Philippine Supreme Court Rules in Favor of Distributing President Aquino's Family Estate to Farmers


Tiny - Posted on 18 December 2011

Author: 
Tony Robles

Hacienda Luisita is a place located thousands of miles away. It is a place I have never seen, its soil I’ve never felt in my hands or on bottoms of my feet. It is located in the Philippines, my ancestral homeland. Hacienda Luisita contains the blood of farmers in struggle, workers in solidarity with workers across the globe seeking to take back their lands and smash the borders established by the ruling class. It is a place whose history flows across my skin and in my blood, connected through my grandparents who came to the US from the Philippines; it is a connection through the manongs and manangs—elder Filipinos who migrated to the US in the early days, who toiled the fields of the rich and did not reap the rewards of their work. In resistance to rich agribusiness, these brave Filipinos fought back, establishing unions to fight for better wages, benefits and dignity. The connection between Filipinos in the US and in the Philippines is made through our common struggle. The Philippines is a country colonized and recolonized, where landowners lived off the work of those who planted, who were then supplanted by generations of workers in struggle against wealthy landowners. In a unanimous ruling, the Philippine Supreme Court voted to distribute Hacienda Luisita, a 6435 Hectare sugar plantation estate to the workers that toil in its vast landscape. The land is owned by the distaff side of Philippine President Noynoy Aquino’s family—the Cojuancgo clan—the family of the current president’s mother Corazon Aquino. The estate was the epicenter of a massive strike in 2004 when workers protested for increased pay, benefits and working conditions. At least 7 farmers were killed along with several children. What followed were assassinations of supporters of the farmers, including clergymen and local government officials. The 14-0 Supreme Court ruling calls for redistribution of the land among 6,296 farmers as recompense for generations of toil and struggle. The court asserts that “control over agricultural lands must always be in the hands of the farmers”. Additionally, the court ordered Hacienda Luisita to pay the farmers P 1.3 billion from the Cojuancgo family’s sale of portions of land that were converted for industrial use—including an industrial park and road network. As part of an attempt to redress years of vituperation on the part of landowners upon the workers, the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law was passed in 1988 during the presidency of Corazon Aquino. Luisita was ordered to redistribute the land among the farmers but the landowners were able to circumvent the mandate via political maneuvering resulting in the land being placed, instead, in a stock distribution option that allowed the land to remain in control of the Cojuancgo clan. Proponents of land reform point out that the failure to redistribute Hacienda Luisita made a mockery of the law, setting a precedent and encouraging landowners to resist distribution of their properties, leading to conflicts with farmers demanding ownership of the land that they work. In July the high court reversed the stock option program at Luisita but also said that any farmer that want to continue owning stocks was entitled to 18,804.32 shares. The decision was criticized widely, prompting President Aquino to allow Solicitor General Jose Anselmo Cadiz and Department of Agriculture Reform Secretary Virgilio Delos Reyes to file an appeal. President Aquino divested his shares in Hacienda Luisita in 2010. He was urged to convince his landholding family to distribute the land. He contends that he cannot prevail upon them to do so.

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