Manila’s high court orders review of Luisita case

By Gerry Albert Corpuz, Queen Shawn Dok and Lady Michelle Adobe

MANILA, Philippines-Striking farm workers in Hacienda Luisita and close allies in and out of the 6,453 hectare sugar estate owned by the family of the late President Corazon Cojuangco Aquino welcomed on Monday the order of Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona to have the agrarian row reviewed by the high tribunal.

“The order for review is a welcome news that’s why we are welcoming it. We hope this won’t be the beginning of another false start. We hope this is the beginning of an end to a sugar coated reign and long-running feudal exploitation inside Hacienda Luisita,” the Unyon ng Mga Manggagawa Sa Agrikultura (UMA), the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP), the Amihan peasant women federation and the left leaning fisherfolk alliance Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya) said in a joint statement in reaction to Chief Justice recent order for a review on the Hacienda Luisita land row case.

Pamalakaya national chair Fernando Hicap said the review should end on a positive note with the lifting of temporary restraining order and the high tribunal would decide for an urgent and unconditional free distribution of lands to 10,000 farm worker beneficiaries.

“Chief Justice Corona is lawfully, politically and morally obliged to lead the other 14 justices to decide the Hacienda Luisita case in favor of farm workers and their striving and starving families. Social justice should not be compromise for any kind of political accommodation and elite oriented political reconciliation. I guess this is clear with Corona and the 14 associate justices,” the Pamalakaya leader said.

KMP secretary general Danilo Ramos for his part said it is still a long way to go even if Chief Justice Corona has issued the order. For a fresh start of the Corona led Supreme Court, the peasant leader asked Corona and other justices to put Hacienda Luisita ahead of other unfinished businesses the high court will accomplish this year.

“The case of Hacienda Luisita is the most controversial and the most politically charged case among the cases being reviewed by the high tribunal for judicial disposition. This should be prioritized and should be decided in the name of the collective interest of farm workers in particular and the Filipino public in general,” Ramos added.

Earlier Pamalakaya told the Supreme Court that the 10,000 agrarian reform beneficiaries inside the 6,453-hectare sugar estate owned by the family of President elect Benigno Simeon “Noynoy” Aquino were not asking for preferential treatment from the Supreme Court as far as the farm workers legal battle in the high tribunal is concerned.

“Please allow us to correct the Chief Justice, the 14 other justices and the spokesperson of the Supreme Court. The farm workers of Hacienda Luisita are not asking for preferential treatment. What they are asking is social justice based on free distribution of lands which was denied to them for several decades by the feudal aristocracy of Cojuangco-Aquino and their partners in crime in previous administrations,” said Pamalakaya.

The Pamalakaya fisherfolk group is one of the signatories to a letter of appeal sent to Chief Justice Renato Corona last week urging the high tribunal to resolve the Hacienda Luisita land case, as well as other high profile land cases including but not limited to the 7,100 hectare Hacienda Yulo in Calamba City, Laguna and the 8,650 hectare Hacienda Looc in Nasugbu, Batangas.

In 2005, the Presidential Agrarian Reform Council (PARC) and former Agrarian Reform Secretary Nasser Pangandaman revoked the SDO scheme due to complaints by members of the Alyansa ng Manggagawang Bukid ng Hacienda Luisita (AMBALA) that it has become disadvantageous for the farmers.

In order to avoid the property from being placed under the land distribution scheme under CARP, the Hacienda Luisita Inc. (HLI) immediately filed a petition before the high tribunal in February 2006 seeking the nullification of the order recalling the SDO agreement between the hacienda owners and 5,498 farmers.

On June 10 farm workers from Hacienda Luisita by UMA and KMP including other supporters and advocates submitted a letter of appeal asking the Supreme Court to act with dispatch and resolve the controversial agrarian case of Hacienda Luisita in favor of agrarian reform beneficiaries.

“Honorable Chief Justice, the Supreme Court ruling favored the sugar barons of Hacienda Luisita and the landed aristocracy of Cojuangco-Aquino. It is in the highest interest of the Filipino people and farm workers of Hacienda Luisita to end this long-running feudal reign and exploitation with the immediate, unconditional and free distribution of Hacienda Luisita to 10,000 farm worker beneficiaries,” the three page letter of appeal stated.

The high court was also asked to look into high profile cases of land reform reversals and big time denials of peasant land rights in Southern Tagalog region.

The farmer groups were referring to the case of farmers in Hacienda Looc involving 8,650 hectare of prime agricultural lands, which was previously placed under land reform program but was reversed by the Department of Agrarian Reform to pave way for real estate projects of Manila South Coast Development Corporation, a sister company of SM Holdings Inc. and Fil-Estate Realty Corporation, and the 7,100 hectare property in Hacienda Yulo in Calamba City, Laguna.

The groups maintained these land reform reversal will lead to the evictions of thousands of families in farming families in Nasugbu, Batangas and Calamba, Laguna and their wholesale displacement from their farmlands and principal source of living.

“Such land reform reversal policy of the state exempting commercial farms and expanding with coverage for exemptions that now include coconut lands has become a long running nightmare for millions of landless farmers and still land seeking farmer beneficiaries across the country”, the groups said. #

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