother Jesus, who died in the 2004 riot, could be smiling down on them now. “You can’t buy the joy I’m feeling.”
Lasa has fenced about a hectare even before the CARP process goes into motion in Luisita.
Those who voted for the SDO in 1989 and in 2010 believed they were entitled to get lands, too.
“If that’s the decision, then all must benefit. It’s hard to go against them,” said Modesto Viñas.
Mamerto Viadan said SDO holders like him were being mocked by militants.
“We just wanted to have jobs. We feel secure with the SDO. We fear a bad outcome. When the beneficiaries of lands don’t have money anymore, they will sell the land eventually and we all lose the capital that is the land,” Viadan said.