Land reform chief denies Aquino delaying distribution of Luisita land
MANILA, Philippines—Agrarian Reform Secretary Virgilio delos Reyes on Friday tried to allay the fears of Hacienda Luisita tenants that President Benigno Aquino III wanted the land distribution delayed, saying they should stop looking for “ghosts.’’
De los Reyes had been assailed by a group of Luisita farmers over the Department of Agrarian Reform’s move to open the field beyond the original 6,296 shareholders recognized by the Hacienda Luisita Inc. (HLI) and interview more than 8,000.
DAR has set July 22 as the deadline for anyone seeking inclusion on the list of prospective beneficiaries.
“I’m telling you there’s no order [to delay it],’’ he said in an interview Friday night. “There are no instructions to delay or anything. The instruction is to do this in accordance with the Supreme Court decision.’’
After the high court handed down its final verdict on the Hacienda Luisita, Delos Reyes said the instruction he got from Mr. Aquino was: “Follow the Supreme Court order.’’
“Everyone is looking for a ghost somewhere. They can look for ghosts but I’m telling you there’s none. We’re going to be transparent about the process,’’ he said.
Delos Reyes said DAR, which completed the first of three-round validation of legitimate farmers on the vast sugar plantation owned by Mr. Aquino’s family, was on track in the distributing the remaining 4,400 hectares of the estate in 12 months.
Despite the criticisms, the DAR is interviewing potential beneficiaries for inclusion on the list until July 22, he said.
“What they want is that we stop interviewing people. If we don’t interview people, they’ll say I’m cutting out people,’’ Delos Reyes said, bristling at the criticism from the Farmworkers Agrarian Reform Movement (FARM). “No one is ever happy with the work I do. I’d rather be fair. Let everyone have his day.’’
Without interviewing all claimants, he said, there was no way he could identify the qualified beneficiaries.
While it has interviewed more than 8,000 people, DAR will purge false claimants, and doesn’t expect the master list to go way beyond the list of the 6,296 shareholders recognized by HLI in 1989, according to the De los Reyes.
“Not all those who were interviewed will qualify. So this figure will go down,’’ he said.
After July 22, DAR will compare the list of interviewees with the list of 6,296 shareholders and then post the master list in barangays so the farmers could point out anybody who has been wrongfully included or excluded, he said.
Simultaneous with the validation is the survey of the land by the DAR and land valuation by the Land Bank of the Philippines. This is expected to be completed by December.
Support services from the DAR and the Department of Agriculture will be mobilized only after the beneficiaries had been identified to avoid confusion, and the beneficiaries are free to choose what crop to grow in their respective plot, Delos Reyes said.
“That’s their choice,’’ he said, squelching speculation that they would be asked to grow only sugarcane.
In May, Supreme Court justices voted 8-6 to reject an attempt by the family of Mr. Aquino to secure at least P5 billion in compensation for Hacienda Luisita and affirming a November 2011 ruling tying the value to 1989 prices.
In November last year, the high court voted for the distribution of the estate to the farmers.
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