Farmers march for free Luisita land

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CITY OF SAN FERNANDO—Lito Bais and Florida Sibayan, both 56, said they don’t find themselves too old to be marching on the street under the searing heat to demand land from the Aquino administration.

Their patience, they said, has been honed since barely in their teens, when their parents took them along as they sought a piece of Hacienda Luisita, a 6,453-hectare tobacco plantation straddling the towns of Tarlac, Concepcion and La Paz.

Jose Cojuangco bought the estate in 1957 on government loan and guarantee and turned it into a sugar plantation.

Bais and Sibayan, now second generation farm workers, said they were very sad that although the Supreme Court, in its April 24, 2012, ruling, finally upheld the 2005 decision of the Presidential Agrarian Reform Council to distribute 4,915 hectares of Hacienda Luisita, no land has been given.

“Not even on a pot,” said Sibayan, vice president of the Alyansa ng Manggagawang Bukid sa Asyenda Luisita (Ambala).

Agrarian Reform Secretary Virgilio de los Reyes said the lands would be given in May or June.

On Thursday, Bais and Sibayan led 220 farm workers who made it to the final list of 6,212 beneficiaries that the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) identified through a process De los Reyes described as “fair and transparent.”

The farm workers marched more than 50 kilometers from Hacienda Luisita to the DAR Central Luzon office here, delivering this message as articulated by Sibayan: “We don’t want to compensate the Cojuangco family. We don’t want to amortize the land they will be distributing to us.”

They are set to reach Mendiola (Plaza Chino Roces) in Manila on April 27 to press President Aquino to order the distribution of lands in Luisita.

Bais said the Cojuangco family and its corporations—Hacienda Luisita Inc. (HLI) and Tarlac Development Corp.—should, as the high court ordered, pay the farm workers P1.3 billion from the proceeds of sales of 500 has to Rizal Commercial Banking Corp. and 81 has to the state-owned Bases Conversion and Development Authority for the Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway.

“We have not been able to get the P1.3 billion, which we wanted to use as capital for farming, because we have been at odds [with HLI] over who should audit [the corporate records of HLI],” said Bais, Ambala president.

Rico Tabago, 34, marched for his departed parents, Victoriano and Julieta. He made it to the final list of beneficiaries on account of his and his parents’ employment. “I hope we are given the land at no cost,” Tabago said.

Asked why, he replied: “Because the lands should have been ours 40 years ago. That was the government’s condition for the loan and guarantee [to Jose Cojuangco].” Tonette Orejas, Inquirer Central Luzon

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