No delay in Hacienda Luisita distribution by President Aquino—DARBy TJ Burgonio
Philippine Daily Inquirer
Agrarian Reform Secretary Virgilio de los Reyes has sought to assure farmers there was no secret plan to delay the distribution of the huge sugar hacienda owned by President Benigno Aquino III’s relatives in Tarlac, adding that neither would the farmers be required to plant only sugarcane in their own plots.
“They should stop looking for ghosts,” said De los Reyes, who has been assailed by a group of Hacienda Luisita farmers over the Department of Agrarian Reform’s move opening the list of farmer-beneficiaries beyond the original 6,296 shareholders recognized by Hacienda Luisita Inc. (HLI).
DAR said it would interview more than 8,000 possible claimants and has set July 22 as the deadline for people seeking inclusion on the list of land reform beneficiaries.
“I’m telling you there’s no order [to delay it],” he said in an interview Friday night. “There are no instructions (from Mr. Aquino) to delay or anything. The instruction is to do this in accordance with the Supreme Court decision.”
‘Follow court order’
After the high court decided in favor of distributing Hacienda Luisita to its farmer-shareholders, De los 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.
De los Reyes said the DAR, which completed the first of a three-round validation process to identify legitimate farmer-beneficiaries of the vast sugar plantation owned by the Cojuangco family, was on track to distribute the remaining 4,400 hectares of the estate in 12 months.
“What they want is that we stop interviewing people. But if we don’t interview people, they’ll say I’m cutting out people,” he said.
Bristling at the criticism by the Farmworkers Agrarian Reform Movement (FARM), De los Reyes said: “No one is ever happy with the work I do. I’d rather be fair. Let everyone have his day.”
Without interviewing all claimants, there was no way he could identify the qualified beneficiaries, he said.
While the DAR has interviewed more than 8,000 claimants, it doesn’t expect the master list to go way beyond the 6,296 shareholders recognized by HLI in 1989, according to the secretary. False claimants, if any, will be purged, he said.
Not all will qualify
“Not all those who were interviewed will qualify. So this figure will go down,” he said.
After July 22, the 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 a survey of the hacienda land by the DAR and its valuation by the Land Bank of the Philippines. This is expected to be completed by December.
To avoid confusion, support services from the DAR and the Department of Agriculture will be mobilized only after the beneficiaries have been identified. The beneficiaries will be free to choose what crop to grow in their respective plots, De los Reyes said.
“That’s their choice,” he said, squelching speculation that they would be told to grow only sugarcane.
In May, the Supreme Court voted 8-6 to reject the bid by the relatives of Mr. Aquino to secure at least P5 billion in compensation for Hacienda Luisita and to affirm a November 2011 decision that valued the vast sugar estate at P196 million in 1989 prices.
In November last year, the high court voted for the distribution of the estate to the farmers.