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Sweet justice for Luisita farmers: SC decision hailed

HACIENDA LUISITA, Tarlac City—At past 12 a.m. Thursday, farmers here came out of their houses and spilled into the streets jubilant, after learning of the Supreme Court decision that favored the distribution of more than 4,900 hectares of Hacienda Luisita to more than 6,000 registered tenants.

“We are very happy,” said Gary Gonzales, vice chair of  Alyansa ng mga Manggagawang Bukid sa Asyenda Luisita (Ambala), a group of farm workers in the sugar estate owned by relatives of President Benigno Aquino III.

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Gonzales said that when they heard a few days ago of the 8-5 decision of the high court that favoured them, people gathered on the streets to celebrate.

But as they waited for the court’s official announcement of its decision on the agrarian dispute in the Cojuangco family-owned sugar estate here, many of them became worried.

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“We waited for the decision but none came out so we felt sad. But today, we were overjoyed because all of them, through a 14-0 vote, favored the farm workers,” he said.

This same feeling was shared by 65-year-old Anita Flores, another beneficiary who has been working at the sugar estate since 1963.

“I thought I would die without seeing this victory,” she said.

“Many have died fighting for their right to own a piece of land at Luisita. I am happy because I will have something to leave my grandchildren and they can say that this land is the product of their grandmother’s struggle,” Flores said.

Christian Monsod, a counsel for the Farmworkers Agrarian Reform Movement (FARM), said “finally justice has been served.” FARM is a group of 1,245 farmer-beneficiaries in the sugar estate.

When news about the favorable ruling swirled on Tuesday night, FARM chair Renato Lalic said: “We’re very happy that the decision is favorable to us.”

A member of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) also welcomed the court decision

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“We have laws on agrarian reform. (The government) only needed to follow them,” Caloocan Bishop Deogracias Iñiguez, chair of the CBCP permanent committee on public affairs, told reporters.

Also hailing the court decision was the CBCP’s National Secretariat for Social Action (Nassa), which has been campaigning for justice for the farmers as well as for the slain agrarian reform advocates. It is chaired by Manila Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo.

“We celebrate with joy the decision of the Supreme Court calling for the distribution of Hacienda Luisita to the farmers. It is a long-awaited decision and a step forward for the court to regain its credibility in proving that it can stand for truth and justice,” said Fr. Edu Gariguez, Nassa executive secretary.

Marikina Rep. Romero “Miro” Quimbo said the court ruling showed that Mr. Aquino had chosen independent-minded appointees to the Supreme Court.

“The fact that they could vote against the interest of the person who appointed them is a breath of fresh judicial air, so to speak. The straight-path [catchword] is certainly taking root in the highest court of the land. Kudos to them,” Quimbo said.

Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Javier Colmenares said the high court’s unanimous vote was a testament to the reasonableness of the workers’ demand and righteousness of their long struggle for land.

Colmenares said real economic development could not be achieved without genuine land reform.

“We hope that the Aquino administration and the Aquino-Cojuangco clans would honor the decision and would not throw a monkey wrench to the victory of the farm workers. The devil now is in the details, especially on the valuation of the land and the distribution,” he said.

The party-list group Akbayan said the decision was a great victory not only for the beneficiaries but also for every Filipino farmer.

“Now it is crystal clear, land distribution is the sole, genuine avenue of agrarian reform,” the group said in a statement

Akbayan said the decision affirmed the essence of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program-Extension with Reforms (Carper)—farmers must own the lands they till and it is the onus of government to guarantee it.

Rep. Sherwin Tugna of the party-list group Citizens’ Battle Against Corruption said the ruling was “a beacon of hope for land reform in this country.”

He said that the “inequitable distribution of land was one of the reasons why the country has remained divided and economically backward.

Flores and Gonzales said they wanted to till the land that would be given them.

“I want to till the land and see for myself what an ordinary farmer would get if he works hard to make the land productive. I will plant mongo during summer and palay during the rainy season,” Gonzales said.

Based on the Supreme Court decision that mandates the Department of Agrarian Reform to parcel out the 4,915.75 ha to the more than 6,000 original beneficiaries, each of them will get an estimated 7,806 square meters.

With the court also ordering Hacienda Luisita Inc. (HLI) to pay the beneficiaries from the proceeds of agricultural lands and the sale of converted lands, farmers here estimate that each of them will get P211,000.

Gonzales said this was a good amount of capital that could give them a head start in cultivating the land.

Amid the celebration, HLI and farm workers still need to be clarified on key issues: How many of them will share the 4,915.75 ha that the Supreme Court had ordered for distribution? How much will they pay the Cojuangco family for every square meter of land? With reports from TJ Burgonio, Jerome Aning, Christine O. Avendaño and Cynthia D. Balana in Manila

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TAGS: Alyansa ng mga Manggagawang Bukid sa Asyenda Luisita (Ambala), CBCP, Cojuangco family-owned sugar estate, Farmworkers Agrarian Reform Movement (FARM), Hacienda Luisita farmers, Hacienda Luisita Inc. (HLI), Supreme Court decision
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