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Luisita tillers want land

President Aquino urged to act decisively on dispute

HACIENDA LUISITA, Tarlac City, Philippines—Confident that they can make parcels of land productive, workers on Wednesday rejected a new vote ordered by the Supreme Court and urged President Benigno Aquino III to redistribute the sugar estate owned by his family.

Some 200 farm workers on Wednesday went to the Supreme Court to protest its decision on Tuesday ordering a fresh referendum to allow farmers to vote on either land ownership or shares of stock in Hacienda Luisita Inc. (HLI) under the 1988 Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law.

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Lito Bais, acting chair of the United Luisita Workers Union (Ulwu), called on Mr. Aquino, as President, chair of the Presidential Agrarian Reform Council (PARC) and member of the clan that owned the hacienda to act decisively to put the issue to rest.

“What else do they want? They have reaped the benefits of owning the land for so long. Do we still need a referendum? You are now the President, Noynoy, you must do something,” he said.

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Edwin Lacierda, Mr. Aquino’s spokesperson, said Solicitor General Jose Cadiz and Agrarian Reform Secretary Virgilio delos Reyes were discussing the court decision ordering a fourth referendum in the hacienda and declined to comment.

“We just like to leave the decision as it is. We will not make any comment on the decision … they’re still meeting right now,” Lacierda told reporters.

Florida Sibayan, 54, a farmer from Barangay Balete, said the farmers could till parcels of land and make them productive.

“Since 2006, after the strike of farmers and workers here, we have been tilling 1.8 hectares and we are harvesting about 200 cavans of palay,” Sibayan said in Filipino.

Farmers grow vegetables during the off-planting season, she said. The proceeds from vegetable sales give them added capital for the palay planting season.

Sibayan, who was among those wounded in the violent dispersal of striking Hacienda Luisita workers in 2004, said many of her fellow farmers preferred to own a parcel of land.

“We will still choose land if they insist on holding a referendum,” she said.

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Sibayan said she was born and raised inside the hacienda. She, her husband, her six siblings and her parents are included on the master list of farmer-worker beneficiaries of Hacienda Luisita and hold shares of stock in the company running the estate.

‘We can do it’

“They should not say that we are not capable of tilling the land. We proved that we can do it, even without planting sugarcane. We proved that we can plant palay and vegetables, unlike in the time of our parents when the hacienda grew sugarcane exclusively because the sugar central needed to mill and sell sugar,” Sibayan said.

In the past, sugar centrals, such as Central Azucarera de Tarlac, were given sugar quotas by the United States, thus the necessity of having to plant only sugarcane in the hacienda.

To make the land productive, Sibayan said the farmers enlisted in the Alyansa ng mga Manggagawang Bukid sa Asyenda Luisita (Ambala) cooperative and was able to buy a shallow well to water their fields.

“We like it this way. We have no employers and we are more secure,” she said, noting that they used to get only P194.50 as farm workers.

Councilor Emy Ladera, a hacienda resident, said she would file a resolution in the city council to support Ulwu’s move should the union decide to ask the high court to set aside the referendum and go on with land distribution.

Ladera is a sister of Councilor Abel Ladera, who was among seven people killed when security forces opened fire on strikers on Nov. 16, 2004, in a wage dispute that led to the PARC’s cancellation of the stock distribution option (SDO).

The SDO is an alternative to land distribution under the 1988 Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) of Mr. Aquino’s mother, the late President Corazon Aquino, which she undertook to fulfill an election campaign promise.

Councilor Amado de Leon, who has seen developments in Hacienda Luisita since the 1950s, said the Supreme Court decision would “likely create social unrest” in the 6,500-hectare estate.

Danilo Ramos, secretary general of Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas, called the high court’s ruling “a judicial deception” and a “license for the Cojuangco-Aquino [family] to perpetuate their more than five decades of feudal exploitation.”

Manila Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo expressed disappointment at the court ruling rejecting workers’ claims that the SDO was unconstitutional.

“We all know that in past referendums, people who are in dire need are easily manipulated [and] we saw this when a referendum was made in 1989 that created the stock distribution option,” Pabillo on Wednesday said over the Church-run Radio Veritas.

Pabillo, chair of the Catholic Bishops’ National Secretariat for Social Action (Nassa), found the decision lacking because it completely did not tackle SDO as either valid or not.

No match for money

Fr. Edu Gariguez, Nassa executive secretary, said: “The Supreme Court knows that if a referendum will be held, the SDO will still win because of the hacienda owners’ machinery and money.”

Gariguez likened Mr. Aquino to Pontius Pilate for washing his hands off the issue, saying that his continued silence could be taken as siding with “what is wrong.”

“Defend your bosses,” Bayan Muna Rep. Teodoro Casiño urged Mr. Aquino. He referred to the President’s inaugural address claiming “Kayo ang boss ko (You are my boss).”

In a statement, Antonio Ligon, HLI counsel, welcomed Tuesday’s court ruling. “It’s the Supreme Court speaking,” he said.

Ligon said the decision was in line with the statement of Tarlac Bishop Florentino Cinense last year, urging everyone to respect the decision of farm workers on whether to retain their shares in the company or give these up for land. With reports from Norman Bordadora, Jocelyn R. Uy, Gil C. Cabacungan Jr. and Cynthia D. Balana in Manila; and Tonette Orejas, Inquirer Central Luzon

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TAGS: 1988 Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law, 1988 Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP), Alyansa ng mga Manggagawang Bukid sa Asyenda Luisita (Ambala), Central Azucarera de Tarlac, Farmers, Hacienda Luisita Inc., Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas, Land Reform, stock distribution option (SDO), sugar estate
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