Hacienda Luisita bears a story, which plot is thickened by continuous controversy, anger, sweat and blood.
The Supreme Court’s decision to create a special mediation panel adds a new chapter in the long fought battle of the hacienda workers. This is the outcome of the oral arguments last Aug. on a petition by the Hacienda Luisita farmers and supervisors to revoke the stock distribution option (SDO) of the Cojuangco-owned plantation.
The farmers’ plight
In a round table discussion sponsored by DLSU’s Center for Social Concern and Action (COSCA) together with the Committee on National Issues and Concerns (CoNIC), many points were fleshed regarding the land distribution issue.
The discussion began with personal accounts of Ka Pedring Laza, a farmer who lost his son in the Hacienda Luisita massacre in 2004, which killed 14 people and injured hundreds.
According to Ka Pedring, his family and many others like him who live in the hacienda, have been victims of corruption, manipulation of power by the Cojuangcos and even public apathy. Aside from hoping to finally call the land his ancestors have been tilling his own, Ka Pedring seeks justice over his son’s brutal death in the 2004 massacre, which was never given the proper attention.
His accounts serve to identify two factors which contribute to the complexity of the issue. One is the stand of our president on his family’s controversial ownership over the disputed land and second, the execution of agrarian reform in the Philippines.
All eyes on Aquino
Ever since he decided to run for head of state, Pres. Noynoy Aquino chose to keep his opinions to himself regarding the dispute. In one of his interviews, Aquino simply said that he will respect the decision of the high court regarding the matter. He added that his administration will do whatever they see fit in congruence to the law.
Reden Recio, Institutional Advocacy Coordinator for COSCA, says that Aquino is in a pivotal position to be a catalyst for change since he is the most powerful person in the country.
“If he will be able to resolve the Hacienda Luisita controversy, he will set a great example to everyone and put pressure on abusive landlords across the country,” Recio furthers.
Forty years of highs and lows
The Hacienda Luisita issue has long been under public scrutiny even before Noynoy took his oath as a public servant.
The Cojuangcos acquired the 6,435 hectares of sugar plantation in Tarlac in 1958 through a loan from the Government Service and Insurance System (GSIS) and a dollar loan from the Manufacturers Trust Company of New York. The family was allowed to apply for a loan through a guarantee that after ten years, the Cojuangcos will return the land to the farm workers.
According to Edna Velarde, National Coordinator of Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA), the Cojuancos were not able to keep their word since after ten years, the farmers remained landless. Hacienda Luisita during that time was still a welfare state under the management of Ninoy Aquino and Pepe Cojuangco.
Martial Law was declared in 1972 and Ninoy Aquino was imprisoned. Pepe Cojuangco, on the other hand, experienced financial conflicts with his own family. To save his family name, Cojuangco gave up his assets.
The hacienda took a downturn afterwards. Machinery of the plantation deteriorated, and the mismanagement of the hacienda worsened.
During the administration of Former President Corazon Aquino, the House of Representatives put into law the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP). The program aimed to streamline the distribution of lands back to farmers. The Cojuangco- owned sugar plantation was included in the law.
However, Hacienda Luisita Incorporated (HLI), as a corporation, opted to offer its farmers the stock distribution option (SDO) instead of direct redistribution of lands. Velarde shares that the farmers were deceived by the Cojuangcos since the latter informed that the SDO is more beneficial to the welfare of the farmers even if otherwise.
In 2004, protesters who were clamoring for justice and land ownership were killed in what is now called the Hacienda Luisita massacre.
Former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo created Task Force Luisita to spearhead the investigation of the massacre. The task force found out that the SDO scheme failed to improve the welfare of the hacienda workers, instead only made it worse.
Velarde affirms the inefficiency of the SDO scheme. During the round table discussion held at DLSU, one of the farmers present brought the month’s pay slip given to him through the SDO scheme. The amount stated in the slip is just a little over P1.
The Presidential Agrarian Reform Council (PARC) issued Resolution No. 2005-32-01, revoking the SDO scheme in the plantation. PARC ordered distributing the land directly to the farmers. The HLI applied for a temporary restraining order (TRO) to suspend the order. The TRO was granted to the Cojuangcos.
CARP to GARB
Discrepancies found in the distribution of farm lands in HLI and other agricultural haciendas in the country have led to the drafting of the Genuine Agrarian Reform Bill (GARB).
The new agrarian reform bill is lobbied to replace CARP to do away with the rudiments of the latter and to give way for direct distribution of lands to farmers.
Recio explains that between CARP and GARB, the latter has better policies in terms of increasing the efficiency of land distribution in the country, while CARP recognizes the need for compromise in a socio-political issue such as land reform.
However, he pointed out that what really matters in this situation is how agrarian reform is implemented
“The HLI issue is an epitome of many agrarian reform disputes in rural areas. For instance, the SDO is also being practiced in Negros where there are large sugar plantations. That’s why millions of farmers remain landless” Recio stresses.
The farmers’ plight is ours too
Hannah Al-Sinawi (II, BSBCHEM), who resides near the controversial Hacienda Luisita shared that her town has grown used to the unrest in the area. Protests from the farmers happen often but the indifference of the people remains. For her, the government should consider listening to the plight of the farmers.
“More and more people should get involved. The plight of the farmers represents a bigger issue of social justice,” Al-Sinawi insists. She is referring to the irony that most farmers in the country still till the soil, which they do not own, despite our competitive advantage in the agricultural industry.
Recio encourages the Lasallian community to voice out their opinions through social networking sites. “We need to be noisier about the issue, make public our position about it [Hacienda Lusista] because it will more or less put pressure on those who are part of the mediation team. If they see that more institutions, students (from different socio-economic strata) support the HLI farmers, I believe they will be compelled to agree on a decision favoring the farmers.” Recio hopes.