Did HLI rehash Sereno’s dissent in its motion on Luisita ruling? (Part 1)

by JC Maningat


Much has been left unsaid on the sinister attempt of the President’s relatives to overturn the Supreme Court’s ruling ordering the distribution of Hacienda Luisita. The headlines may not say it, but the Cojuangco-Aquino clan’s latest legal move stubbornly reeks of greed.

When Hacienda Luisita Inc. (HLI) filed last December 16 its motion to clarify and reconsider the SC ruling, no media organization promptly made a story about it. The move barely made it to the news during that time as President Benigno Aquino III and his allies drummed up their offensive against Chief Justice Renato Corona, who was impeached by the House two days earlier.

Or it could also be that some media organizations deliberately committed the sin of omission. Curiously, Cojuangco-Aquino clan’s legal counsel in agrarian reform case, Belo Gozon Elma Parel Asuncion & Lucila Law Offices, is actually lawyering for big media organizations like the Philippine Daily Inquirer and GMA Network, Inc. alongside the businesses of Danding Cojuangco (the President’s uncle) like San Miguel Corp. and Petron Corp.

At any rate, the peril at hand is HLI’s motion on the Nov. 22, 2011 landmark ruling of the high court, a desperate shot it took amid the 14-0 vote of the magistrates in favor of farmworker beneficiaries (FWBs). In its 46-page motion, HLI belabored one main point: it wants “just compensation” as precondition for surrendering the 4,915.75-hectare parcel of land in Hacienda Luisita to the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR). The unjust “just compensation” clause is part of the anti-farmer Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP), which as we know is a creation of the President’s mother Corazon Aquino.

HLI asserted that the DAR “cannot yet take the possession of the HLI agricultural land and award land titles to FWBs since it has not yet received its “just compensation”. Absurdly, the landlords in Tarlac are demanding a bonanza even if they did not spend a centavo when they acquired the estate, and already made huge fortunes out of the farmers’ suffering for more than five decades

How will the just compensation then be computed? Interestingly, HLI merely rehashed Associate Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno’s dissenting opinion when it argued that the Jan. 2, 2006 (when the government issued the Notice of Coverage) should be the date of taking on which the determination of just compensation should be based, not Nov. 21, 1989 as determined by the high court in its decision. It should be noted that Justice Sereno, President Aquino’s first appointee to the SC, was the lone voice among magistrates on the issue of reckoning period, as she insisted that the date of taking is Jan. 2, 2006.

Consider the following arguments by both Sereno and HLI:

“[T]he more just and equitable solution is to reckon the period of the taking from the date of the notice of coverage [Jan. 2, 2006] under the fifth approach, since this was the time that petitioner HLI was put on notice that its stock distribution option was defective and that its agricultural lands therein would be subject to compulsory coverage and direct land distribution under the CARL.”

– Sereno in her dissenting opinion

“The Notice of coverage of January 2, 2006, may, at the very least, be considered as the time when the FWBs can be considered to own and possess the agricultural lands of Hacienda Luisita because that is only the time Hacienda Luisita was placed under compulsory acquisition in view of failure of HLI to perform certain obligations of the SDP or SDOA”

– Hacienda Luisita Inc. (HLI) in its motion, p. 11

It then follows that for the most part, the HLI recycled Justice Sereno’s arguments in its motion to assert the right of landlords, including the 21 cases which the lady magistrate cited in her dissent to pound the point that the date of taking should be the date when the notice of coverage was issued by the government.

The trick of Justice Sereno and HLI’s proposal is that if the date of taking would be fixed at a more recent date, in this case Jan. 2, 2006, the government would be paying Luisita a bigger bonanza in the form of “just compensation.” Obviously, the Tarlac estate has a much higher “fair market value” in 2006 than in 1989, when malls and industrial parks were not yet established inside the property.

How much we taxpayers will pay the landlords of Tarlac should the court decide to peg the date of taking on 2006? Farmers’ estimates put the “just compensation” plus the interest which the President and his relatives are adamantly demanding at a whopping P10 billion (at P2 million per hectare)! How the government will pay Luisita is beyond the capacity of the national allocation, as P10 billion is 286 times the allocation for the DAR’s land acquisition and distribution program for 2012 (P35 million).

Justice Sereno and President Aquino’s relatives however are firm in their belief that there is no free land distribution. In the words of Sereno:

“…To simply disregard the changes, appreciation or improvements in the agricultural lands of Hacienda Luisita by pegging the property to its 1989 value is to resort to expropriation that is confiscatory…”

HLI basically put forward the same argument that agrarian reform “is not a land confiscation program,” arguing in a report that only communist countries distribute away land for free. Well, HLI is ironically hitting two truths with that: One, it is true that lands are distributed for free to tillers in communist states. Two, agrarian reform in a yellow democracy like now is all about “just compensation” of landlords at the expense of the farmers and the people.

The P10 billion which HLI is demanding may even shoot up if the government decides to pay Luisita in installment and if we go by HLI’s assertion that the just compensation would earn interest “until full payment is effected.” While not included in the motion, an additional P2 billion, which the HLI owes to San Miguel Corp. according to a source, might also be borne by the government.

Based on the agrarian reform law, the “just compensation” will be determined by DAR and Land Bank. But here’s the trick: HLI argued in its motion that the determination of just compensation by DAR should not be separated from the determination of the date of taking, since the valuation of land depends on the date of taking. Hence, it wants to render the SC’s decision to peg the date of taking on Nov. 21, 1989 irrelevant to the computation of the “just compensation.”

Of course, HLI’s plan B to at least secure the P10 billion “just compensation” is already in the works in the ongoing impeachment trial. Certainly, removing Chief Justice Corona and other justices who are on the crosshairs of Malacanang will certainly impact the SC vote on the pending HLI motion.

Assuming the “just compensation” would be settled in favor of HLI, is it possible that the Cojuangco family would maintain control of the sprawling estate even if compensation presumes distribution of the land to farmers?


Continuation in Part 2

Originally posted at Blog Watch