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Home Op-Ed Columns Opinion on Page One Arroyo’s and Corona’s ordeal: It was always about Hacienda Luisita

Arroyo’s and Corona’s ordeal: It was always about Hacienda Luisita


In trying to explain the ordeal of impeachment that he and his family were subjected to by President Aquino and the administration, former chief justice Renato Corona bluntly declared that it was the Hacienda Luisita issue that was the principal reason for his impeachment and for the unusual maneuvers (fair and foul) taken by the President to secure his conviction by the Senate.

In the Supreme Court’s en banc decision on the Hacienda Luisita case, which was handed down on Nov. 22, 2011, and which associate justice Presbitero Velasco penned, the high court ordered the total distribution of the hacienda to 6,296 registered farm worker-beneficiaries. The tribunal ordered and pegged the just compensation to Hacienda Luisita, Inc. based on the hacienda’s market price in 1989. It also ordered that the P1.33 billion proceeds of the sale of some 500 hectares of the land be returned to the farmers.

Ten of the 14 justices who participated in the deliberations concurred with Velasco that the valuation of the lands should be computed according to the prevailing rates when Hacienda Luisita implemented the stock distribution option (SDO) on Nov. 21, 1989.

If Hacienda Luisita was indeed a major factor behind Aquino’s push to impeach Corona, it was arguably an even more compelling reason for Aquino’s relentless and non-stop campaign to indict President Arroyo on plunder and other charges, and to secure a conviction in court.

Luisita: A tangled, troubled and tragic history
Cases of this magnitude and importance, with high-profile personalities on the dock, do not materialize from nowhere. They have a history, and the beginning, without doubt, is Hacienda Luisita, the 6,453-hectare plantation and farmland in Tarlac, with its peculiar, tangled, troubled, and even tragic history.

At an elemental level, those battling for control over the land are the Cojuangco family clan of President Benigno Cojuangco-Aquino 3rd, who have farmed, managed and profited from the property since the 1950s, and aspire to keep the rights to the land, and the over 6,000 farmer beneficiaries and their families, who seek to assert their rights to the land, by virtue of the original deed and conditions for awarding the land to the Cojuangcos and in line with the landmark ruling of the Supreme Court in November 2011.

President Arroyo and former Chief Justice Corona are protagonists in this by virtue of the high offices they used to serve, and of their involvement in critical decisions by the government that bear heavily on the fate of the hacienda and the fate of land reform in the country.

It is a measure of Luisita’s significance that the cases and the tragic incidents associated with it have drawn considerable coverage from international and local media, including the New York Times, and most recently, the Al Jazeera international cable network.

GMA Network, in its popular website, has admirably put together a special report on Hacienda Luisita, that seems to me the most comprehensive, detailed and insightful overview on the Hacienda Luisita story and its attendant cases and controversies.

Written and reported by Stephanie Dychiu, it consists of five extensive parts, and it was first posted on January 18, 2010, to coincide with the presidential election campaign of 2010, in which one Cojuangco heir, Benigno Aquino 3rd, was a leading candidate.

Ms. Dychiu’s exceptional report admirably telescopes the key events, developments and dates in Luisita’s torturous story that help to explain the intense antagonisms that developed between Presidents Arroyo and Aquino, and between President Aquino and Justice Corona.

Part of this is due to the shifting of political alliances and objectives.

Part of this is also due to points of fact and law, and tragic incidents that clamor for justice and closure.

From allies to bitter enemies
From a careful reading of Ms. Dychiu’s report, particularly the timeline she provides, I am convinced that President Aquino’s hostility to President Arroyo is rooted in differences between them regarding the resolution of the ownership dispute between the Cojuangcos and the farmers, and certain unreasonable expectations that were not met.

How could two leaders, coming from the same region and erstwhile allies with each other, turn into bitter enemies?

At a media forum in Annabel’s Restaurant last year, I asked Arroyo counsel, Raul Lambino, what is the personal animus between Presidents Arroyo and Aquino that underlies the indictment of Arroyo on plunder and other charges, and the repeated filing of cases even after they have been dismissed or withdrawn.

Do Aquino’s actions and statements indicate a desire to exact revenge on GMA? If so, for what offense? I asked Lambino whether this had something to do with the decision of the Arroyo administration to revoke the stock distribution option (SDO) to implement land reform at Hacienda Luisita?

The timeline in Ms Dychiu’s special report is revealing and suggestive. Here are the most significant events and developments.

January 22, 1987—tragic shooting of 13 protesting farmers on Mendiola street, in front of Malacañan Palace.

May 18, 1988—the Court of Appeals dismisses the case filed in 1980 by the Philippine government—under Ferdinand Marcos—against the Cojuangco company TADECO to compel the handover of Hacienda Luisita. It was the Philippine government itself—under Cory Aquino—that filed the motion to dismiss its own case.

June 10, 1988—Cory Aquino signs the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law. Soon after, Hacienda Luisita is placed under the Stock Distribution Option (SDO) that Aquino included in the law. Through the SDO, landlords could comply with the land reform law without giving land to farmers.

