Thousands lose out in Hacienda Luisita deal
Thousands of workers will lose out when a sugar plantation owned by President Benigno Aquino III’s family is distributed to some 6,200 farm hands next year, an official said on Friday.
The 4,300-hectare Hacienda Luisita in Tarlac province would be fully redistributed by next year to its laborers after years of delay, Agrarian Reform Secretary Virgilio de los Reyes said.
“This will be the biggest redistribution of land to farmers in Philippine history,” he said.
Even then, only about 6,200 of its more than 8,000 workers would get to physically own plots of land from the breakup, he said.
About 2,000 would not be able to get land because they were not yet fully employed at the Hacienda in 1989, the year after the country’s land reform law was passed, De los Reyes said.
Many of those excluded were mere “transient workers” who got part-time jobs for two months each year cleaning up the farm immediately after harvest, he added.
De los Reyes said the land division would amount to about 0.66 ha for each farmer, who would need to pay about P80,000 over 30 years for their title.
He brushed aside calls by activists to let all the workers get land for free.
“From where I sit, that is chaos,” he said.
Hacienda Luisita has long been a symbol of the failure of land reform programs in a nation that suffers from a sharp division between rich and poor.
Aquino’s mother, then President Corazon Aquino, signed a land reform law in 1988 which would have covered the plantation. However, it included a controversial stock distribution option (SDO) which allowed farmers to own shares of stocks instead of land.
Aquino’s family, the Cojuangcos, owners of Hacienda Luisita Inc. (HLI) was the first corporation to employ the stock option, in 1989. The company converted parts of the plantation into nonagricultural uses, including a mall.
Farmers denounced it as a scheme to skirt the agrarian reform law and went to court to demand actual land distribution.
The Supreme Court ruled in November 2011 that the family must sell the land to the government, which would then sell it to the farmers on easy loan terms.
De los Reyes acknowledged that it would be difficult for these farmers to survive by farming their tiny plots alone, but suggested they join their farms together and promised government support.
De los Reyes said the Aquino government was still hoping to complete the country’s land reform program by 2016, the current president’s last year in office.
About 822,480 ha still in private hands will have been redistributed by that time, he added.
The legal battle of farm unions in Hacienda Luisita to challenge the stock distribution option and claim actual land ownership began almost a decade ago.
In 2003, farmers filed a petition for land distribution with the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR), claiming the stock distribution option had failed to uplift their living conditions.
In 2004, violence erupted during a strike at the hacienda that left seven persons dead. The DAR revoked the HLI’s stock distribution agreement a year later.
In 2006, a temporary restraining order was issued by the Supreme Court after HLI raised the SDO revocation issue to the tribunal.
In 2010, plantation owners offered a compromise deal to the plantation unions, promising a P150-million financial package for the beneficiaries. Farmers lined up in August 2010 to receive their share of the P20-million first tranche of the financial settlement. The balance of the package, HLI said, would be released once the Supreme Court approved the compromise deal.
However, in July 2011, the high court upheld the DAR’s revocation of the SDO and called for a referendum to allow farmers to vote again on whether or not they wanted land ownership or shares of stock.
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.