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Rise above your class, coalition urges Aquino


President Benigno Aquino III FILE PHOTO

Coalition of small farmers, church workers, civil society members, and government employees is urging President Aquino to “rise above his class” and put agrarian reform in the forefront of the national agenda.

The group, an alliance of more than 20 organizations, expressed its growing disillusionment with Mr. Aquino’s apparent lack of interest in nurturing agrarian reform as a key measure toward addressing rural poverty.

Some of the leaders attributed this lack of sympathy toward the plight of the landless to Mr. Aquino’s status as “the son of a haciendero and a member of the elite.”

Mr. Aquino has inherited a share of the vast Hacienda Luisita sugar estate in Tarlac through his mother, the late President Corazon Cojuangco.

“His social contract with the Filipino people calls on him to rise above his class interests,” according to the alliance that includes the Negros Occidental-based Task Force Mapalad (TFM), Save Agrarian Reform Alliance and the Department of Agrarian Reform Employees Association.

Lawyer Christian Monsod, coconvenor of Sulong Carper (Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program Extension with Reforms), noted that it took Mr. Aquino two years after taking office to personally meet with the farmers and directly address the issue of land reform.

That was in June last year when the President promised the TFM farmers who had marched to Malacañang that he would complete the agrarian reform program his mother had begun in 1988.

Monsod said there were suspicions among the members of the agrarian reform community that Mr. Aquino had no intention of pursuing land reform precisely because his sympathies lay with the landowners.

Jaime Tadeo, chairman of the Pagkakaisa para sa Tunay na Repormang Agraryo at Kaunlarang Pangkanayunan, said Mr. Aquino was following the example of his mother in trying to “save” Hacienda Luisita from agrarian reform coverage.

“(Mr. Aquino) was born in the womb of Hacienda Lusitia… He was the manager of Hacienda Luisita before he became a congressman, a senator and now president,” he said.

In 1988, when the Carp took effect, the Hacienda Luisita management gave the farmers the  option to own shares of stock instead of land—the so-called stock distribution option (SDO)—in what was seen as an attempt to circumvent the agrarian reform law.

After a prolonged court battle, the Supreme Court last May upheld with finality the decision of the Presidential Agrarian Reform Council in 2005 to scrap the SDO scheme of Hacienda Luisita.

The high court ordered the distribution of 4,915 hectares of the estate to 6,296 farm workers.

Tadeo, however, said the impending abolition of the DAR after the expiration of Carp in 2014 could effectively hinder the distribution of Hacienda Luisita land.

He cited a June 2012 letter from Budget Secretary Florencio Abad that reportedly talks of a transition plan for the DAR, scaling down personnel services and shifting them to the Department of Agriculture.

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Tags: agrarian reform , Benigno Aquino , Government , Hacienda Luisita , Politics

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