Aquino’s family not selling sugar mill

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Hacienda Luisita workers. INQUIRER FILE PHOTO

CITY OF SAN FERNANDO—The family of President Aquino is not dissolving a mill inside Hacienda Luisita in Tarlac, contrary to a claim by a leader of a farm workers’ group helping agrarian reform beneficiaries in the sugar estate, an official of Hacienda Luisita Inc. (HLI) said.

Lawyer Antonio Ligon, HLI spokesperson, denied a claim by Lito Bais, chair of the Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura, on the supposed dissolution of Central Azucarera de Tarlac (CAT).

“There is no truth to the alleged dissolution of CAT. If this was a plan, it should have been readily disclosed to the [Securities and Exchange Commission] and [Philippine Stock Exchange] as part of its corporate governance report, CAT being a publicly listed company. But there is no such plan and no such disclosure at all,” Ligon said in reply to questions sent by e-mail.

He said the sugar mill, which is located in a 50-hectare property in the estate, is not being sold because it is still operational. “The sugar to be milled can also come from other regions, even assuming [Hacienda Luisita], upon complete land distribution, won’t be utilized for sugarcane,” he said.

HLI is a corporation formed by the Cojuangco family’s Tarlac Development Corp. (Tadeco) and farm workers in 1989. HLI, which is 67-percent owned by Tadeco and 33-percent owned by farm workers, managed the stocks distribution program (SDP) that farm workers chose to implement the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program.

But the Supreme Court, in a resolution on April 24, 2012, upheld the decision of the Presidential Agrarian Reform Council in 2005 to scrap the SDP and ordered the distribution of 4,925 has in the sugar estate.

The grandfather of Aquino bought the estate and mill in 1957, using a government loan and guarantee under condition of land distribution after 10 years.

Bais, citing an unnamed report, called attention to the alleged dissolution, apparently through the sale of Aquino’s shares in CAT.

Bais raised concern because the audit of HLI and HLI’s payment of P1.3 billion to farm workers from the sale of 581 has in the estate have been delayed for over a year now.

The Department of Agrarian Reform announced that parcels of land in Hacienda Luisita would be distributed this June.

But Ligon said while Aquino had shares in CAT before he was elected President in 2010, he had no shares in HLI.

“CAT is not even a stockholder of HLI. The divestment of [ Aquino’s] CAT shares also included shares in other entities way back in July 2010, almost two years away from the finality of the HLI decision of the Supreme Court,” Ligon said.  Tonette Orejas, Inquirer Central Luzon

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