Philippines: Updates Re Hacienda Luisita Case

Saturday 18 September 2010 by LRAN


FARM or Farmworkers Agrarian Reform Movement is one of the parties to the controversial Hacienda Luisita case now pending before the Supreme Court. Hacienda Luisita, a 6,453-hectare estate located in the municipalities of Concepcion, Tarlac City and La Paz, Tarlac province. The estate is owned by the family of former president Cory Cojuangco-Aquino and now current president Noynoy Aquno. The land became a national symbol of reform, or lack of it, after the Cojuangcos, despite several promises, failed to redistribute the land to its farm workers .

In 1989, the Cojuangcos implemented the Stock Distribution Scheme, an alternative to land redistribution under Section 31 of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program. The scheme merely distributes shares of stocks of the corporation in lieu of land redistribution. of corporation

Due to persistent poverty resulting from lack of available work, continuing retrenchment and conversion of lands, farm workers conistently called for the revocation of the said scheme. In January 2006, the DAR moved for redistribution of the hacienda through the issuance of Notice of Coverage. The Supreme Court, however, issued a Temporary Restraining Order ion the same year. This effectively stopped land reform on its track.

FARM members former belonged to the national democratic movement-led United Luisita Workers Union and Alyansa ng mga Manggagawangbukid ng Asyenda Luisita. It was established formally in August 2006 after its members and leaders decided to break from what they perceived as a continuing farmworkers’ instrumentalization by their organizers.

FARM distinguishes itself as a serious advocate of individual land distribution which does not preclude collective farm establishment. But collective farming can come only after each of them attained individual freedom from control by Cojuangcos or any group. They equate individual land distribution as a way to liberate them from long years of oppressive relationship with their landlord, while collective farm without respect for individual right defeats their aspiration of deciding on their own.

FARM members are residing at Brgys. Mabilog, Pando and Parang in Concepcion town of Hacienda Luisita, Tarlac. The entire agariculturl land area of Concepcion-side of LUisita is estimated at 1,600 hectares. It counts 1,254 members at its peak strength in 2006. But one of their leaders also joined the compromise overtures of the Cojuangco as early as 2007 which resulted in some division within the organization. Its membership was further ddpleted in 2010 after the Cojuangcos initiated the so-called compromise agreement, where farmworkers were promised financial assistance amounting to P 150 million. FARM is now in the process of reconstituting its organization base.

In the case at the Supreme Court, FARM is represented by nine volunteer lawyers coming from various alternative lawyers groups. The oral argument was presented by Atty. Christian Monsod. He had since become the lead counsel for FARM.

Simultaneous with the discussions on the legal and factual issues, the SC also initiated a mediation in an effort to settle the dispute amicably. Some observers say that this is the first case where the Supreme Court is mediating directly which reflects the gravity and importance of the case on the nation’s rural poor and agrarian reform in general.

Recent Key Events

1) In early July this year, the new Chief Justice of the Supreme Court announced that the Hacienda Luisita case will be decided as soon as possible. His announcement also include the transfer of the case from the Third Division to the Supreme Court En Banc.

2) On August 6, 2010, a spokesperson of the Cojuangcos announced that a breakthrough compromise has been reached between the Hacienda Luisita Incorporated (HLI), the union and farmworkers organization. Individuals who represented ULWU (United Luisita Workers Union) and AMBALA (Alyansa ng Manggagawangbukid ng Asyenda Luisita) in the compromise were disowned by the same organization for illegally representing them. The Cojuangcos announced that 70% of the farmworkers agreed to the compromise. This was trumpeted as the solution to the "labor dispute" at Luisita.

3) The Supreme Court is proving true to its word. There has been intense, fast-paced legal processes involving both hearings and mediation at the SC level. Fast tracking the hearing on the case, the Court completed the oral arguments on August 18 and August 24, 2010, respectively.

4) During the August 18 hearing, the Tarlac Development Corporation/Hacienda Luisita Inc. (HLI) argued that they had had complied with all the provisions of the SDO, and that there was already a compromise agreement signed by 70% of farmworkers who purportedly agreed to end the labor dispute in the estate. The Rizal Commercial Banking Corporation (RCBC) and the Luisita Industrial Park Corporation, which bought 500 hectares of the land subjected to SDO to the tune of P 1.2 billion, argued that they were buyers in good faith and their interest on the land should be respected.

