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Aquino ally leases lands from Luisita beneficiaries

/ 01:09 AM February 05, 2014

Former Land Transportation Office chief Virginia Torres: Leasing lands. INQUIRER FILE PHOTOS

CITY OF SAN FERNANDO, Philippines—There is life after the Land Transportation Office for Virginia Torres, who was forced to quit as LTO head last October after she was caught on a cell phone video playing at a casino, a prohibited act for government officials.

Torres is leasing lands from agrarian reform beneficiaries who have received copies of titles to lots in Hacienda Luisita in Tarlac but have not been installed by the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR), according to a group of farmworkers in the estate.

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Asked about this development, Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma said he needed to verify it.

The move by Torres, a shooting buddy and province mate of President Aquino, has raised suspicions that Aquino’s family is maneuvering to retain control of the sprawling sugar estate.

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‘Arriendo’ setup

The Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA) said Torres was leasing the lands through “arriendo.” Sugar planters tried the arriendo in Luisita in which they rented lands from village officials or farmworkers who occupied parts of the hacienda that led to a bloody confrontation between soldiers and farmworkers in November 2004.

The Inquirer has been trying to reach Torres since last week but she has not replied through the two mobile telephone numbers that sources provided.

Rael Gatus, village chair of Mapalacsiao in Tarlac City, said Torres began renting land for planting sugar cane in the village in December.

Chinese partner

“Her business partner is a Chinese. I could not say if [Torres] was able to get 200 hectares because planters with existing arriendo have asked her to allow them two more [cropping seasons] so they could maximize profits,” Gatus told the Inquirer by telephone.

Agrarian Reform Undersecretary Anthony Parungao said the DAR was not recognizing the arriendo.

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Antonio Ligon, spokesman of Hacienda Luisita Inc., a company formed to handle the implementation of agrarian reform by way of stock sharing in 1989, said he had no knowledge of the activities of Torres in the sugar estate.

The Alyansa ng mga Manggawang Bukid sa Asyenda Luisita (Ambala) and the Farm Workers Agrarian Reform Movement (FARM) viewed the arriendo as a way for Aquino’s family to retain control of the more than 6,000-hectare estate.

Some 4,009 ha of the estate have been titled to farmworkers in compliance with a Supreme Court decision in April 2012 to give the land to farmworkers but the agrarian reform beneficiaries have not been installed.

Cloa as collateral

In a statement, UMA said Torres had collected from the beneficiaries copies of documents issued by the DAR, such as lot allocation certificate, the application to purchase and farmers’ undertaking and the certificate of land ownership award (Cloa), “as a form of collateral for farmers to avail [themselves] of the measly P7,000 per year rental of the 0.66 hectare farm lot [each] promised to be distributed [to them] by the DAR.”

Florida Sibayan, acting chair of Ambala, said the group’s members were keeping vigil on a 5-ha rice field in Barangay (village) Mapalacsiao as Torres reportedly planned to use the land for sugarcane planting.

Tilled by the Ocampo family since 2005, this land has been raffled off by the DAR to other farmworkers, Sibayan said in the statement.

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TAGS: agrarian reform, Hacienda Luisita, Land Transportation Office, Lease, Viriginia Torres
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