DAR welcomes SC-appointed panel for Hacienda Luisita audit

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business mirrorDEPARTMENT of Agrarian Reform (DAR) executives welcomed on Thursday the Supreme Court (SC) resolution to appoint a panel for a special audit of Hacienda Luisita’s land transactions.

The special audit would be of the P1.3-billion proceeds arising from the sale of a 580 hectare portion of the farm owned by the Cojuangco clan.

Agrarian Reform Undersecretary for Legal Affairs Anthony Paruñgao said the SC’s action was in response to an urgent motion filed by the DAR in May last year, following an impasse among the parties to the case on the process of selecting the auditing firm to audit the proceeds of the said sales.

Parungao was reacting to a SC resolution appointing the firms of Ocampo, Mendoza, Leong and Lim (OMLL) and Navarro Amper & Co. (Deloitte), and certified public accountant, Carissa May Pay-Penson, as special audit panel members.

The panel was given 90 days to do the audit, which will determine the legitimate corporate expenses incurred as deductible against the P1.33 billion from which the 6,269 original beneficiaries of CARP for Hacienda Luisita will be paid as part of their share from the sale of the three lots.

Although both the DAR and the solicitor general have yet to receive a copy of the SC’s resolution, Paruñgao said the move would “begin the process, which has been stalled for more than six months now, to finally move forward.”

Paruñgao further said on February 13 that the DAR was originally directed by the Supreme Court to facilitate the process of selection among the parties.

But, according to him, as there was disagreement among the parties in the selection process mechanics and on the identity, eligibility, and qualification of the firm to handle the special audit.

Eventually, the DAR was left with no other option but to seek clarification on a number of issues that resulted in the deadlock, Parungao said in an interview.

Among these points were the meaning of the phrase “approved by the parties,” and the exact role of the DAR itself in the process, among others.

It also sought the guidance of the High Court in determining the nature and extent of the “auditing period” that will serve as the scope of the special audit, and even sought the review of the prescribed arrangement for it, suggesting that the task of choosing the audit firm may be best handled by another agency or a third party.

The selection process involved Hacienda Luisita Inc. and the farmers. The latter were represented by several groups, such as Ambala, United Luisita Workers Union (ULWU), Farmers for Agrarian Reform Movement Inc. (FARM), Supervisory Union of Hacienda Luisita Inc. and Noel Mallari.

The process broke down following the Ambala’s motion to disqualify Manabat San Agustin & Co., which it had perceived as partial to HLI for having done some auditing wok for the company previously. This motion was made shortly after an initial agreement was actually reached by all the parties on the details and timeline of the selection process in the meeting held on April 12 of last year.

“We welcome the Supreme Court’s action on this matter, and we look forward to receiving a copy of its resolution. The DAR submits, as always, to the jurisdiction of the High Court,” Paruñgao added.

The Supreme Court ordered the special audit in its final and executory decision in 2012 to determine if the proceeds of the sale of the land for commercial use and for the Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway were spent for legitimate corporate purposes.