It’s final: Hacienda Luisita goes to farmers

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(UPDATED) The Supreme Court also says the Cojuangcos should be compensated based on how much the land cost two decades ago - P40,000 per hectare

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – Voting 14-0, the Supreme Court on Tuesday, April 24, reiterated its ruling ordering the total distribution of Hacienda Luisita to about 6,000 farmer-beneficiaries.

In a separate voting, the SC also stood pat on an earlier ruling that the Hacienda Luisita Inc (HLI) should be compensated based on a 1989 valuation of the land. Eight justices voted in favor of the majority decision on the valuation issue, while 6 dissented.

Those who voted in favor of the 1989 valuation were Chief Justice Renato Corona and Associate Justices Presbitero Velasco, Jr., Teresita Leonardo-De Castro, Arturo Brion, Roberto Abad, Martin Villarama, Jr., Jose Perez, and Jose Mendoza.

The 6 justices who voted to refer the land valuation for just compensation to HLI to a special agrarian court were Associate Justices Diosdado Peralta, Lucas Bersamin, Mariano Del Castillo, and President Benigno Aquino III’s 3 appointees: Maria Lourdes Sereno, Bienvenido Reyes, and Estela Perlas-Bernabe.

Justice Antonio Carpio inhibited himself from the case because the former firm he belonged to represents a bank that purchased a portion of the hacienda.

The 1989 rate was P40,000 per hectare, according to SC spokesman Midas Marquez, much less than what the HLI had wanted.

The case was on the High Tribunal’s agenda last April 18, but final decision was deferred to Tuesday, April 24.

The 6,000-hectare sugar plantation, owned by the Cojuangco side of the family of President Benigno Aquino III, has been the subject of a bitter legal dispute.
In a unanimous decision on Nov 22, 2011, the SC ordered the distribution of the land to 6,000 farmer-beneficiaries. The verdict was a modification of an earlier decision penned by Justice Velasco, which allowed farmers to choose if they wanted to own the land or avail of the company’s stock distribution scheme.

The HLI filed a motion for reconsideration in December last year and sought for a higher valuation of the land, or P10-B, as compensation in exchange for its distribution of the sugar plantation.

SC spokesman Midas Marquez has said the compensation was the most contentious issue in the dispute.

“The most contentious issue that the court will have to discuss is the rate of compensation. Is it 1989 rate or 2006 rate or is it something to be determined at a future time? ” he told ANC, the ABS-CBN News Channel, early Tuesday. “All the other issues are practically settled.”

1989 valuation

In the November 2011 verdict, 10 Supreme Court magistrates voted to compensate the owners of Hacienda Luisita based on a 1989 valuation. It was on Nov 21, 1989 when an original stock distribution plan was offered to the farmers.

In the November 2001 ruling, only one magistrate, Associate Justice Lourdes Sereno, wanted the management to receive compensation “which shall be based on their fair market value as of 02 January 2006, to be determined by the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR).”

Corona has repeatedly said that it was the SC decision that prompted the President to order his political lieutenants to impeach him. Corona voted for the outright distribution of Hacienda Luisita, saying the stock distribution plan was unconstitutional from the very start.

Corona was impeached by the House of Representatives in December 2011.

But Aquino – who divested his shares in Hacienda Luisita in 2010 – has denied that Corona’s impeachment was triggered by the Luisita issue, saying the judiciary needed a better leader who could help reform it.

The leftist Kilusang Mayo Uno hailed the ruling, saying it’s a “victory of the farmers of Luisita who have persevered in the struggle for land reform for decades.” KMU however maintained that the distribution of Luisita’s land should be at no cost to the farmers.

“The Aquino-Cojuangcos have raked in so much wealth from the farmers of Luisita that they must not be compensated with the people’s money,” KMU said in a statement.-

(We reported earlier that Justice Mariano del Castillo was absent during the voting; we were wrong. Our apologies.)

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