THE HACIENDA Luisita Farmer-Worker-Beneficiaries (FWBs) are getting restless. They face an uncertain future. Dark clouds hang over their heads.
Despite the clear language of the three Supreme Court decisions in as many petitions sustaining the 1996 Conversion Order covering 500 hectares, DAR officials—past and present—were stricken by paralysis. They have yet to flesh out the order in a meaningful fashion four years and a half after the landmark SC decision.
In 2012, the SC affirmed its two previous rulings that upheld the conversion of the 500 hectares from agricultural to industrial classification.
It also directed the Cojuangcos to pay the FWBs the more than P 1.3 billion from the proceeds of the sale of the 500 and 80.1 hectares to Luisita Realty, Inc., Luisita Industrial Park Corp. and Bases Conversion Development Authority respectively. The 80.1 hectares were used by the government for the construction of the Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway complex.
The FWBs were perplexed. They couldn’t understand why DAR would accommodate a rehashed petition to revoke its 1996 Conversion Order four years and a half after the Supreme Court had ruled with finality sustaining the Conversion Order.
The “dormant” petition was suddenly resurrected following the appointment of former Anakpawis party-list representative Rafael Mariano as DAR head honcho.
And that’s when the tale of the woes of the FWBs began.
In the beginning, they were confident that Mariano would uphold the Supreme Court ruling by dismissing the recycled petition. After all, how could a mere petition touching on the same subject by the same petitioners and filed with the DAR shortly after the SC ruled with finality in 2012 supplant the High Court’s authority?
Instead of dismissing the petition outright, Mariano breathed life into it by conducting a physical inspection of the 500 hectares subject of the petition and held a clarificatory hearing on July 22, 2016 at the DAR office in Quezon City.
Any lawyer worth his salt would tell you that petitions similar to what Ambala, the Leftist organization, did should have been dismissed outright.
To be fair, Mariano is an honorable man. He is honest and uncompromising. He is an ideologue. For good or ill, he could be stubborn. But he should try to understand that he is DAR secretary for all, not just of the Left, from whose ranks he came, and his decisions impact the lives of the Filipinos especially the poor.
He is no stranger to the plight of the Hacienda Luisita farmers. He was with them in their rallies and demonstrations against the oppression of the rich and the powerful. He lined the picket lines with them, braved the water cannons, tear gas and the police truncheons every time the authorities would disperse their demonstrations. Many of them were wounded. Many were fatally shot dead by the police. Still, numerous others were made to disappear in the heat of the night, picked up by armed men from the comforts of their homes on suspicion of membership in the NPA, never to be heard of or seen again.
The Hacienda Luisita farmers suffered untold miseries under the Cojuangcos. Mariano knows only too well that under the so-called “Stock Distribution Option” or SDO program that became a law under the presidency of Cory Aquino, each family received miserable yearly dividends of P300 to P1,000 to P1,500; not even enough to feed your pet dog.
It was public knowledge that the SDO was introduced by the Cory government and imposed on the Hacienda Luisita tenant-farmers to skirt the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) law that calls for the distribution of the hacienda to its tenant-farmers.
Surely, there will be grave socio-economic-political implications if and when DAR revokes the Conversion Order that was approved in 1996 by then DAR secretary Miriam Defensor Santiago, considering that the SC had sustained the conversion thrice, the latest of which was in 2012.
Will Mariano allow the biases of the Left and his own to prevail over reason? Would he gamble his political capital by siding with his peers from the Left by revoking the Conversion Order, which was upheld by the Supreme Court three times in as many petitions? Is he prepared to lose the support of the majority of the farmers who will lose the most if and when the DAR supplants its own over the SC decision?
Narrative is a lie
Mariano should also realize that if and when he revokes the Conversion Order, he may be undermining President Rody Duterte’s support from the masa. President Duterte won a landslide victory supported by the poor on the issue of social justice. They look up to him for deliverance.
How do you think these farmers would think and feel if by virtue of a recycled petition, the Secretary would revoke the Conversion Order and supplant his own over the decision of the Supreme Court?
The Secretary is well aware of the paucity of the Left’s narrative in trying to win over the majority of the Hacienda Luisita farmers. They peddle the lie that the 500 hectares will be distributed to them once the Conversion Order is revoked, and that they can still collect the P1.3 billion the Cojuangcos owe them from the proceeds of the sales of the 500 hectares.
Mariano is no moron. He knows only too well that the CARP expired on June 30, 2014 so that all lands not previously covered can no longer be included in the coverage. That means the 500 hectares that were excluded from CARP coverage in 1996 are not and can no longer be distributed among FWBs.
In similar fashion, the P1.3 billion sales proceeds cannot be paid to the farmers assuming that the Conversion Order can be revoked by the DAR, because the money came from the sale of the 500 hectares.
Mariano’s ambivalent demeanor over the enforcement of the Supreme Court order was due in large measure to his deep association with his main party, Bayan, which is a political front of the NDF/CPP/NPA.
It is highly likely that he doesn’t want to risk alienation from his party, or that his hidden agenda is to rebuff the SC ruling in furtherance of his party’s cause. He can do so only at his own and his party’s peril.
Farmers now own land
The Hacienda Luisita farmers are clamoring for a better life. Their dreams of owning a piece of their land has been partially realized when the Corona-led Supreme Court in its 2012 decision affirmed with finality the distribution of the land to the FWBs. Each family now farms more than 6,000 square meters.
They are still hopeful that the DAR will finally bring closure to the Conversion Order issue so that full industrialization can proceed in earnest. They believe that agriculture and industry can prosper together, side by side each other. They believe too that the 500 hectares, once fully developed into an industrial estate, can generate an enormous number of jobs not only for their children but also for others.
But unless Secretary Rafael Mariano embraces the truism that the Supreme Court is the supreme arbiter of the land and what it says is law unless it says otherwise, and unless he submits to the authority of the Court, the hopes and dreams of the Hacienda Luisita farmers for a better life will soon be dashed.