MANILA, Philippines – Two years after the landmark Supreme Court decision awarding Hacienda Luisita land to farmers, desperate farmers stormed the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) compound.
Saying land distribution had failed them, more than 100 farmers and their activist supporters were able to enter the compound in Quezon City on Thursday, April 24, the second year anniversary of the SC decision.
Police and farmers clashed by the entrance of the compound as protesters burned effigies depicting prominent members of the Aquino-Cojuangco clan, the elite family allegedly keeping Luisita land from the farmers.
No DAR official faced the crowd, but protesters were able to submit to the Public Assistance Office a letter for DAR Secretary Virgilio delos Reyes. The office staff gave assurances that the letter would reach the DAR chief.
Farmer group Alyansa ng mga Manggagawang Bukid sa Asyenda Luisita (Ambala) claimed that the DAR allowed the Tarlac Development Corporation (Tadeco) to violently displace farmers in order to keep parcels of land that had thus far evaded the government's agrarian reform program.
Call for Aquino resignation
Tadeco is owned by the powerful Cojuangco clan, the maternal family of President Benigno Aquino III.
“Our situation is worse than ever under another hacendero president. Luisita is under a reign of terror and impunity,” said Florida Sibayan, Ambala chairperson.
The farmer-activists called on Aquino to resign, citing the incompetence of his administration in giving justice to the farmers.
“Aquino’s 'daang matuwid' (straight path) rhetoric is an empty slogan to cover up his family’s crimes against farmworkers and the people," said Sibayan.
Tadeco acquired the sugar mill Central Azucarera de Tarlac from its original Spanish owners in 1957 using money from the government.
The government gave the family control over the 6,000-plus hectare estate on the condition that the lands would be distributed to farmers after 10 years.
But until the April 24, 2012, Supreme Court decision, Hacienda Luisita had evaded distribution.
Prime land withheld
Far from effectively turning over the land, the government and Tadeco seem to be working together to reduce the amount of land to be distributed, said Ambala.
From an original land area of 6,453 hectares, the Cojuangcos only declared 4,915 hectares to be agricultural in 1989.
Of these, 500 hectares were approved for conversion into non-agricultural uses, thus making them exempt from agrarian reform. Another 80.5 hectares was subtracted to make way for the Subic Clark Tarlac Expressway (SCTEX).
The final 2012 ruling thus ordered only 4,335 hectares for distribution.
But this number was again reduced. A survey conducted by FF Cruz Co, a company hired by the DAR, in early April further exempted more than 200 hectares of land from agrarian reform.
Farmer-activists call on President Benigno Aquino III to resign for failure to distribute land to Hacienda Luisita farmers
By Ambala's count, a total of 1,063.47 hectares of hacienda land has been illegal converted into non-agricultural uses. Some of these parcels of land are now titled to Luisita Realty Corporation, Luisita Golf and Country Club, and Las Haciendas Subdivision. (READ: DAR: No illegal land conversion in Hacienda Luisita)
Land distribution 'making progress'
But as far as the DAR is concerned, agrarian reform in Hacienda Luisita is making progress. (READ: DAR: Luisita farmers in their land by May)
As of April 24, 2014, 87.5% of the monumenting work had been completed, said DAR Undersecretary for Legal Affairs Anthony Parungao. Monumenting is the process of putting boundary markers on the land for distribution.
More than 6,000 farm lots have been monumented and 4,716 farmers have been installed in some 5,500 lots – almost 76% of the masterlist.
In October 2013, the DAR began giving qualified farmers a document called Certificate of Land Ownership Award (CLOA).
“Upon the registration of their CLOAs, the farmworker-beneficiaries became the actual owners of their individual parcel of lands," he said.
He admitted there were indeed disputed parts of the hacienda being claimed by Tadeco.
"These are now being processed under rules and laws pertaining to land acquisition and distribution of CARP." – Rappler.com
Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. For tips or story suggestions, you can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.