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Op-Ed: Hacienda Luisita: Dagger in Sen. Aquino’s Presidential Bid Special

By Antonio Figueroa     Feb 11, 2010 in Politics
MANILA – Riding high on the legacy of his parents, Sen. Benigno S. Aquino III, the leading Liberal Party bet in the Philippine presidential polls, is getting many more blows from the issue about Hacienda Luisita, the family crown jewel.
In an effort to dispel doubts that he is skirting the agrarian reform issue affecting his family’s 4,100-hectare plantation, Aquino has promised to distribute the sprawling property to its 10,000 farmer-tenants in 2014, five years into his presidency if he makes it to the winning podium on May 10, 2010.
Actually, the tenants he is referring to are actual recipients of part of the plantation, but were convinced to accept the stock options offered by the Aquino family after the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) law was approved in 1988, during the administration of Corazon Cojuangco Aquino, the senator’s mother.
Sen. Aquino said the distribution of lands to farmers would only be done after his family has found ways to resolve the debt issues hounding the rambling estate, saying that what his “family wants to do is to transfer these lands without burden to the farmers so they can start fresh.”
Under the new CARP law approved by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo last August 8, 2009, the plantation owners could always avail of the voluntary offer to sell option, but Sen. Aquino doubt if such arrangement would be in the best interest of the beneficiaries.
“At P10 per square meter,” he explained, “that would be P4.1 billion for 4,100 hectares. That will take care of our debts… But if we do that, the 10,000 farmers will only get less than one hectare and that will not be enough for a single individual, much less an entire family to live on.”
For the land distribution to materialize, the senator explained, it must be approved by three-fourths of the corporate shareholders, which, of course, include the beneficiaries.
But the five-year grace period the presidential bet has proposed has only become a magnet for more brickbats, many of them political commentaries.
Adel Tamano, a former university president running for senator under the Nacionalista Party asked: “Why wait for 5 more years when it should have been done decades ago?”
More than just being overdue, Tamano, the lone Muslim candidate in the 2010 national polls, said the distribution of the Cojuangco sugar land was already subjected to distribution under the agrarian reform law in 1980 on orders of the lower court.
Instead of complying with the order of the tribunal, the maternal relatives of Sen. Aquino, the Cojuangcos, elevated the matter to the Court of Appeals, but the case was dismissed in 1988, the year the new CARP law was approved.
A year later, the Cojuangco clan took advantage of the stock distribution option (SDO) scheme extended by the CARP program under the Cory Aquino dispensation.
But unfair labor practices, retrenchments, and illegal dismissals wound hound the sugar estate in later years, escalating into a bloody confrontation between plantation guards and the farmer-beneficiaries on November 16, 2004, which resulted in what is now known as the ‘Hacienda Luisita Massacre’ where 14 peasants were killed.
The troubles of the aggrieved farmer-shareholders were compounded when 500 hectares of the Cojuangco land were sold for P2 billion ($42.55 million, US) on August 15, 1995, with only P37.5 million ($798,000, US) of the proceeds from the sale reaching the beneficiaries.
Eleven years later, portions of the plantation were sold for the road right of way (RROW), paving the construction of the controversial Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway (SCTEX), which reportedly earned fat returns for the Cojuangco and Aquino families.
Much as Sen. Aquino wants to project himself as a knight in shining armor, the negative impact his family estate has incurred on his image, which has now extended to declining results in surveys, may eventually become the dagger that would pierce the heart of his presidential bid.
Although some militant leaders have joined him in political party as a measure of diversity, the trauma the Hacienda Luisita issue has brought into Aquino campaign may just make the difference between losing and winning the presidential derby.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of DigitalJournal.com
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