Disunity strains Hacienda Luisita farmers
HACIENDA LUISITA, Tarlac City—Divided are the 6,296 farm workers, whose rights to own land in this sugar estate owned by the family of President Benigno Aquino III have been upheld by the Supreme Court.
Four groups represent them in the estate that in a year or so, depending on the will and pace of the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR), will cease to be owned by the Cojuangco clan.
Hostile to one another, the four groups—the Alyansa ng mga Manggagawang Bukid sa Asyenda Luisita (Ambala), Farm Workers Agrarian Reform Movement (FARM)-Luisita, Association of 1989 Original Farm workers (AOF) and the Lehitimong Manggagawang Bukid ng Hacienda Luisita (LMBHL)—offer different views and plans on how they would own the land and make it profitable.
Court documents showed that Ambala was the sole farm workers’ group in the estate in 2003. It filed a supplemental petition asking DAR to revoke the stock distribution option (SDO) under the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP). The Cojuangcos’ Tarlac Development Corp. and farm workers availed themselves of the SDO through Hacienda Luisita Inc. (HLI).
Ambala then wanted the DAR to give the land to 5,000 farm workers. One of the original petitioners was Noel Mallari, who broke away from Ambala. He formed FARM-Luisita, but left it due to organizational problems. Later, he organized the AOF.
Two months before Ambala filed the petition, supervisors of Hacienda Luisita asked the DAR to revoke the SDO. Most of these supervisors now belong to LMBHL.
It was after the 2004 strike of Ambala and its mother union, the United Luisita Workers Union (Ulwu), that the DAR revoked the SDO and placed Hacienda Luisita under CARP coverage in 2005, a matter that the Presidential Agrarian Reform Council (PARC) upheld in 2006 and which the Supreme Court affirmed twice in its rulings in 2011.
Ambala is allied with the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) and the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan). FARM-Luisita, a chapter of FARM organized by Akbayan, filed petitions in the Supreme Court to question the constitutionality of the SDO.
Mallari is supported by the nongovernment organization Peace Foundation, while LMBHL maintains ties with Central Azucarera de Tarlac (CAT), a mill in the estate that is owned by the Cojuangco family.
Chance of unity slim
Ambala president Felix Nacpil Jr. said his group would not work with any of the three groups as “all are being used by the Cojuangcos to stop land distribution.”
In separate interviews, FARM-Luisita president Renato Lalic, AOF president Mallari and LMBHL vice president Marciano Viadan denied Nacpil’s allegation.
“FARM-Luisita can unite with Ambala because we have the same cause, which is to get land from the Cojuangcos,” Lalic said.
Mallari said he had no problem cooperating with Ambala as long as the latter would respect the AOF’s position on issues related to land distribution in the estate.
Viadan saw no prospects of uniting with Ambala. “They’re leftists and radicals and they impose their will on us,” he said.
Ambala officials said their group had influence in the estate’s 10 villages covering Tarlac City and Concepcion and La Paz towns. The AOF made the same claim.
The LMBHL said it had 50 members in each of the 10 villages.
FARM-Luisita said its 1,800 members were spread in Barangays Mabilog, Pando and Parang in Concepcion and Motrico in La Paz. These areas, Lalic said, could immediately become “pockets of land development” because the farm workers were well organized.
As of Saturday, no group had initiated unification moves, at least even on how to work with the DAR or monitor its implementation of the CARP in the estate.
“We are looking forward to their cooperation so we can enhance and facilitate the activity,” said Filomeno Inocencio, DAR director in Central Luzon.
7,000 sq m per person
All the groups want “equal sharing” of the 4,334 hectares or what are left of the 4,915 ha after deducting the 500 ha bought by Rizal Commercial and Banking Corp. (RCBC) and 81 ha acquired by the Bases Conversion and Development Authority (BCDA) for the Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway (SCTEx).
This leaves each farm worker with more or less 7,000 square meters.
FARM wants 1,528 ha (the balance of 6,443 ha, purportedly the original size of Hacienda Luisita) to be also distributed to farm workers.
Ambala has occupied a part of the 500 ha under RCBC, thwarting efforts by the bank to fence off the property.
Collective, individual titles
Nacpil said it was in the long-term interest of farm workers that they hold a collective title to the 4,334 ha. “The Cojuangcos or other parties will not have a chance to recover the lands. We can protect the initial gains of agrarian reform in Luisita if the title is collective,” he said.
But Lalic said his members preferred individual land titles.
“If it is owned by a group, the farm workers will only have a new landlord,” farmer Felix Amurao, 75, said.
“What will keep the lands in the hands of the farm workers is when we collectively till it. We will ask the DAR to consider locating the lands of those with blood relations to be adjacent to one another so larger parcels are available for mechanized farming,” Lalic said.
Mallari said the AOF was pushing for individual titles and individual production. He said the group could pool resources to till their farms.
The LMBHL wants its members to get contiguous parcels of land on which it plans to plant sugarcane using machines to be rented from HLI or CAT or through profit-sharing with the two firms.
Ambala and FARM-Luisita officials said their members had embarked on rice and vegetable farming after the 2004 strike. They believed that the skills that the farm workers acquired from these activities would help them make their lands productive.
All groups trade accusations that they have leased out tracts of land to sugar planters.
Ambala and FARM-Luisita are particularly cautious at this point, planning to organize teams to monitor the verification of the 6,296 original farm workers who signed the SDO in 1989. (See sidebar above.)
“We will be watchful of the 4,206 farm workers that HLI hired after 1989. They might be made recipients of land and disrupt the land distribution process,” Lalic said.
He said his group was ready to assist DAR in determining whether the would-be recipients were qualified beneficiaries.
The FARM-Luisita wanted the supervisors purged out of the list, which Viadan opposed because they, too, were among the 1989 SDO signatories.
Women are said to comprise more than half of the 1989 signatories to the SDO memorandum. One of them, who said she was not a member of any group in the estate, pinned her hope mainly on the DAR.
“I want to pass on the land to my children. It’s the only possession I can give them. I pray that the DAR would do its work and not betray us,” said the woman, who asked not to be named, fearing that organized farm workers’ groups would ignore her claim when the land distribution starts.
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.