'Shady' Hacienda Luisita deal faces widespread protests

Posted at 08/08/2010 2:33 PM | Updated as of 08/08/2010 9:39 PM

Farmers chose SDO not by their own will?

MANILA, Philippines - A militant lawmaker has called on farmers across the country to launch “widespread protests” to condemn the allegedly bogus Hacienda Luisita deal.

In a press release, Anakpawis party-list Rep. Rafael Mariano lambasted the owners of Hacienda Luisita, Inc. who claimed “more than 90%” of farmers have decided to keep their shares under a stock distribution option (SDO) signed about 21 years ago.

“Obviously, the Luisita farmers are not acting at their own will,” Mariano said.

“The Cojuangco-Aquinos continuously acts as feudal lords and treat farmers as their serfs that can be forced to do and sign anything, including a sham deal that retains the onerous SDO and the Cojuangco feudal lords’ ownership and control over the lands,” he added.

HLI representatives and 3 labor unions signed an agreement in Tarlac on Friday, giving farmers the choice to retain their shares via the SDO or own a parcel of land in the sugar estate.

Around 1,400 hectares comprising a third of the 6,500-hectare hacienda will be put up for distribution.

The agreement also includes a P150 million financial assistance for the 12,000 farmer-beneficiaries of HLI.

President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III’s maternal relatives own several shares in the sugar estate.

Farmers under pressure?

United Luisita Workers’ Union Chairman Lito Bais alleged the HLI management had the farmers fetched from their homes during the voting process.

He also alleged “they were promised money from the P20-million partial payment.”

“Hacienda Luisita remains as a symbol of the failure of agrarian reform, of centuries-old feudal rule and exploitation, social injustice, and the symbol of the Filipino peasantry's struggle in the entire country,” he said.

In a separate press release, Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas said the massive protests could be warranted.

Farm workers from other haciendas may launch strikes to sympathize with their colleagues, KMP-Bikol Chairman Felix Paz said.

He said the farmers are now relying on the Supreme Court to bring justice to the workers.

The land distribution dispute is the subject of a case in the high court. The deal will be submitted during the oral arguments on August 18.

“There is a very high chance that massive peasant unrest will erupt if the decision of the Supreme Court favors the Cojuangcos. This will serve as form of sympathy action and will also intensify the peasant struggle for land in all its forms,” he said.

P.Noy liable?

“This brazen maneuver by the Cojuangco-Aquinos deserves the strongest condemnation from the Filipino peasantry. The Luisita sham deal sets the direction of Mr. Aquino's land reform program under his administration - a continuing anti-farmer, pro-landlord and pro-agribusiness type of land reform,” Mariano added.

He said the “President’s blessing” was instrumental in retaining the SDO scheme.

Aquino reportedly said the Luisita case is an “intra-corporate dispute.”

Mariano said it “makes the President equally liable in the grand deception and denial of the farmers' rights to the land.”