1st challenge to Noynoy: Initiate distribution of Hacienda Luisita lands to farmers

IT WOULD take more than a Cory and Ninoy pedigree for Sen. Benigno Simeon “Noynoy” C. Aquino III to win his presidential bid and, more importantly, to prove his genuine concern for the masses and his capacity to govern, as it would take more than divesting his kin’s Hacienda Luisita shares to truly address the feudal system of peasant bondage.

Senator Benigno Noynoy Aquino III, one of the candidates for the Philippine presidential elections in 2010 ( REUTERS/Cheryl Ravelo)

Senator Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III, one of the candidates for the Philippine presidential elections in 2010 ( REUTERS/Cheryl Ravelo)

This was stated by the Alliance of Progressive Labor after Aquino’s remark that to free his presidential campaign from charges of having “vested interests,” he is mulling over the idea of yielding his immediate family’s stocks in the Cojuangco clan-controlled Hacienda Luisita Inc. (HLI), which owns the 6,435-hectare sugar estate in Tarlac province.

“Indeed, Noynoy is not freeing himself from ‘vested interests,’ he is merely trying to discard the political baggage called Hacienda Luisita,” the APL said, adding that by doing so, Aquino could even be accused of “escaping from his responsibility to the Luisita farm workers and their families.”

“By divesting his shares, Noynoy does not solve the lingering problem in Luisita; he is actually dodging the land or agrarian reform question, which is in fact the core issue here. His ‘disengaging’ will only mean transfer of land ownership from one elite class to another while tossing around again the hapless peasants,” the APL pointed out.

The APL described Aquino’s statement as an attempt to cast off the stigma associated with Hacienda Luisita – epitome of an old but still entrenched oppressive and exploitative feudal social order; and the Nov. 16, 2004 carnage, where 12 workers and supporters and two children were killed and many other protesters injured and detained when their picket was stormed by police and military forces.

Although his personal stock shares in the HLI is a “measly” 1/32 and he is not the only one who will decide on what to do with the estate, but the APL implied that Noynoy – to show leadership by example and political will and as a sign of goodwill – should take the lead in the Luisita land distribution, including convincing his uncles and aunts to take part in this endeavor.

HLI holds 70 percent of the Luisita’s shares of stocks, and these are distributed among the families of the late President Aquino and her brothers and sisters. Her siblings also sit as the firm’s incorporators: Pedro Cojuangco, Josephine Reyes, Jose “Peping” Cojuangco Jr., Teresita Lopa and Paz Teopaco.

The remaining 30-percent HLI stock shares were theoretically “given” to Luisita farm workers under the so-called stock distribution option (SDO) of the Republic Act (RA) 6657 or the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP), which was signed by President Aquino herself in 1988 and touted as her government’s centerpiece legislation.

But agrarian reform (AR) advocacy groups say that the SDOs have allowed Hacienda Luisita and other vast landholdings to skirt the law for they were exempted from the CARP land distribution coverage because SDOs functioned in lieu of turning parcels of land to the farmers.

Farmer organizations commented that “the SDOs’ non-redistributive character was in fact at odds with the supposedly land redistribution intent of CARP, resulting to the lands remaining owned and controlled by few big landlords, while the farmers have only been given a semblance of ‘ownership’.”

Because of the SDOs’ fundamental flaws, they have miserably failed to empower the “worker-stockholders” and to provide them with better income, APL stressed.

AR advocates explained that since SDOs are based on actual man-days per worker, the mostly seasonal workers often have few working days and thus have fewer shares of stocks. In addition, they have to endure “ultra-low wages,” almost zero benefits, without security of tenure and could be “retrenched at will.”

APL warned that aside from evading “vested interest” tirades from Noynoy’s political opponents, pointing to the “labor problem” in Hacienda Luisita as the other compelling reason to divest the Cory children’s HLI stocks smacks of the convenient excuse again to blame anything and everything to the employers’ favorite fall guys – the workers.

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