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Audit of Hacienda Luisita firm runs late

/ 08:24 PM May 20, 2013

Hacienda Luisita workers. INQUIRER FILE PHOTO

CITY OF SAN FERNANDO—A leader of a farmers’ group has accused the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) of sabotaging the audit ordered by the Supreme Court (SC) on the financial status of Hacienda Luisita Inc. (HLI) after the process was delayed by more than a year.

The high court had directed the DAR to determine whether HLI has P1.3 billion to pay the more than 6,000 beneficiaries of agrarian reform in the sugar estate owned by the family of President Aquino in Tarlac.

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Lito Bais, chair of the Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura and one of those who made it to the final list of beneficiaries in March, said the DAR has been insisting that HLI is a party to the selection of the auditing firm.

“HLI was not even present in the May 17 meeting and in effect, the DAR became its spokesperson and defender,” Bais said in a statement. Agrarian Reform Secretary Virgilio de los Reyes said the agency has been following the high court’s directive.

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“We are not out to sabotage the audit. If they do not agree with our interpretation of the [court] order, they are welcome to go to the SC,” De los Reyes said in an e-mail.

Lawyer Antonio Ligon, HLI spokesperson, confirmed DAR’s position that HLI was part of the selection process.

“While the DAR has the final decision, HLI will have a say, too,” Ligon said on Monday.

The court order requiring the audit was made final and executory through a resolution issued by the high court on April 24, 2012, but a check made by the Inquirer showed that only the first stage of the directive had been enforced: the selection of an auditing firm, KPMG and Reyes Tacandong & Co.

The order states: “The DAR is ordered to engage the services of a reputable accounting firm approved by the parties to audit the books of HLI and Centennary Holdings Inc. to determine if the P1,330,511,500 proceeds of the sale of the three aforementioned lots were actually used or spent for legitimate corporate purposes. Any unspent or unused balance and any disallowed expenditures, as determined by the audit, shall be distributed to the 6,296 original FWBs (farm workers-beneficiaries).”

The Alyansa ng mga Manggagawang Bukid sa Asyenda Luisita, United Luisita Workers Union, Farmers for Agrarian Reform Movement and Supervisory Union of HLI also asked the DAR to disqualify KPMG and Reyes Tacandong & Co. for allegedly “being close to HLI and other Cojuangco-owned firms.”

They instead pushed the auditing firm Ocampo, Mendoza, Leong, Lim & Co. (OMLLC).

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The high court is interested in the proceeds from the sale of a 200-hectare lot sold to Luisita Realty Inc. (P500 million), the sale of 300 ha to Luisita Industrial Park Corp. (P750 million) and the 80.51-ha lot sold to the government for the Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway (P80.5 million).

The 200- and 300-ha properties were later sold to Rizal Commercial Banking Corp., records showed.

The court earlier ordered HLI to distribute land in the estate. Actual land distribution is set for next month.

In interviews, several beneficiaries had said they wanted their shares from the sale as capital for farming rice, vegetables or sugarcane.

HLI was formed in 1989 by the Cojuangco family’s Tarlac Development Corp. and by farm workers who opted to own shares of stock instead of lands, a scheme that they availed of under the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program.

In a November 22, 2011, ruling, however, the high court rescinded the stock distribution option of HLI and voted 14-0 to distribute land in the sugar estate. Tonette Orejas, Inquirer Central Luzon

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TAGS: Agriculture, Hacienda Luisita Inc., Land Reform, News, Regions
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