HomeOpinionDid HLI rehash Sereno’s dissent in its motion on Luisita ruling? (part 2)
Did HLI rehash Sereno’s dissent in its motion on Luisita ruling? (part 2)
March 12, 2012
by JC Maningat
Continued from Did HLI rehash Sereno’s dissent in its motion on Luisita ruling? Part 1
Not only did the Luisita landlords urge the high court to grant their motion for P10-billion “just compensation” – they also asked the magistrates to approve a buy-back scheme as backup plan in case the disputed estate gets distributed to farmworker beneficiaries (FWBs). By engaging in such twin maneuver, the Cojuangco family is playing “sigurista” in its bid to keep its grip on Luisita.
In its motion, HLI argued that the 10-year ban on the sale of distributed lands, which the SC affirmed in its Nov. 22, 2011 ruling, would not be “economically viable” for the families of farmworker beneficiaries. It claimed that the high costs of cane production (estimated at P70,000-P80,000) would render annual incomes insufficient for FWBs, saying they should instead sell their lands to the President’s relatives.
“It results then that for the farmwoker to keep the land restricted from sale for 10 years would not improve the life of the farmworker, but would only add to his misery. As the land is intended for his economic benefit, the farmworker should be allowed, pro hac vice, to sell his land subject to payment of the amortizations due to the Government,” HLI said in its motion.
Interestingly, Associate Justice Sereno articulated the same assertion, albeit more ornately, in her dissenting opinion:
“To prolong for a decade the FWBs’ enjoyment of the right to transfer and dispose of portions of the agricultural lands is to continue to bind them to the land. Without any assistance from the government or other civic organizations, FWBs may be awarded a possible pyrrhic legal victory, in which they own the land but without the financial means to till and cultivate it. Freeing them from the strict application of the ten-year prohibition under the CARL, will allow them full discretion to dispose and transfer portions of the property as they see fit and as are suitable to their needs…”
The high court had stood on the exact opposite, arguing that allowing FWBs to sell their lands would make all efforts at agrarian reform futile because “at the end of the day, these lands will just be transferred to persons not entitled to land distribution under CARP.”
The SC also invoked the five-hectare retention limit under CARP to reject the buy-back scheme being pushed by Associate Justice Sereno, although it also acknowledged that no special rules exist under the agrarian reform law concerning such option to sell.
And there lies the ray of hope for the greedy landlords. In fact, a number of “land distribution” programs under the agrarian reform law approved by the President’s mother turned out to be sell-back or lease-back tragedies – the same scenario being eyed by HLI.
The first agrarian reform “beneficiaries” of the first Aquino regime in South Cotabato actually tasted such fate when they were deceived into leasing back their lands to global food giant Dole Philippines (Dolefil). Former president Cory Aquino awarded the land titles covering 8,963 hectares to beneficiaries on Dec. 12, 1988 on one condition: farmers should lease back their lands to Dolefil for pineapple harvesting. The maneuver was done with speed when the government convinced the 7,519 beneficiaries to sign the lease arrangement under one cooperative, whose leaders were actually handpicked by Dolefil.
Up to now, the supposed CARP beneficiaries in South Cotabato are still leasing their lands to Dolefil, which absolutely controls the land and reaps superprofits from it. Farmers receive annual measly rentals from the multinational firm while being deprived of their right to till their lands.
Such tragic precedent raises the specter of the Cojuangco family perpetuating their control over the sprawling Tarlac estate. In the meantime, Luisita farmers can only thwart a potential buy-back scheme if the high court categorically rejects with finality the motion to uphold the option to sell the lands.
But as we all know, the Palace has been exerting all kinds of pressure on the chief justice, the fulcrum of the looming vote. Whether President Aquino admits it or not, such offensive to kick out Chief Justice Renato Corona will definitely have a bearing on the SC vote on the pending motion of HLI. His insistence on “just compensation” actually holds a far more significant message than his denial of any links between the ongoing impeachment trial and the Luisita case.
And that is the President’s class interest to secure his family’s jewels at all cost.