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Distribution of Hacienda Luisita an ‘implementation’ challenge for PNoy

MANILA – Now that the Supreme Court has ordered the distribution of Hacienda Luisita, it is now up to President Benigno Aquino III if he could successfully implement the ruling given that his family and relatives own the sugar estate.

Last Tuesday, the High Court has ordered the distribution of the 4,915.7466 hectares of land saying farmer-beneficiaries will not benefit from the distribution of shares of stock plan put forth by the management.

In a 56-page resolution written by Associate Justice Presbitero Velasco Jr., the High Court modified its decision in July that allowed 6,296 farmer-beneficiaries to choose between ownership of agricultural land or shares of stock representing the value of the sugar estate.

“In line with our finding that control over agricultural lands must always be in the hands of the farmers, we consider our ruling that the qualified farmworker beneficiaries (FWBs) should be given an option to remain as stockholders of (Hacienda Luisita Inc.), inasmuch as these qualified FWBs will never gain control given the present proportion of (the) shareholdings,” the decision said.

The Alyansa ng mga Manggagawang Bukid sa Asyenda Luisita (Ambala) welcomed the decision but warned that the Cojuangco-Aquino family will do everything under its power to prevent the execution of the latest decision.

The National Secretariat for Social Action, Justice and Peace (Nassa) of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) also lauded the decision saying the decision is a step forward for the High Court in proving that it can truly stand for the truth and justice.

Fourteen of 15 justices voted for the distribution of land. Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio did not take part. Some of the magistrates, however, gave separate concurring and dissenting opinions that tackled several provisions including the valuation of the lands.

The decision said the stock distribution plan put forward by the management will never provide the control sought by the FWBs. Control, in this case, means 50 percent plus at least one share of the common shares. Taking into account the P590,554,220 total assets of HLI, the value of the land in question is P196,630,000 or 33.296%.

“There is even no assurance that 100% of the 118,391,976.85 shares issued to the FWBs will all be voted in favor of staying in HLI, taking into account the previous referendum among the farmers where said shares were not voted unanimously in favor of retaining the (stock plan),” it said.

The High Court noted that if the farmers choose stocks, they will be treated as common shareholders not protected by the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law.

The High Court also reiterated its ruling in July ordering HLI to pay the 6,296 farmers a total of PhP1.33 billion broken down as follows: PhP500 million HLI received from Luisita Realty Inc. for the sale of 200 hectares of land in 1996; PhP750 million for the sale of the Luisita Industrial Park; and PhP80,511,500 for the sale of the 80.51-hectare lot for the Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway (SCTEX) road network.

The decision said the three percent of the proceeds of the transfers that were paid earlier to the farmers shall be deducted from the PhP1.33 billion.

The Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) and the Land Bank of the Philippines will assess the just compensation for the landowners.

Aquino has assured that his relatives will respect and comply with the latest decision saying that defying a ruling from the highest court in the land is not an option for the Cojuangcos, the family of her late mother and former President Corazon Aquino.

“When the Supreme Court made an order, there should really be compliance. I don’t think that is optional,” said Aquino. “Do I agree with the decision? I don’t think we have gotten a copy of the decision of the Supreme Court… In law, every detail is important. It would be irresponsible for me to comment on hearsay,” he said.

Aquino also refused to speculate on the timing of the issuance of the decision. “I will adhere to the presumption of regularity at this point in time unless given contrary evidence.”

Aquino divested his shares from Hacienda Luisita Inc. after his victory in the May 2010 presidential elections. Mainly his uncles and aunts now own it. During the 2010 election campaign, he promised to find ways and means to transfer the assets of Hacienda Luisita to farmer beneficiaries. He also said he had asked his “extended family” to support his position.