MANILA, Philippines – The Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) is keeping 200 hectares of prime agricultural land in Hacienda Luisita from being distributed to farmers, said farmers’ coalition Alyansa ng mga Mangggawang Bukid sa Asyenda Luisita (AMBALA).
The group did not mince words during a dialogue with agency officials on Tuesday, October 15. It called them “apologists” for the supposed land-grabbing being done by the Cojuangco-Aquino clan, the family of President Benigno Aquino III.
They said that the 200-300 hectares of land under the Tarlac Development Corporation (TADECO), which is owned by Aquino’s family, should be covered by land reform and thus distributed to farmworker-beneficiaries. These are in barangays Cutcut, Balete, and Mapalacsiao.
Instead, TADECO has been issuing eviction notices to farmers and has set up security posts to keep the farmers away from these “prime agricultural lots,” the group said.
They also identified the corporation as being responsible for the arrest and detention of 11 land reform advocates, including Anakpawis Representative Fernando Hicap, last September while the group visited the hacienda to investigate reports of farmers being harrassed.
“Ang palusot ng DAR, hindi raw kasama ang mga lupaing ito sa dapat ipamahagi batay sa desisyon ng Korte Suprema (DAR’s excuse is that these lands aren’t part of the distributable lands based on the decision of the Supreme Court),” said AMBALA spokesperson Christopher Garcia.
Research being conducted
The 200-300 hectares of land being contested is owned by TADECO according to the 1989 Supreme Court decision, said DAR Secretary Virgilio de los Reyes. The decision excluded the land from its valuation of land to be distributed to farmworker-beneficiaries.
DAR field personnel also confirmed that the land referred to in the eviction notices are indeed owned by the corporation. The land is classifed as “residential,” according to tax declarations.
But De los Reyes gave assurances that the TADECO titles to the land are not cast in stone. “We’re now doing research on all the land being contested for land reform,” he told Rappler.
“If the TADECO land is found to be agricultural, we will send out a notice of coverage to include it in the land distribution. But right now, we cannot just take the land. We have to follow the process,” he said.
The DAR is set to finish its research on contested land by the end of December.
The distribution of land titles to the 5,800 qualified farmworker-beneficiaries is ongoing. It started on September 30 and will be completed on October 18. (READ: Hacienda Luisita farmers to receive land titles in days)
Asked why the DAR investigation into contested land was not finished before the land distribution, he said he “did not want to delay” the sought-after distribution of titles which serve as proof of land ownership.
De los Reyes said that members of AMBALA have been occupying parts of the TADECO-owned land.
Two or three weeks ago, they destroyed a wire fence being monitored by guard posts, he said. He cautioned against this, saying that if a potential farmworker-beneficiary were to occupy the land before a final decision is made, they may be “disqualified” from owning the land.
A total of 4,000 hectares of the 6,445-hectare Hacienda Luisita is being distributed to farmers to carry out the landmark April 24 Supreme Court ruling.
Since the presidency of Corazon Aquino, the powerful Cojuangco family has dodged government efforts to distribute the estate to farmers. – Rappler.com