Friday, August 6, 2010

Hacienda Luisita farmers, owners end 21-year land row

The farmers and the owners of Hacienda Luisita Inc. (HLI) in Tarlac on Friday ended a 21-year dispute after signing a compromise deal giving farmworkers two options— to receive land parcels or retain their HLI stocks. Representatives of HLI and two farmers groups, the Alyansa ng mga Manggagawang Bukid ng Hacienda Luisita (AMBALA) and the United Luisita Workers Union (ULWU), signed the agreement around 10 a.m. at the estate's clubhouse in Tarlac. Based on a copy of the agreement obtained by GMANews.TV, the parties have forged the deal to resolve the 21-year-old land row. “The primordial concern of the parties herein is to uplift the lives of the people living in Hacienda Luisita, and an early resolution of the case, as well as all collateral issues, will definitely augur well to serve this purpose," the document read. The compromise agreement also states that HLI’s 12,000 farmer-beneficiaries can now opt to continue owning stocks in the corporation based on the Stock Distribution Option (SDO) deal signed 21 years ago, or own for free a share in the 1,400 hectares of the 6,453-hectare plantation. “The parties shall respect the individual decisions of the farmworkers as to whether they would stay with the Stock Distribution contained in the MOA of 1989, or in lieu thereof, proceed with land distribution," the agreement read. Both parties also agreed that farmers who will opt for land distribution will get their parcel of the plantation “for free and clean of any encumbrances" and will surrender their shares to the corporation to the stocks’ original owner, the Tarlac Development Corporation. The agreement also allows the farmer-beneficiaries who will opt for land distribution to keep monetary and non-monetary benefits, such as home lots and production shares, given to them when they agreed with the SDO. Aside from these, the 12,000 farmer-beneficiaries are also entitled to P150 million in “financial assistance" from the HLI in settlement of all claims — P20 million of which will be given upon signing of the agreement as a sign of “good will."

The remaining P130 million will be given to the farmers once the agreement has been forwarded and approved by the Supreme Court. The farm workers also agreed to support all further developments of HLI land in the future even for non-agricultural purposes. They, however, are to be top priority for employment should HLI choose to push through with these developments, based on the agreement. ‘Granted wish’ Former Agrarian Reform Undersecretary Bernie Cruz, who has been privy to the negotiations since the farmers and the management began talks in 2007, said the farmer-beneficiaries “got what they wished for" through the compromise agreement. “’Yung mga kahilingan naman nila sa simula, naibigay naman. Friendly naman ang atmosphere between the two parties," he told GMANews.TV in a phone interview on Friday before the signing. He added that the farmer-beneficiaries and the management have been negotiating “quietly" for three years to avoid the talks to be “politicized," especially with President Benigno “Noynoy" Aquino III’s rise to power. “This issue is one of the most highly controversial cases sa agrarian reform. Tahimik lang ginawa kaya hindi nalalaman," he said. Aquino’s family owns the 6,453-hectare sugar plantation, and the President himself has shares in the corporation. Cruz said the Supreme Court will look into the legalities of the agreement. Once approved by the SC, the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) will enforce the deal. The SC has set oral arguments on the HLI land case on August 18 to determine whether the SDO scheme will be retained, or if the land will be distributed to the farmers under the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP). SC spokesperson Midas Marquez earlier said the fate of the oral arguments will now depend on the manifestations to be submitted by both parties after the signing of the agreement. Finally, a land to till Farmer Ildefonso Pungol, ULWU vice-president, said he is thankful that an agreement has finally been reached because most of his fellow farmer-beneficiaries have been unemployed for the past years. “Natapos na rin ang problema. Gusto na lang namin matapos dahil marami na rin sa mga kasama rito ang walang trabaho," he told GMANews.TV in a separate phone interview. “Kung maghihintay pa kasi kami ng desisyon ng korte, matagal pa po ang tapos niyan. Nawawalan na rin po kasi ng pag-asa ang mga narito," he added. He said he plans to till his share of the land in the coming years to get a steady source of income, but still unsure what to do with it in the long run. “Pansamantala, ‘yun po ay sasakahin para magkaroon kami ng pagkakakitaan. Hindi pa po namin alam kung ibebenta pagkatapos para magkaroon ng pera o hihintaying tumaas ang value nito," he said. — LBG/VVP/RSJ, GMANews.TV

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