First thing I read today was the Philippine Daily Inquirer’s shocking banner story “Cory Aquino’s ‘glowing legacy’: Aquino kin back immediate distribution of land”.
The headline somehow makes it appear that land distribution was the intention all along of former president Cory Aquino when she embarked on the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program some 25 years ago. That all this time, the Luisita landlords had the best intentions for the farm workers. And that, by implication, if the first Aquino regime wanted this, then surely the second Aquino regime shared the same vision.
The statements of the counsel for the Hacienda Luisita made me sick to my stomach, as I’m sure it did other farmer advocates.
“The Cojuangco family expresses its full confidence that the Supreme Court decision regarding the fate of Hacienda Luisita is a just resolution for all parties concerned,” said Antonio Ligon, hacienda counsel and spokesperson.
“Now that the high court maintains that land distribution is the only resolution, the Cojuangco family guarantees its full cooperation in the expeditious completion of this process and put all other issues to rest,” he said.
While the family had sought a reconsideration of the high tribunal’s Nov. 22, 2011, ruling, Ligon said the court’s final decision on the decades-old dispute was “a verdict the Cojuangco family embraces.”
“(This) should be a glowing legacy for the late former President Corazon Cojuangco Aquino,” he said.
“It cannot be argued that Mrs. Aquino made decisive moves to place Hacienda Luisita in the 1980s under the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program although the preference of farmer-beneficiaries for stock distribution option (SDO) prevailed in at least three referendums over land distribution.”
Now that the farmers are on the verge of claiming the land that is rightfully theirs, the Luisita management wants to rewrite history, give itself a pat on the back, and perhaps make the current president look good in the process. (Why PDI editors dignify and give so much space to HLI’s gratuitous and self-serving statements, I really don’t know.)
“Glowing legacy” ba kamo? How about a legacy of deception and failure? Because that’s what the last 25 years of Mrs. Aquino’s CARP has amounted to for the farmers of Luisita. The way the Luisita management speaks, it’s as if they had the best intentions for the farmers at the onset; that the management, like Cory, really wanted land reform.
Cripes, if this were true, then the farmers were wrong to rise up against the Cojuangco-Aquinos. The strike in 2004 was totally unncecessary. The massacre of strikers and the assassination of farmers’ supporters, all those were for naught because, as Ligon says, Mrs. Aquino had wanted to place the sugar estate under her government’s land reform program from the start.
Wow, that’s even worse than Joel Rocamora claiming that this is a victory for Benigno Aquino’s land reform program. (Isa pa itong mga nakikisakay na tagumpay daw ng CARPER itong Luisita ruling).
Anyone familiar with Cory Aquino’s CARP knows that a provision in the law allowed landlords to retain control of their estates by subjecting these to a “Stock Distribution Option”. Under this scheme, farmers will be given shares of stocks instead of actual land. The scheme ensured that effective control of the land remained with the big landlords. Such was the case in Luisita where the shares of the farmers amounted to only 33% while the Cojuangco-Aquino management was able to bloat its shares to 66%. From that time on, farmers worked in miserable and oppressive conditions.
The failure of the SDO to improve the lives of farmers became the subject of a strike by farmworkers, a decision by the DAR, the PARC and eventually, the Supreme Court. The final ruling of the SC effectively junked the SDO and paved the way for actual land distribution. The SC ruling is a partial rebuke of the SDO of Cory Aquino’s CARP.
Now that farmers are getting their due, the Luisita management wishes us to believe in its benevolence. HLI tries to assure us of its full cooperation with the decision. It is after all, a decision that the Cojuangco family “embraces”.
The statement that HLI will cooperate is also calibrated to take the heat off President Benigno Aquino III who up to now has not released a statement on the matter. Ligon wants to end public speculation on whether Aquino will press his family to comply with the decision.
For the record, the HLI management has never stopped scheming and maneuvering to retain their vast estate. They are notorious for not showing good faith. One time, it drafted a sham “compromise agreement” and gave token amounts of money to the farmers for them to sign the pact, in order to preempt the decision the High Court. We have not forgotten that. Up to the end, the HLI management even makes mention of three sham referendums that allegedly affirmed the farmers’ support for the SDO.
If there appears to be a change of tone in the statements of HLI, it’s because they know that there a very little legal options left for them at the moment. They know that they have been soundly defeated in the main legal arena. They know that there is overwhelming public support for the farmers of Luisita.
I end this piece by paraphrasing a message from a journalist friend who has watched the legal developments closely. He says that the victory of the Luisita struggle “is a glowing legacy of the national democratic peasant movement” in forwarding the cause of genuine land reform.
This victory belongs to the farmers and the people, and not to any landlord/president, past or present. To those like Ligon and the HLI management who are claiming otherwise, di na kayo nahiya. Ang kupal lang.