Luisita farmers fear loss of P1.3B
Yes, the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) is studying whether to reclassify as agricultural land a 500-hectare industrial zone in Hacienda Luisita in Tarlac province.
No, the reclassification will not affect the issuance of an estimated P1.3-billion payout to the farmers.
Those were the answers of Luis Pangulayan, agrarian reform undersecretary for legal affairs, to questions about the fears of a farmers’ group in Hacienda Luisita that Agrarian Reform Secretary Rafael Mariano would overturn the 1996 DAR order allowing the conversion of 500 hectares of the sugar plantation for industrial use.
In an interview earlier this week, a group led by Hacienda Luisita farmer and agrarian reform beneficiary Noel Mallari expressed fears that revoking the 1996 order would effectively invalidate the sale of the property as industrial land—the P1.3 billion proceeds from which was ordered distributed to more than 6,000 farmers in the plantation by the Supreme Court in 2012.
The amount has yet to be audited and distributed in accordance with the Supreme Court’s order, Mallari said.
Mallari feared that Mariano would grant the petition filed by Alyansa ng mga Manggagawang Bukid sa Asyenda Luisita (Ambala) in 2012, calling for the DAR to revoke the 1996 order, alleging that Hacienda Luisita Inc. (HLI) and its “successors-in-interest violated the terms and conditions of the order for conversion… [and] failed to comply with their obligations mandated under the conversion order.”
“Specifically, HLI did not pursue the proposed development plan that was contained in the application for conversion and instead disposed of the 500 hectares to other Cojuangco-owned companies and to RCBC (Rizal Commercial Banking Corp.). It also failed to implement the development plan within five years from Aug. 14, 1996, the time when the order of conversion was granted by the DAR,” Ambala said in its petition.
Supreme Court decision
“If the conversion order is revoked, we could lose the P1.3 billion,” Mallari said. “Why revoke it when there is already a Supreme Court decision? What is lacking is the implementation and the audit.”
In an interview yesterday, Pangulayan said he saw no conflict between the possible “reconversion” and the Supreme Court’s decision.
“The decision of the Supreme Court stays… We are now working closely with the appointed accounting firms to identify reasonable and necessary expenses to be deducted from the [P1.3 billion],” he said.
“The amount should not be affected by the outcome of the revocation petition. That amount was a product of an actual transfer transaction. It was approved. We are not making any ruling on the transfers. At the most, we will be ruling on whether or not the conversion grant stays or should be extended or modified depending on how the department evaluates reasons behind breach of terms and conditions, if any. We’re not there to rule on transaction of transfer aspect,” he said.
Pangulayan said the decision on Ambala’s petition was “under process.”
“As a matter of course, based on procedures and laws, conversion grants issued by the department has a set of terms and conditions, one of which is the development schedule, compliance with it, and compliance of actualizing the purpose of the conversion,” he said.
“So it’s currently under review. The issue there is: Were there violations of terms and conditions attached to the grant? So the department will evaluate the revocation petition,” he said.
“I don’t see any conflict because at the end of the day, the amount that the farmers would get should not depend on the outcome of the revocation. That bundle of money, the fund, stays. What is crucial there is not the preservation of the use of land, but the result of audit examination. Reasonable and necessary expenses of Hacienda Luisita Inc. will be deducted from the amount,” he said.
Pangulayan said Mariano hoped to resolve all pending issues in Hacienda Luisita within this month.
On Thursday, Mariano announced the distribution to the farmers of another 358 hectares at Hacienda Luisita, owned by the Cojuangco-controlled Tarlac Development Corp. (Tadeco) in Barangays Cutcut and Balete.
This property is different from the 500-hectare property straddling three other villages that has been excluded from agrarian reform coverage because it was converted into industrial land in 1996.
The property is occupied by a solar farm and several factories that have generated around 5,000 jobs, Mallari said.
Mallari underscored livelihood generation as another reason why the conversion order should be retained on this property. TVJ
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