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BAGUIO CITY – Farmers from other provinces who flocked to this city to await the Supreme Court’s final and executory ruling on Hacienda Luisita on Tuesday are happy for the HLI farmers, but anxious about how the Department of Agrarian Reform will act in their cases.
Some of them had a simple ceremony of tearing up their stock distribution option certificates, drawn from similar schemes once used in Hacienda Luisita.
Midas Marquez, SC spokesperson, said that the HLI decision applies only to HLI, however optimistic it may have made farmers in other places.
The SC decision, meanwhile, is now seen to pose many challenges for various kinds of land holdings and farmers’ rights.
As for the HLI, the SC will no longer consider pleadings, stressing this is a final and executory decision.
“The decision of the majority must be respected,” said Marquez.
The SC decision renders moot and academic what was reported as a DAR statement that the tribunal may not be able to resolve the issues Tuesday as it had asked the department to submit by May 7 comments on matters raised by Hacienda Luisita Inc. (HLI).
Carpio recused, but not Corona despite rift with PNoy
Associate Justice Antonio Carpio recused himself from the case, as he did in the past because he was once connected with the law firm for RCBC which bought portions of the HLI land.
Embattled Chief Justice Renato Corona, who is in the middle of an impeachment trial that he linked to the Hacienda Luisita case, saw no reason to inhibit, however, despite the rift between him and the President. He had more than once said in public forums that President Aquino was bent on having him convicted in the impeachment trial because of his stand on the HLI case.
Corona, in fact, was one of the eight judges who decided that compensation be pegged at 1989 market rates.
Mrs. Corona attends thanksgiving mass
The chief justice’s wife Cristina attended the thanksgiving mass that was celebrated right after the announcement of the SC decision favoring the farmers.
She said she was happy for the farmers and assured farmer leaders who approached her right after the mass that she would hand them a written copy of the decision so they can show their fellow farmers back home the good news.
“Our victory will not be complete without that paper,” said Noel Mallari, president of the Association of Original Beneficiaries of 1989.
Marquez, however, announced that the final copy of the decision, written by Associate Justice Presbitero Velasco Jr., will be available only around noontime of Wednesday, so as to reflect the voting views of the justices.
The decision may include incidental issues such as the home lots which the HLI says should also be valuated as these were given to farmers who availed themselves of the stock distribution option (SDO) as part of the total compensation for HLI. The SDO scheme can no longer be enforced with the SC final decision for land distribution. Velasco was also in agreement that land valuation must be based on 1989 rates when HLI implemented the stock distribution scheme.
Marquez also said that individual land titling after the HLI estate, if transferred to the Philippine Government, will be the task of the DAR.
Six buses full of farmers arrived at daybreak Tuesday at the SC grounds to await the decision on the HLI case.
Bishop Carlito Cenzon held a thanksgiving mass right at the SC building to celebrate the farmers’ victory, even singing triumphantly lines from the song “This Land Is Mine, God Gave this Land to me.”
Other farmers hopeful after Luisita ruling
In the homily, Rodel Mesa of Barangay Kutkut which is covered by the HLI estate, and who heads the Unyon ng Magsasaka sa Agrikultura (UNA) in their place, said tearfully that the SC decision brings them closer to their simple aspirations in life.
Speaking mostly in Filipino he said, “This is our victory over the benefits reaped by the Cojuangco family for so long now,” he said. Now, he said, mothers can budget money for food, and fathers can realize their desire to send their children to school.
Enrique Tayo, a leader of the Negros Occidental Farmers Association, poetically said, ”Today I reached the heights of heaven because this is also a close victory for us, “ he said.
Tayo explained that this removes the obstacle invoked by DAR which said earlier it cannot yet move on the issue of Stock Distribution Option (SDO) implemented in 1989 because DAR is waiting for the resolution of the HLI case.
Marquez: ruling only for Luisita
Tayo said also that while they are joyous, there is still a lingering fear on how DAR will behave on the 10 haciendas in Negros. In 1989, when the SDO scheme was implemented, the youngest beneficiary was 45 years old and many among them have passed away. If the process will take too long, how will social justice be achieved, he wondered aloud.
Marquez clarified, though, that while farmers saw this as a hopeful precedent, the SC landmark decision only applies to the HLI issue.
Farmers from Davao, Masbate, Moncada, Gerona and Paniqui, among others trooped to the SC together with the leaders of the original 1989 beneficiaries of HLI. They ceremoniously tore their stock certificates when the SC decision was announced.
The SC decision will now pose many challenges for various kinds of land holdings and farmers’ rights. Eva Almonicar, representing women farmers, came all the way from Masbate to rally for their options. In their place, it was decided by the DAR that cattle farms will not be part of the land distribution program. “But we will not stop fighting for our rights,” she said.
Pepito Mato, spokesperson of the Association of Original Beneficiaries of 1989, said that they were very happy over the decision. It’s been some 30 years of battle starting from his parents, he said. He explained that the land will be divided granting every beneficiary half a hectare. Many have passed away or are aging so the list of heirs or successors will have to be finalized, he said.
However, he said that he and most of the other farmers will probably abandon planting sugarcane. Production costs run up to P31-36 thousand per hectare and the product sells only at P275 per ton. One hectare yields 70 tons which will translate to an income of only P14,000 per hectare. And the cropping period takes 11 months before harvest. He said that it is almost certain that most farmers will turn to palay or vegetable production.
When that time comes, the azucarera synonymous with the Cojuangcos will soon be but a story to tell to future generations.
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