Merits, not grudge, deciding Hacienda Luisita case—lawmakers
Lawmakers spearheading the impeachment of Chief Justice Renato Corona said they expect the Supreme Court’s final ruling on the issue of compensation for President Benigno Aquino III’s relatives for Hacienda Luisita to be based on the “merits” of the case rather on “the grudge” some magistrates hold against the President.
Marikina City Representative Romero Quimbo, spokesperson of the prosecution panel against Corona, said the Hacienda Luisita land reform case was “an entirely different matter” from the impeachment trial.
Corona’s impeachment trial at the Senate will resume two weeks after the high court’s scheduled decision on compensation for the Aquino family for the sugar estate.
“The members of the House have always looked at the issue of Hacienda Luisita as separate and independent from the impeachment of Chief Justice Corona. It has only been the Chief Justice himself who has been connecting this issue to the impeachment in his unsuccessful attempt to gain public sympathy. Like with all cases pending before it, we expect the SC to act with independence and competence in deciding the case considering that its decisions are unappealable,” said Quimbo in a text message.
Another spokesperson of the House prosecutors, Aurora Representative Juan Edgardo Angara, said: “Let’s wait for the decision. I don’t expect the justices to decide on considerations other than the merits and the evidence in the case.”
But Angara conceded that the Luisita ruling could influence the senator-judges, who might give credit to Corona’s claim that the Cojuangcos’ refusal to let go of their land without a huge compensation was one of the reasons for his impeachment by the President’s allies in the House.
“That is the difference with regular court cases and the impeachment case, because in the latter, the senator-judges…have a wider latitude or discretion, so long as their decision is not arbitrary,” said Angara.
On the other hand, Kabataan party-list Representative Raymond Palatino lamented that such a landmark agrarian reform decision by the Supreme Court, which has been anticipated for decades, would be overshadowed and tainted by the impeachment trial of Corona.
“It’s unfortunate that the promulgation of the SC decision on the Hacienda Luisita case will take place at a time when there’s a bitter conflict between the Chief Justice and the President. For a long time, farmers have been at the losing end because of partisan politics. Hacienda Luisita is a social justice issue and if the SC decides in favor of the small farmers, it must be seen as a delayed legal recognition of the historical right of the hacienda workers—a necessary judicial intervention to end a half-century of criminal landlordism.”
Palatino dismissed fears the high court ruling could have a bearing on the impeachment trial, saying that this should be seen in a broader context.
“The SC decision will not only affect the Cojuangcos since it will have a bearing on other haciendas under an SDO (stock distribution option) plan,” said Palatino.
In a unanimous vote last November, the high tribunal rescinded the SDO plan as an alternative to the distribution of land to the farmer-beneficiaries. Tuesday’s anticipated ruling will lay down how much compensation the owners of the land should get.
Akbayan party-list Representative Walden Bello was confident the high court would not use the Hacienda Luisita ruling as pay-back against the President for moving to kick out the Chief Justice.
“Justices not belonging to the Corona gang, like Justice Sereno, are likely to vote against the Hacienda Luisita management. I do not think P-Noy (Aquino) favors a high compensation for Hacienda Luisita interests,” said Bello.
He said all the speculation linking the Luisita issue to the Corona impeachment trial could have been avoided had the President been more vocal and forceful about his stand on his family’s estate.
“He could and should have acted more proactively on the side of the tenants early on to show the country where he stood in the matter,” said Bello.
Mr. Aquino’s family acquired Hacienda Luisita, the former Tabacalera Estate, with government-backed loans on the condition that it would eventually be distributed to the farmers.
The Cojuangco family fought the land reform legislation in court, eventually acquiring the option (under President Corazon Aquino’s Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program) to distribute stocks to the farmers instead of the land itself.
The farmers have questioned the SDO program and various management decisions since then. A strike at the plantation several years ago led to the death of several protesters. Up to now, farmers complain that military units are deployed inside the Hacienda.
The Supreme Court finally ruled that the land should be distributed. On the issue of compensation, the lawyers are arguing over the baseline year to be used to determine the value of the land should be determined.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.