5/11/2006

Update sa Hasyenda Luisita

Ito'y mula sa Bulatlat.

Hacienda Luisita Farmers Demand Full Land Distribution

Farm workers of Hacienda Luisita are challenging President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to prove that she is not merely using the Hacienda Luisita issue to spite former Pres. Corazon Cojuangco-Aquino, heir to the Luisita estate and one of the president’s main political opponents.
BY DABET CASTAƑEDA Bulatlat

Farm workers of Hacienda Luisita, the 6,419-hectare sugar estate owned and operated by the influential Cojuangco clan of Tarlac for the last five decades, demand the immediate distribution of the whole property after the Presidential Agrarian Reform Council (PARC) ruled with finality the revocation of the estate's Stock Distribution Plan (SDP).

The vast sugar estate located at the boundaries of three major municipalities of Tarlac province - Tarlac City, Concepcion and La Paz - comprise of 10 barangays (villages) and the Central Azucarera de Tarlac (CAT), the second largest sugar mill the country. It is also where a massacre of seven farmers took place Nov. 16, 2004 during the bloodiest picketline dispersal in the country's history. Hacienda Luisita was subjected to land reform in 1989 when one of the Cojuangco family's heir, Corazon Cojuangco-Aquino, was president. However, the land reform scheme adopted was the SDP where only stock certificates instead of actual land parcels were distributed to the beneficiaries. The Stock Distribution Option (SDO) provided by the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) allows landlords to run landholdings like a corporation wherein the farmer-beneficiaries are given stocks in exchange for land. Through the SDO, the Cojuangco's parceled out and declared only 4,915 ha. of the hacienda as subject to land reform and placed it under the corporate name Hacienda Luisita, Inc. (HLI). The rest of the 2,000 ha. of the sugar land were declared non-agricultural.

The hacienda, located at the boundaries of three major municipalities of Tarlac – Tarlac City, Concepcion and La Paz – is comprised of 10 barangays (villages) and the Central Azucarera de Tarlac (CAT), the second largest sugarmill the country. Seven striking farm workers were killed and more than a hundred wounded when police and military dispersed the picketline at the hacienda’s gate on Nov. 16, 2004.

Hacienda Luisita was subjected to land reform in 1989, under the administration of President Corazon Cojuangco-Aquino, an heir of the Cojuangco family. However, the land reform scheme adopted was the SDP where only stock certificates instead of actual land parcels were distributed to the beneficiaries.

The Stock Distribution Option (SDO) provided by Aquino’s Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) allows landlords to run landholdings like a corporation wherein the farmer-beneficiaries are given stocks in exchange for land.

Through the SDO, the Cojuangcos declared only 4,915 ha. of the hacienda as subject to land reform and placed it under the corporate name Hacienda Luisita, Inc. (HLI). The remaining 2,000 ha. were declared non-agricultural.

After 16 years of the SDP's implementation in Luisita however, farmer beneficiaries petitioned for its revocation mainly because their lives have dipped to below poverty levels. In fact, in their petition, the FWBs reported to the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) that their take-home pay went to as low as P9.50 a week. They also complained of unfair labor practices and illegal retrenchment.

Fruits of struggle
On Nov. 6, 2004, around 5,000 Luisita farm-workers and 700 mill workers staged a strike that lasted for 11 months. The strike was lifted on Dec. 8, 2005.

Rene Galang, a hacienda beneficiary and president of the United Luisita Workers' Union (ULWU), the farm-workers' union, said the strike succeeded in asserting their claim to the land. It was only during the strike that the DAR acted upon their petition for SDP revocation, he added.

"The PARC resolution to finally distribute the land could not have been achieved if not for the unwavering struggle of the hacienda people and the martyrdom of at least 14 of our co-workers and supporters," Galang said.

Seven other peasant leaders and their supporters have been killed by suspected military men since the strike. The latest victim was ULWU Board member, Tirso Cruz, who was slain by motorcycle-riding men at dawn of March 17. Another farmer-beneficiary, Ronald Intal, was abducted on April 3 and remains missing.

Land questions
Although Galang views the land distribution as a victory for the hacienda people, he said the issue raises many persistent land questions.

He said they would clarify with the DAR and the PARC all transactions entered into by HLI after the SDP implementation. He said these transactions entailed illegalities and must be carefully reviewed.

Galang said the illegalities include the conversion of 500 ha. sugar land to industrial and residential use, the 66-ha. Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway Project (SCTEP) of the Bases Conversion and Development Authority (BCDA) that will traverse through 90 km. of the hacienda, and the 40-ha. quarry contract in Concepcion and Tarlac City declared illegal by the Department of Environment Natural Resources (DENR) on April 24.

Galang added that the ULWU had applied for lis pendens, or a notice that will warn all persons that the property is being disputed. They filed for the lis pendens after they discovered last year that a big chunk of the land have been mortgaged by HLI to the Bank of Commerce, without approval of the farmer-beneficiaries who own 30 percent of HLI stocks under the SDP.

Partial distribution
The Luisita land will only be partially distributed, DAR Undersecretary Narciso Nieto said in a phone interview with Bulatlat. Only the 4,915 has. declared by HLI as agricultural land will be distributed.

The DAR official said 95 percent of the beneficiaries have been identified, but they are ready to distribute only about 1,000 hectares to 1,000 beneficiaries in two barangays in Tarlac City. The distribution is expected to be made on June 10 on CARP’s 18th anniversary.

He said it would take DAR six months to one year to complete distribution of the covered agricultural land to more than 8,000 farm-worker beneficiaries. Nieto also said the DAR would be issuing a Collective Certificate of Land Acquisition (CLOA) instead of Individual CLOAs.

There will be one mother title for the estate that would include all the names of the beneficiaries. He said the hacienda has not less than five titles that the DAR still has to document and submitted to the Land Bank for valuation.

Challenge
After the PARC ruling, Macapagal-Arroyo received flack from HLI spokesperson and legal counsel Vigor Mendoza who charged the president of using the issue to get back at Aquino, a political opponent.

The former president has joined calls for Arroyo’s ouster after electoral fraud issues haunted Macapagal-Arroyo last year. Cojuangco-Aquino also lobbied for the president's impeachment last year and has now joined an anti-Charter Change alliance to counter the president's People's Initiative for Charter Change.

"We challenge the president to prove that she is not using the Hacienda Luisita issue to get back at the Cojuangcos by immediately distributing all of 6,000 hectares of the sugar land to the beneficiaries," Galang said.

"We also demand the immediate pull-out of military deployment in the hacienda and render justice to our martyred kin and supporters by punishing their murderers," Galang ended.

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