MANILA, Philippines – A happy ending for Hacienda Luisita land reform seems nowhere in sight.
Despite distribution of land titles to farmer beneficiaries in October 2013, violence has been escalating in the highly-contested piece of agricultural land since last December.
According to a number of incident reports compiled by the Alyansa ng mga Manggagawa sa Asyenda Luisita (Ambala) in the past few months, Tarlac police and guards hired by the Tarlac Development Corporation (Tadeco) have forced farmers in the village of Balete out of the land they have tended for years.
Tadeco is owned by the powerful Cojuangco clan – the family of President Benigno Aquino III. Aquino divested his shares in the estate in 2010.
The lands they are fencing off, the company says, are not part of the sugar estate that the Supreme Court (SC) has ordered distributed to farmers under the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP). The farmers say otherwise. They are invoking different government documents to support their claims.
Without a court order, however, police and guards have destroyed and burned the farmers’ huts and barricaded their rice fields with barbed wires, iron sheets, and concrete, Ambala decried.
Farmers are not allowed to get back the farming tools inside the land. They are also banned from bringing in diesel to power water pumps needed to keep their crops alive.
The most recent cases of forced eviction happened on February 4, 8, 9, and 11.
Farmers have been held at gunpoint while trying to stop the destruction of their huts. During the Christmas season, Tadeco bulldozed hundreds of hectares of farmers’ crops.
Forced out of their homes, the farmers have fashioned makeshift homes nearby in order to stand watch over their carefully tended fields, said an Ambala press release.
Whose land is it?
The village of Balete, where most of the violence is concentrated, sits on land that Tadeco and the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) maintain belongs to the corporation, based on a 1989 Supreme Court decision. The decision excluded the land from the land to be distributed to farmworkers under the CARP. (READ: Farmers: DAR keeping prime Hacienda Luisita lots)
But Ambala says the agricultural areas in Balete are part of land intended for farmers. They are included in a notice of land reform coverage issued by DAR on Dec 17, 2013.
But farmers’ malcontent runs deeper. Some continue to condemn the land title distribution in October 2013 as a hoax because, in order to obtain land titles, the farmers must commit to paying amortization.
According to DAR, the farmworkers must pay P46,150.75 amortization spread over 30 years beginning with a monthly amortization of P57.59 for the first 3 years.
But Ambala says the farmers have already paid for the land through their labor.
When the hacienda became a company called Hacienda Luisita Inc (HLI) in 1988, the farmers were given a third of the company’s assets.
This asset is the roughly 4,500 hectares of agricultural land awarded to the farmers by the final Supreme Court decision on the matter made in April 2012.
“The farm workers were required to work to own their share in the asset of the corporation, then the qualified farm workers, having had rendered work to earn their share in the assets of HLI, should be considered to have paid the land. They earned it, owned it, and have already paid for it by their labor,” declared Ambala.
But DAR Secretary Virgilio de Los Reyes told Rappler the government cannot just give the land to the farmers for free.
“There is no land under the CARP that is acquired by the government which the farmer-beneficiaries don’t pay. They have to pay, that’s based on the law. They’re paying to the government. The government will pay the Cojuangcos,” he said.
Overpaying the Cojuangcos?
The DAR has been criticized for overcompensating the Cojuangco family for the 4,500 hectares of hacienda land to be distributed to farmers.
According to ACT Teachers Representative Antonio Tinio, DAR should not have paid the Cojuangcos interest on top of the land valuation for the 4,500 hectares.
The interest amounts to more than P167 million. The DAR also paid the Cojuangcos P304 million for the actual cost of the land. Adding this up, the DAR has paid the Cojuangcos more than P471 million in compensation.
But DAR Undersecretary for Legal Affairs Anthony Parungao said on February 9 that the payment of interest is legal under the CARP law.
A Supreme Court decision in April 2012 determined that the Cojuangcos had unlawfully retained ownership and control of Hacienda Luisita since 1989, depriving farmworkers of economic benefits. The ruling awarded 4,500 hectares of land to 6,000 farmworker-beneficiaries. – Rappler.com