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Hopes high in Hacienda Luisita for good news

WAITING GAME Life is hard in Hacienda Luisita but Willie Ligado (right), a migrant from Negros province, says the drudgery has been eased by reports that the Supreme Court has decided to distribute the vast sugar estate to farm workers like him. TONETTE T. OREJAS/ INQUIRER CENTRAL LUZON

As he slashed sugarcane during this harvest season at Hacienda Luisita, Willie Ligado said he was filled with hope upon hearing the news that the Supreme Court was preparing to issue soon its ruling on the agrarian dispute in the estate owned by relatives of President Benigno Aquino III.

His dream of owning a parcel of land in the more than 6,000-hectare property of the Cojuangco family might be at hand, Ligado said.

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“It’s better that the lands are distributed so we can make a living out of it,” Ligado, a migrant worker from Bais, Negros Oriental province, told the Inquirer.

He has been working in the hacienda since 1986 and voted for the contentious stock distribution option (SDO) in 1989. He also voted to get land rather than cash dividends in August 2010.

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In Barangay Bantug where he lives, Ligado said a Supreme Court decision favoring land distribution could mean an end to a seven-year battle for survival.

The strike in the hacienda in 2004, he said, stopped sugar planting until 2006. Some farm workers, through their organizations or barangay councils, got lands to till for themselves.

Without capital, the farm workers leased the land to corporate growers at P5,000 to P10,000 a year. With a meager income, farm workers offer their services during harvest season and take on odd jobs, like rummaging for plastic and steel, the rest of the year.

Ligado’s 10-man group is paid P180 per ton of sugarcane. The 10-hour work, which starts at 5 a.m., fetches each of group’s member a daily wage of P180 as they can only cut 10 tons of canes.

“We asked the [Department of Agrarian Reform] for help. We said we also needed seeds and irrigation support so we can make the land productive in Luisita when the Supreme Court decides it would go to us,” said Noli Tan, a farmer.

The high court has yet to release the decision on a motion for reconsideration of its ruling in July rescinding the SDO but saying those who wanted shares could reaffirm their decision in a new round of voting.

Plea to President Aquino

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In the House of Representatives, militant and minority lawmakers on Wednesday urged the high tribunal to release immediately its decision amid intense speculation that the majority of the magistrates had decided to junk the SDO.

They also said Mr. Aquino should make a definitive statement that his administration would abide by the decision of the court—good or bad for his family.

Zambales Rep. Mitos Magsaysay said the President should already make a commitment that he would implement the court ruling, the release of which had reportedly been delayed due to the failure of some Aquino appointees in the high tribunal to hand in their dissenting opinion.

“In the light of this administration’s defiance of a TRO (temporary restraining order) issued by the SC, I think it behooves P-Noy [President Aquino] to declare that he will abide by the SC decision if it orders the actual distribution of land and not shares of stock to the farmers which he promised during the campaign,” said Magsaysay said in an interview.

Justice Secretary Leila de Lima had ignored a TRO issued by the court, preventing former President and now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo from leaving the country purportedly for medical treatment of a rare bone disease. Arroyo, now a Pampanga representative, is under hospital arrest.

Magsaysay expressed fears that an adverse decision would prompt the President’s allies to “politicize” it by saying it was a retaliation for De Lima’s ignoring the court TRO.

Moral ascendancy

Bayan Muna Rep. Teddy Casiño said in a text message to the Inquirer that “the President should have a definite profarmer stand on such an important social justice issue. The people are the boss and not his family.”

One of Mr. Aquino’s allies, Akbayan Rep. Walden Bello, said the President had to make a definitive statement that he was for the distribution of land with or without the decision.

“He (Aquino) must avoid at all costs the impression that he is simply being forced to accept an SC decision. That would be bad image-wise and would subvert the moral ascendancy he has achieved on the GMA [Gloria Arroyo] issue,” Bello said.

Gabriela Rep. Luzviminda Ilagan said the court should not delay the release of its decision because farmers have waited long enough.

“If the magistrates of the Supreme Court have already penned their decision then time must not be wasted in making the Supreme Court decision public. It is imperative for the Supreme Court to immediately dispense with the ruling instead of testing the waters by leaking reports on how magistrates are voting on the issue. This unnecessarily subjects the credibility of the Supreme Court, its ruling and its intentions to suspicion that the land dispute involving President Aquino’s family is being used as a bargaining chip by Mrs. Arroyo’s allies,” Ilagan said.

When news reports spread that the court had voted to distribute Hacienda Luisita, Alyansa ng Manggagawang Bukid sa Luisita (Ambala), the original claimant, on Wednesday began going around the 10 villages within the hacienda in Concepcion and La Paz towns and Tarlac City to inform farm workers about the news.

Struggle goes on

Using a speaker mounted on a jeepney that reached Barangay Cutcut in Tarlac City, a man announced in Kapampangan: “This is to inform you that in media reports, it is said that the Supreme Court had favored us, farm workers. The fight has taken a good turn so let’s continue fighting for our land.”

Felix Nacpil Jr., Ambala chair, said it was in the best interest of farm workers if the lands were placed under the name of their group because it would use a cooperative management.

According to Nacpil, the land is most secured against sales or leases if it is under the name of Ambala, which claims membership of some 6,500 farm workers.

If the ownership of land is transferred to farm workers without production support, corporate growers can take advantage of this situation, possibly reducing farm workers to lessors, he said.

“So it is important there is production assistance also,” he added.

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TAGS: Cojuangco family, Hacienda Luisita, President Benigno Aquino III, Rep. Teddy Casiño, Supreme Court
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