5) In the August 24th hearing, counsels of pro-land distribution groups AMBALA and ULWU and the FARM presented their side on the issue. AMBALA/ULWU focused on violations of the MOA and asked for the revocation of the SDO. FARM also cited violations of the MOA and added that the SDO scheme violated the constitution. AMBALA adopted FARM’s stand on constitutionality during the oral argument.

6) Another group, representing a split of AMBALA and ULWU was also called by the Supreme Court to represent its position, which favoured the compromise.

Supreme Court Initiated-Mediation

7) In the said hearing, the parties were required to submit their respective Memorandum for a non-extendable period of 30 days (August 24 - September 24). Likewise, all parties agreed to a mediation process to explore possibilities of amicably resolving the dispute. All parties agreed to the mediation, except that FARM expressedly asserted that the mediation they are participating in will not be within the SDO framework. The Supreme Court subsequently created a Mediation Panel composed of retired justices of the SC/CA.

8) Three mediation meetings have been conducted by the panel held on September 8, 9, and 14, 2010 respectively.

9) During the first mediation meeting, the ND aligned AMBALA and ULWU, walked out of the meeting and announced that they will not participate in the mediation. They also subsequently prayed for the termination of the mediation and asked the Supreme Court to decide on the merits of the case.

10) FARM opted to continue participating in the mediation process as a viable space for exploring workable solutions through peaceful dialogue on the case.

11) The Supreme Court subsequently dismissed the prayer of of AMBALA and ULWU, and required them to participate in the mediation.

FARM Mediation Framework: Land-to-the-tiller

12) FARM has been consistent with its demand for land redistribution. Its participation is guided by the assertion of the land-to-the-tiller principle under the constitution. On the major issues, FARM stand include: a) Valuation of land is based on the SDO valuation in 1989, which is P 40,000 per hectare, plus interest minus the foregone income/revenues of the farmworkers and the proceeds of the sale of the 500 hectares in 1996 sold for P 1.2 billion where 33% should go to the farmers; b) The number of beneficiaries should be 6,296, the original farmworkers who were denied of their land right back then; c)

13) After extensive consultations with all of the farmworker beneficiaries, in which the three groups described below shall be allowed to present their proposals, a Referendum shall be held supervised by the Mediation Panel together with the DAR, under the auspices of the Supreme Court.

14) The land consisting of 4,916 hectares as of the date of Stock Distribution Plan shall be transferred to the 6,296 farmworker beneficiaries (FWBs), with any deductions therefrom to be fully accounted for by HLI management.

15) Three options for land distribution are to be presented to the farmworkers ALL involving actual land transfer:

(i) Individual or family collective land transfer. They may chose to form collective later if they agree. (FARM demand)

(ii) Collective ownership through cooperative by farmworkers (AMBALA/ULWU formula)

(iii) Distribute the land and the corresponding CLOA to the beneficiaries who may opt to allow the Cojuangcos to use the land through usufruct or trust agreement for a certain period of time whose consideration for the agreement will be the shares of stock by HLI, if the farmworkers’ still so desire.

For FARM, no option/s should be subjected to any possible referendum other than direct land transfer. Otherwise it will not participate in the referendum and will just ask the Supreme Court to decide on the merits of the case instead. Land will be divided to farmers who choose collective, individual, and SDO in proportion to the numbers of farmers/workers who choose each option. If 45 percent of those who voted opted for individual titles, then a proportion of the land (to be computed based on hectarage or value or both) shall be set aside for them, etc.

16) In the mediation on September 14, 2010, the mediation panel announced that the Cojuangcos are open to the transfer of 4,100 hectares, on the condition that the just compensation is acceptable to them. Initial price quoted by the mediation panel from the Cojuangcos is P 100 per square meter or P 1 million per hectare. Since Land Bank is the main agency that determines land value under agrarian reform, the agency will be invited in the next mediation on September 20, 2010, 10:00 AM - 1:00 PM .

17) A lot of issues are yet to be discussed by the parties. The most important breakthrough at this point is the Cojuangcos expressed openness to have 4,100 hectares subjected to land redistribution subject to acceptable valuation (an option they described later in the news as "worst case scenario", but a scenario nontheless). All of the pro-land redistribution groups have expressed agreement to the 4,100 hectares to be distributed initially, for as long as the remaining areas of the 4,915 hectares will be accounted.

Prepared by:

Danny Carranza

RIGHTS Network


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