MANILA, Philippines – Agrarian reform advocates and human rights groups are among those who signed an online petition calling on the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) to conduct genuine land distribution of Hacienda Luisita to farmer beneficiaries.
Hacienda Luisita in Tarlac is said to be the second-biggest contiguous piece of agricultural land in the country and is owned by the relatives of President Benigno Aquino III, the powerful Cojuangco family.
An April 24, 2012 Supreme Court decision ruled that farm workers are the legitimate owners of the land. Thus, the DAR moved to distribute parcels of land among them. Last October 2013, land titles were distributed among 5,800 farm workers who were able to complete requirements established by the DAR.
But farmer alliances and human rights advocates in and out of the country insist that the land distribution is a “hoax.” They say the president and his powerful family have been “subverting the SC ruling through anomalous schemes implemented by the DAR.” President Aquino divested his shares in the estate in 2010.
Agrarian Reform Secretary Virgilio De Los Reyes hasn’t responded to Rappler’s request for comment.
Below are the reasons why farmer groups are calling the distribution a hoax:
1. Lottery system not random
Groups say the lottery system was not random and favored pre-selected farm workers. Some farm workers were forced to settle for land allocations in villages far from their homes.
2. Farm workers “disqualified” from land distribution
Despite the court ruling that farm workers own Hacienda Luisita, farm workers who refused to sign DAR documents were disqualified from getting land. The document in question is the Application to Purchase and Farmers Undertaking (APFU) which certifies that the farm worker’s “willingness to till and willingness to pay for the land,” according to DAR Secretary Virgilio De Los Reyes.
But farm workers asked, “Why should we sign a piece of paper that says that we are ready to pay for a piece of land that we already own?”
In the end, many farm workers said they were forced to sign the APFU out of fear they would not get any land.
3. Continued landgrabbing
Farmer alliances reported landgrabbing in the hacienda, leading to displaced farmers and preventing those parcels of land from being distributed to farm workers.
The Cojuangco-owned Tarlac Development Corporation (TADECO) is claiming 100 hectares of land in the village of Cutcut. Another 100 hectares in the village of Balete is being claimed by TADECO and the Luisita Realty Corporation, also owned by the Cojuangcos.
Petitioners say landlord and family patriarch Jose “Peping” Cojuangco is claiming agricultural land in the village of Mapalacsiao, effectively excluding it from DAR’s land distribution.
The DAR itself excluded at least 300 hectares of land from distribution without showing farm workers or the SC the complete results of the survey, write petitioners.
4. Farm workers denied their choice of auditing firm to look into Hacienda Luisita Inc (HLI) books
Farm workers chose the Ocampo Mendoza Leung and Lim (OMLL) as the accounting firm that would audit their P1.33 billion share in the sale of 580.51 hectares of land sold by HLI. But the DAR did not honor their choice, supposedly because the Cojuangcos did not approve of it.
But farm workers assert the Cojuangcos have no right to dictate which firm will audit their own records. This is to “maintain the independence of the accounting firm and regularity of the accounting process,” said farmer alliance AMBALA.
Whereas it is the farm workers who should be able to choose the auditing firm since the audit is being conducted in their behalf.
5. Increasing militarization in the hacienda
Soldiers and security guards inside the hacienda are an “intimidating presence” for farm workers. Military detachments are found in several villages. Another military detachment is being constructed beside the lot tended by leaders of AMBALA, a farmer alliance opposing DAR’s land distribution.
Armed guards look out from security outposts put up by TADECO in the villages of Cutcut and Balete.
It was the presence of such armed personnel that forced many farm workers to sign the APFU, claim petitioners.
6. Land reform advocates arrested
Last September 2013, a few weeks before the DAR’s distribution of land titles, 11 land reform advocates, including Representative Fernando Hicap of the Anakpawis partylist, were arrested inside the hacienda for trespassing, direct assault, malicious mischief, and illegal assembly.
Hicap and company said they they were only investigating the alleged irregularities in the distribution of Lot Allocation Certificates (LACs) to the farm workers.
From July to August, they had been receiving reports of alleged harrasment, fraud, and land grabbing affecting the farm workers.
Supporting the farmers
For these reasons, the petitioners demanded free distribution of land to farm workers, no strings attached. They also want the DAR to nullify the distribution of LACs and to start the distribution anew, this time actively involving the farm workers and respecting their role and opinion in the process of land distribution.
They want the government and the Cojuangcos to withdraw all police, military and armed guards in the hacienda and stop all landgrabbing. The DAR should also approve their auditing firm of choice and provide farm alliances with a copy of their land survey and allow the groups to conduct their own independent survey.
Aside from local farmer alliances, the petition was signed by international farmer groups like the Asian Peasant Alliance and Coalition of Agricultural Workers International. Agriculture and human rights groups from countries like Canada, Malaysia, United States, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Mongolia, India and China are among the petition’s signatories. – Rappler.com