Land distribution is no Amorsolo work; back farmers, Aquino urged
Land distribution to workers in Hacienda Luisita isn’t as “simple” as Amorsolo’s depiction of effortless, fun-filled farming in his paintings, Agrarian Reform Secretary Virgilio delos Reyes said Wednesday.
“We should disabuse our mind that this is like an Amorsolo painting, where someone is playing the guitar while the farmers are harvesting,” Delos Reyes said by phone. “It’s a long and tedious process. It’s not going to happen in an instant.”
Christian Monsod, pro bono lawyer for the farmers, couldn’t agree more.
In a news conference Wednesday, Monsod urged President Benigno Aquino III to mobilize support for the workers in his family’s sugar hacienda during a difficult transition period to enable them to start as farmer-cultivators after the Supreme Court issued a final ruling on Tuesday calling for the estate’s distribution to them.
“This is an opportunity for him to show concern for the agrarian reform program,” said Monsod. “He should make a model of Luisita. He should show some spunk and help the farmers while they wait for the titles of their land.”
He said many farmers in the hacienda were in dire straits and were having only two meals a day.
“It’s sad that after the farmers achieved this victory, the President didn’t even order government agencies to assist the farmers during the transition period,” Monsod said.
The Supreme Court, voting 8-6, on Tuesday affirmed its Nov. 22, 2011 decision unanimously calling for the distribution of the estate to its workers, dismissing the hacienda’s bid to secure at least P5 billion as “just compensation” and pegging its valuation to 1989 prices, or around P196 million at P40,000 per hectare.
The hacienda wants P100 per square meter, or P1 million per hectare at the very least and says that productivity and land values in adjoining property should likewise be considered, according to its spokesperson, Antonio Ligon.
Long and tedious
Delos Reyes said that surveying the 4,915 hectares of land, plotting the streets and irrigation canals, interviewing the 6,296 farmer-beneficiaries over their areas of preferences, and subdividing lots into individual titles would be “long and tedious.”
Barring any hitches, like the filing of a case, the process of verification, ocular inspection and identification of farmer-beneficiaries could take six months to a year.
This could start anytime once the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) reads the parameters of the ruling, he said.
Hacienda Luisita has been described as a “litmus test” of the government’s sincerity in pursuing the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP), which Mr. Aquino’s mother, President Corazon Aquino, launched in 1988 as the centerpiece of a social justice promise to ease poverty and eliminate one of the major causes of a simmering communist insurgency.
However, her family, which acquired the hacienda in 1957 with loans guaranteed by the government on condition that it would be distributed to farm workers after 10 years, evaded coverage after its farmers opted for stock ownership in the corporation, a loophole in the reform law. The court said the stock option did not benefit the farmers and ordered the estate subdivided.
2 years to go
The DAR has only two more years to complete CARP, which ends in 2014 with about a million hectares of land still to be distributed, including some of the most productive agricultural estates which have so far evaded coverage.
The budget for the program was reduced to P18 billion this year, and an allocation of P4.9 billion for support services for farmer beneficiaries was lopped off. The law that extended the program for five years called for a total budget of P150 billion, or P30 billion per year.
Delos Reyes said the DAR was in the process of completing its “table survey” of the titles of Hacienda Luisita. Once this is done, it would deploy a surveyor to find out if this jibes with the location on the ground, and plot the streets and irrigation canals, paving the way for the eventual subdivision of the title into individual titles, he said.
Fears of fighting
Simultaneously, the DAR would meet with the farmer-beneficiaries in the 11 barangays, one barangay after the other, to ask them about their specific preference of areas to occupy and till, he said.
“This isn’t going to be easy. If I give this away tomorrow, they’ll be fighting with one another,” he said.
The estate is composed of 16 titles divided into 176 lots. This would eventually be subdivided into parcels for distribution to the beneficiaries.
Monsod cautioned farmers against falling for a new scheme by the owners of Hacienda Luisita to keep the land.
“There are reports that Hacienda Luisita is offering cash to farmers to come up with a leaseback agreement with an option to buy. The cash is tempting. It’s P10,000 a year. If that’s happening, our appeal to Hacienda Luisita is: Don’t do that to farmers,” he said. He said a leaseback agreement was not valid unless approved by the DAR.
Delos Reyes said Land Bank of the Philippines would determine the value of the estate, based on productivity and profitability. While the landowners could question this, it would not deter the acquisition and distribution process and the eventual issuance of individual titles to the beneficiaries, he said. “The farmers would pay less than what the government would pay.”
DSWD, DILG aid needed
In calling for massive government intervention to help the farmers stand on their feet as mandated by CARP, Monsod worried that as DAR implements the court decision, they would lose benefits from the hacienda.
Monsod said the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) should take the lead in mobilizing support services, while the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) should deploy policemen to ensure order in the sugar estate.
“The DSWD should step in for the next six months until they get their land. Otherwise, they’ll die from hunger; they’ll lose the amenities,” said Monsod, who spoke with Social Welfare Secretary Corazon Soliman earlier Wednesday to relay the farmers’ concerns.
The DAR has managed to allot P55 billion, instead of P90 billion, for the implementation of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program Extension with Reforms (Carper) from 2010 to 2012, constraining the budget for support services for the beneficiaries, according to Monsod.
“If you give them land, you give them support,” said Monsod, a former elections commissioner and member of the commission that drafted the 1987 Constitution.
“The litmus test of agrarian reform is the delivery of support services,” said Magistrado Mendoza, volunteer lawyer for the workers group FARM-Luisita.
End wishy-washy position
Ric Reyes of the farmers’ alliance Katarungan said of the court ruling: “This is a historic victory for farmers. There’s nothing left for the President but to end his wishy-washy position on this, show the right path and order DAR to speedily distribute Hacienda Luisita.”
Agrarian reform advocates said since assuming office, President Aquino hardly mentioned CARP in his state of the nation address (Sona) and speeches.
Jaime Tadeo, farmers’ representative in the Presidential Agrarian Reform Council for Luzon, said the farmers benefited from the wrangling between Mr. Aquino and Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona, who is facing an impeachment trial in the Senate.
“It’s God writing straight lines through crooked lines,” he said of the ruling.
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