CITY OF SAN FERNANDO, Philippines—More than half of 6,212 farm workers have been installed as landowners in Hacienda Luisita, a vast sugar estate in Tarlac province on which the family of President Aquino lost control after the Supreme Court favored ownership by tillers in a landmark decision in 2012.
The Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) contractors finished putting boundary markers on 5,015 lots as of March 21, formally segregating these agrarian lands from the sugar estate, and identifying their metes and bounds for their new owners, who number 3,804, said Anthony Parungao, DAR undersecretary for legal affairs.
These are 72.85 percent of the total 6,844 farm lots awarded recently by the government’s land reform office, Parungao said in an interview on Friday.
The farm lots are part of the 4,500 hectares of Hacienda Luisita covered by the high court’s 2012 ruling, which upheld the 2005 decision of the Presidential Agrarian Reform Council to distribute the bulk of the lands of the estate.
Aquino’s maternal grandfather, Jose Cojuangco Sr., bought the property, as well as the estate’s sugar mill, in 1957, using government loans and guarantees.
“We’ve been installing the farm workers without much fanfare. We began in early February. They are installed [on the farms] as soon as boundary markers are fixed,” Parungao said.
These farm workers became full-fledged owners of their lots 25 years after the estate was placed under the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) in 1989.
Originally, the DAR employed a stocks distribution option for the Luisita properties that were managed by Hacienda Luisita Inc. (HLI), which is 70-percent owned by Tarlac Development Corp. (Tadeco) of the Cojuangco family.
It was during the term of Aquino’s mother, the late President Corazon Aquino, when Luisita was covered by the CARP. The current President was accused by militants of shielding the family estate from the implementation of the agrarian reform.
Tadeco did not resist when the DAR allowed the farm workers to claim their new lots, Parungao said.
The farm workers set foot on the lands some six months since the DAR started registering their certificates of land ownership award at the Register of Deeds in September 2013.
Parungao said 150 farm workers had yet to take control of their lands as they were unable to sign documents before the final deadline set by the DAR in February.
Tadeco and Alyansa ng mga Manggagawang Bukid sa Asyenda Luisita, which sought the distribution of Luisita lands in 2002, are now at odds over another 358 ha in the estate.
However, leaders of Farm Workers Agrarian Reform Movement (FARM) said many of the lots were still under the control of planters who rented lands for sugarcane growing to supply the Cojuangco’s Central Azucarera de Tarlac despite the formal installation of the new farm owners.
FARM urged the DAR to prosecute these planters, said to be fronting for the Cojuangcos, for obstructing the agrarian reform process.
Parungao said no cases had been filed against the planters as the agency was still waiting for the results of an ongoing investigation.
The DAR, he said, had conducted an information campaign on the agency’s support services, organizing 10 associations with 789 members in Luisita’s 10 villages in Tarlac City, Concepcion and La Paz towns.
Government has paid P478 million to HLI for 4,500 ha, including interest, but Tadeco has contested the amount.
The Supreme Court has formed a special panel to audit the accounts of HLI to determine if it has funds to pay the farm workers P1.3 billion from the proceeds of the 500 ha of estate land that were sold to Rizal Commercial Banking Corp. and another 81 ha that were sold to the Bases Conversion and Development Authority. (By Tonette Orejas, Inquirer Northern Luzon)