THE Church in the Philippines acknowledges that "agrarianreform is still the one big issue that touches our rural poor most directly."The agenda for social justice and the realization of our preferential love forthe poor are seriously tested in our resolve to address the problem of inequityand rural poverty through our commitment to implement genuine land reform (Actsand Decrees of the Second Plenary Council, No. 391).
The case of the reported compromise deal in the 21-yeardispute in Hacienda Luisita was taunted as a breakthrough in the effort to endthe long-standing agrarian issue over the 6,500-hectare land owned by theCojuangcos, the family of President Benigno Aquino III. The deal could havebeen a cause for celebration if not for a number of questionable processes andhighly inequitable terms contained in the said agreement whose reportedapproval of the farmers was brokered by the company itself, the HaciendaLuisita Inc. (HLI).
We will laud and support any initiative to immediatelyresolve the two-decade land dispute, but it should be in a manner that is fairand would uphold the farmers' rightful claim to the land. The unusual haste that characterizes thewhole process of arriving at a compromise makes the deal all the morequestionable and suspicious. Hence, we raise the following issues below toquestion the supposed terms of agreements and the process by which thecompromise was crafted.
In 2005, the directive from the Presidential Agrarian ReformCouncil and the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) explicitly called for theredistribution of 4,415 hectares of the 6,500 hectarage under the ComprehensiveAgrarian Reform Program. Implementationof this order was stalled by the Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) granted bythe Supreme Court. But the present compromised agreement totally disregardedthe DAR order and made the farmers accept the lopsided sharing scheme - withthe farmer-beneficiaries being offered only 33% of the land or only 1,400hectares out of the 6,500-hectare property. Clearly, this arrangement isdisproportionately in favor of the HLI and totally contradicting the socialjustice intent of the law. In effect, the farmers will end up owning very smallparcel of the land for the sprawling land estate would be divided among 10,502 CARPbeneficiaries, based on the list submitted by Hacienda Luisita management. Andthe list itself actually needs meticulous scrutiny and verification.
The compromised agreement also made provision for theimplementation of the Stock Distribution Option (SDO), which is in fact,already revoked by DAR in the same order in 2005. The SDO scheme isunacceptable for it is an outright circumvention of the agrarian provision forland distribution. And it is worth mentioning that in the twenty one years ofimplementing the SDO, it had not lifted the farmers out of their impoverishedand vulnerable state. The SDO scheme facilitated the virtual surrender of thefarmers of their rightful claims to the agricultural lands of the hacienda inexchange for a pittance or meager shares of capital stock and productionshares.
The much-ballyhooed compromised agreement on HaciendaLuisita's estate was also tainted with anomalous processes in the way thecompany chose representatives for the farmer sector. The present leadershipboth of ULWU (United Luisita Workers' Union) and AMBALA (Alyansa ngManggagawang Bukid ng Asyenda Luisita), question the authority of the company-designatedleaders, namely Noel Mallari and Eldifonso Pingol, to represent theorganizations that had already disowned and expelled them a long time ago.
Moreover, the manner of obtaining farmers and workerssignatures was also dubious in view of the allegation of bribe-offers disguisedas "financial package" or "monetary benefits." We acknowledge the fact thatdestitution in Hacienda Luisita would drive the farmers to seek immediate andtemporary relief from their economic woes, hence making the compensationpackage of the SDO an enticing option. Butthe strategy of capitalizing on peoples' poverty to trick them into acceptingthe disadvantageous compromise is another form of grave injustice committed againstthe farmers.
In the light of the foregoing, we denounce the compromisedeal in Hacienda Luisita as a grand scheme to thwart the implementation of theagrarian reform law and a pre-emptive strategy to influence the Supreme Courtdecision on the TRO case pending for resolution soon.
To serve the interest of justice, we appeal to PresidentBenigno Aquino III to fulfill his pro-poor platform of governance by implementingthe agrarian law and by not honoring the compromise deal that ran counter tothe constitutional mandate that the entire 4,415 hectares of land should bedistributed to the plantation farmers. The President cannot feign neutrality inthis issue, for his silence and inaction will mean an implicit endorsement ofthe unjust compromise deal orchestrated by Cojuangco-owned HLI. If land reform cannot be implemented inHacienda Luisita, we see no possibility of implementing it in any place at all.Hindina kami pwedeng mangarap . . . sa pagpapatupad ng tunay na katarungan para samga mahihirap!
Concretely, we appeal that the compromise deal be set asideand allow a genuine and transparent process of consultation with the farmers beconducted, allowing them to understand the full range of options available andthe advantageous counter-proposal that will truly benefit their sector. Thisinitiative should be carried out by DAR, in partnership with the legitimatefarmers' and workers' organizations.
We believe that the social justice agenda of the Aquinoadministration will be loudly spelled by the decisive intervention of thePresident to push for the rights of the farmers over and above the sinisterattempt of the Cojuangcos to retain ownership of the CARP-able hacienda.
We affirm the social teaching of the Church that explicitlyunderlines that "the right to private property is subordinated to the right tocommon use, to the fact that the goods are meant for everyone" (Laborem Exercens, No. 14).
We will continue to pray and work for the resolution ofagrarian conflicts so that so that justice and the Lord's peace may be truly realized.
+Broderick Pabillo, DD
August 12, 2010