Omnibus Motion Wont Stop DAR From Distributing Land In Hacienda Luisita

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dar web news 2 pix 1 july 25 2013 400Agrarian Reform Secretary Virgilio delos Reyes yesterday vowed to continue the process of land distribution in Hacienda Luisita despite an omnibus motion filed by a farmers’ group in the Supreme Court to, among others, stop the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) from proceeding with the lot allocation activity for qualified farmworker-beneficiaries.

“The Supreme Court has directed us to distribute the land to qualified beneficiaries in Hacienda Luisita and we, in the DAR, are following this instruction to the letter. Only the Supreme Court can stop us now from doing our job,” Delos Reyes stressed.

Delos Reyes expressed disappointment that AMBALA, one of the four farmers’ groups operating in Hacienda Luisita, filed its motion to stop the process of land distribution in the vast sugar estate.

The DAR chief noted that suspending lot allocation activities in Hacienda Luisita would only prolong the agony of qualified beneficiaries who expect the farm lots to be awarded to them in September.

“Definitely, any order that will stop DAR from proceeding with lot allocation activities in Hacienda Luisita case will set back our timetable in land acquisition and distribution,” Delos Reyes pointed out.

“I don’t see how the suspension of DAR activities in Hacienda Luisita can help the cause of fast-tracking the process of land distribution in the sugar estate. Undue delay in land distribution is definitely not in the best interest of the qualified beneficiaries,” he added.

Delos Reyes said he is ready to defend before the Supreme Court all the activities being undertaken by DAR personnel related to the land distribution process in Hacienda Luisita.

“If need be, I am more than willing to be deputized by the Office of the Solicitor General so I can argue before the Supreme Court all the issues raised by AMBALA leaders in their Urgent Motion,” the DAR chief said.

“I am ready to explain to our magistrates, under the direct supervision of the Solicitor General, all the activities being undertaken by DAR with regard to land distribution in Hacienda Luisita,” he added.

The DAR fully intends to submit its Comment to the motion immediately upon receipt of an official copy, as its legal position on these matters is very strong, he added.

Delos Reyes also described as “unfair” the proposal of AMBALA that its leaders and members in effect be given preferential treatment in the location of specific farm lots to be awarded to qualified beneficiaries.

“We do not give preferential treatment to any one person or group, nor to those who simply happen to have the loudest voice and who had already staked their claim. We must treat all qualified beneficiaries in Hacienda Luisita equally and fairly,” he pointed out.

Delos Reyes said reports reaching the DAR Provincial Office in Tarlac showed that when Hacienda Luisita stopped operations sometime in 2005, a number of farmworkers, including those from organized groups such as AMBALA and ULWU, staked claims on specific farmlots of various sizes.

Some of these farmworkers tilled the land they claimed, while others entered into informal arrangements by leasing out said lots on which they have staked their claims to financiers.

This, Delos Reyes said, was among the reasons why the DAR implemented lot allocation activities using a tambiolo (lottery drum).

“The DAR did not sanction this (take-over of farm lots), and we do not recognize these unilateral actions in our lot allocation activity. To do so would be inconsistent with the goal of having an orderly system of lot allocation, and would also be unfair to the overwhelming majority of beneficiaries who opted not to stake their own informal claims,” he explained.dar web news 2 pix 2 july25 2013 400

Delos Reyes noted that the drawing of lots is necessary since hacienda farmworkers, unlike tenants in rice and corn lands, do not work on specific parcels and thus have no permanent farmlots to claim as their own.

“There are two types of land being covered by agrarian reform: the tenanted land where farmers share the harvest with land owners, and the plantation-type lands where farmworkers get wages for their labor,” Delos Reyes said.

“Farmworkers in plantations like Hacienda Luisita, are given assignments depending on the planting cycle in a year. They have no fixed parcel of land to till and their tasks vary from time to time, depending on the operational needs of the hacienda owners or plantation managers,” he added.

Delos Reyes further explained that the drawing of lots using a tambiolo would also prevent disputes that may result from competing claims among farmworkers for specific portions of the sugar plantation.

“In Hacienda Luisita, for example, you have 6,212 qualified beneficiaries competing for 4,099 hectares of land. Every beneficiary has a preferred choice of location, so one can expect competing claims on specific farm lots,” the DAR chief said.

“The DAR also considered the fact that there are four farmers’ groups operating in Hacienda Luisita, which have their own choices of location for their members,” he added.

The DAR chief noted that lot allocation in smaller plantations is easier to manage as farmworkers can agree among themselves on the location of farm lots to be awarded individually.

Delos Reyes also said that the drawing of lots is an established practice of the DAR in agricultural lands where the unorganized beneficiaries outnumber the organized ones, as well as in medium-sized landholdings where there is no actual possession by the potential beneficiaries.

Aside from Negros Occidental, this has also been done in the Bicol region, among others, he added.