CITY OF SAN FERNANDO—Some 4,000 hectares of the expansive estate owned by President Benigno Aquino’s family in Tarlac have been titled to the government to pave the way for land distribution, which farm workers said should take place before Mr. Aquino’s State of the Nation Address (Sona) if his administration doesn’t want to face protests.
Agrarian Reform Secretary Virgilio de los Reyes, in a phone interview on Wednesday, said the revalidation of a survey done on Hacienda Luisita, the estate owned by the Cojuangco family, is delaying actual distribution.
He said, however, that the Land Registration Authority has titled the 4,000 ha marked for distribution to the government.
Noel Mallari, head of the Original 1989 Farmworkers, said the distribution should happen before the President’s Sona when the 16th Congress opens on July 22. He said the President faces massive protests from farmers if the lands are not distributed before he delivers his Sona.
De los Reyes said the distribution of the 4,000 ha to 6,212 beneficiaries will start “in the next few days.”
Another group, the Farm Workers Agrarian Reform Movement-Luisita, earlier asserted that the entire estate, with an area of 6,443 ha, was covered by agrarian reform in 1989.
Mr. Aquino’s grandfather, Jose Cojuangco, bought the property in 1957 using a government loan and guarantee.
Mallari said the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) should work fast. “It’s been almost a year since the DAR began its information drive in the 10 barangays of Luisita on how agrarian reform would be done here,” he said.
“Hunger is so widespread now. People eat rats and snakes, make do with little vegetables or take jobs as housemaids or laborers. Many had pawned or rented out the lands they still don’t own,” said Mallari, one of the petitioners representing the supervisory group in the first case that was filed before the bloody labor strike in the estate in 2004.
The Alyansa ng mga Manggagawang Bukid sa Asyenda Luisita (Ambala), the original claimant, scored the DAR for reducing the land area to 4,000 ha and excluding the group from the land survey process.
But De los Reyes disputed Ambala’s assertion.
The Supreme Court, in a final resolution on April 22 last year, upheld the 2006 decision of the DAR to distribute 4,915.15 ha to 6,296 farm workers who, together with the Cojuangco family-owned Tarlac Development Corp., agreed to own shares of stock in the Hacienda Luisita Inc. (HLI) instead of lands when the estate was covered by agrarian reform in 1989.
The high court also ordered the DAR to segregate from the 4,915.15 ha the 500 ha that were sold later to the Rizal Commercial Banking Corp. and the 80.51 ha bought by the Bases Conversion and Development Authority for the Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway, or a total of 580.51 hectares. It ordered HLI to be audited and pay the farm workers P1.3 billion.
The court asked the beneficiaries to pay for the land at the 1989 value and the DAR to pay for the home lots that HLI gave them.
De los Reyes said that after segregating the 580.51 ha, the DAR also excluded the lands for roads and quarry sites as “common areas.”