June 8, 1988—Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile, Senate Minority Leader, delivers a privilege speech questioning Aquino’s insertion of the SDO in her outline for the land reform law, and the power she gave herself through Executive Order No. 229 to preside over the Presidential Agrarian Reform Council (PARC), the body that would approve stock distribution programs, including the one for Hacienda Luisita. Enrile also questioned the Aquino administration’s withdrawal of the government’s case compelling land distribution of Hacienda Luisita to farmers. All these, Enrile said, were indications that the Cojuangcos had taken advantage of the powers of the presidency to circumvent land reform and stay in control of Hacienda Luisita.

December 4, 2003—Luisita farm workers file petition with the department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) to have Luisita’s SDO agreement revoked.

January 25, 2004—President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo greets President Cory on her 71st birthday, and sends her a cake with the dedication, “To Tita Cory, from your number one fan, Gloria.”

In the May 2004 elections, Cory and family throw their support behind Arroyo. Arroyo beats Fernando Poe Jr. in the presidential balloting.

November 16, 2004—7 farmers are killed near the gate of the sugar mill of Hacienda Luisita.

May 24, 2005—President Arroyo signs the EVAT into law, two weeks before the existence of the Hello Garci tapes was announced to the media by Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye on June 6, 2005.

June 30, 2005—Tarlac Representative Benigno Aquino 3rd votes against playing the Hello Garci tapes in Congress. The day before, the Philippine Star reported that Aquino called Arroyo’s televised apology (for calling an election official) a “good start” for her administration, and said Arroyo should be commended for admitting her mistake.

July 8, 2005—Cory and Noynoy Aquino withdraw their support for Arroyo and join calls for president Arroyo to resign. In 2005, GMA survives her crisis of survival, with the backing of former president Fidel V. Ramos and Speaker Jose de Venecia, and the support of the armed forces.

July 2005—Nasser Pangandaman is appointed as Agrarian Reform Secretary. He succeeded Rene Villa, who joined the Hyatt 10, and was busy lawyering for Janet Lim Napoles.

The Presidential Agrarian Reform Council (PARC) revokes the stock distribution option (SDO) of Hacienda Luisita, Inc (HLI) on the ground that the SDO failed to improve the farm workers’ lives within the 16 years of its operation. HLI must withdraw its petition for certiorari in the Supreme Court so the land can be distributed by the DAR to the farmer beneficiaries.

August 1, 2009—former president Corazon Aquino dies of colon cancer and is mourned by the nation.

August 2009—the SDO is formally abolished in the updated land reform law CARPER (CARP with Extensions and Revisions) that is passed in August 2009 by Congress and signed into law by President Arroyo.

February 9, 2010—Candidate Noynoy Aquino kicks off his presidential campaign in Concepcion, Tarlac and vows that his family would ensure the distribution of Hacienda Luisita to farmer-beneficiaries by June 2014—the extended deadline for agricultural lands to be turned over to qualified beneficiaries under CARPER (Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program with Extensions and Revisions).

Tomorrow. It will already be June 2014. The farmers will be ready to collect. But no one knows whether the agrarian reform department will deliver.

GMA earned CORY’s ire for not honoring SDO
Judging by this narrative of events, it seems highly likely that President Cory met her death, bitter and frustrated about Hacienda Luisita, and bitter toward President Arroyo.

Presidents after her, including Presidents Ramos and Estrada, sought to keep the goodwill of the Cojuancos by respecting the SDO at Luisita. Estrada, according to Mark Cojuangco, bestowed on Congressman Noynoy Aquino a whopping pork barrel of P1 billion.

Under President Gloria Arroyo, the tacit agreement was apparently unhinged.

What evidently changed the situation was the masasacre of seven farmers at Hacienda Luisita in November 2004.

Although Noynoy Aquino had been elected as deputy speaker for Central Luzon, the reform of CARP was inexorably moving forward. President Arroyo gave her support to CARPER, which decreed the elimination of the repugnant SDO. The amended law was passed by Congress in August 2009.

Noynoy Aquino was by then a senator, and he could not stop the bill from clearing the legislative mill.

Having failed to force Arroyo’s resignation in 2005, the clan took to blaming her for its looming reversal of fortunes in Hacienda Luisita.

And then followed the deluge. The Supreme Court declaratively ruled in favor of the farmer-beneficiaries, and against the Cojuangcos, whose main tactic had been to avoid following the conditions for the deed of agreement

The enormity of this setback to the family no doubt fed into Noynoy’s feeling of vindictiveness toward President Arroyo and Chief Justice Corona—the one for being unwilling as president to stop the sword of Damocles from falling, and the other for being party to the principled decision of the Supreme Court.

The hunger for revenge fed into the psycho-profile of the young Benigno Aquino 3rd provided by the Jesuit psychologist Fr. Jaime Bulatao, who observed Pinoy’s evident obsession to punish all those who had done harm to his family.

From here, it is an easy jump to a policy of inflicting as much punishment and humiliation as possible on President Arroyo and Justice Corona. And to using all the powers of the executive to accomplish the purpose.



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