Workers of Hacienda Luisita, plant rice on idle tracts of land. Most of the 10,000 workers opted for a controversial financial package rather than accept parcels of land. Photo from Bulatlat.com
PHILIPPINES – President Benigno Aquino III visited his family’s 6,500-hectare sugar plantation, Hacienda Luisita in Tarlac province, as its farmers lined up to collect their shares of a financial package that plantation management has offered to settle ownership of the land. The plantation stopped its operations in 2004 after the Luisita Massacre in which seven people were killed and 121 wounded in a clash between striking farmers and the Philippine National Police.

The controversial compromise deal between Hacienda Luisita, Inc. (HLI) and some of its farm workers was signed on August 6. The deal will see the distribution of 150 million pesos ($3.5 million) to over 10,000 farm workers, 7000 of whom opted for the financial package rather than a piece of the 1,366 hectares of land offered – much less than the 4,415 hectares that were supposed to be distributed to farmers under the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP).

According to a GMA Flash Report, complaints from farmer-beneficiaries continued to hound the distribution of the financial assistance. Farmers have received from as high as 9,000 pesos ($209) to as low as one peso (two tenths of one cent), depending on a farmer’s shares of stocks and the number of hours they worked on the farmland. The report said one farmer got only 2,000 pesos ($46.50) for her two decades of work at HLI.

Another farm worker who had claimed her 160-peso share ($3.72) rejoined the queue to claim her child’s and her husband’s financial assistance. To her surprise, she found out her child was only entitled to 1 peso (0.023 cents). The farmer went home, not bothering to claim her husband’s share, the report said.

Hacienda Luisita representatives stated that the initial 20 million peso of the financial package that came with the compromise agreement was its act of “good will” to the beneficiaries. However, farm workers opposed to the compromise deal have branded the financial assistance as a form of “bribery” to pave way for the Supreme Court approval of the agreement. Some of the Luisita farmers plan to join the a condemnation rally called “The National Day of Outrage” on August 18, the day set by the Supreme Court for hearing arguments on the HLI land dispute.

Meanwhile, Manila Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo has warned President Aquino against maintaining his neutral stance on the compromise deal.

“To serve the interest of justice, we appeal to President Benigno Aquino III to fulfil his pro-poor platform of governance by implementing the agrarian law and by not honouring the compromise deal that ran counter to the constitutional mandate that the entire 4,415 hectares of land should be distributed to the plantation farmers,” he said.

According to a story on the website Bulatlat.com, one of the arguments put forth by HLI management in pushing for the stock distribution option (SDO) is that the farmer beneficiaries could not possibly survive on less than one hectare of land each. The story pointed out that a study by the National Economic and Development Authority refuted HLI’s argument, saying that a family in Luisita can earn more from 0.78 hectares of land than from stocks.

After the strike and massacre and after the Presidential Agrarian Reform Council ordered the revocation of the SDO in 2005, the farmer beneficiaries launched what they call a “bungkalan” or the cultivation of idle Luisita land. Farmers who participated said that their lives improved after the bungkalan.

Buenaventura Calaquian, one of the farmers in barangay Asturias, said in an interview with Bulatlat, “It used to be that we were trapped in debt … but because of bungkalan I am able to send a grandchild and a niece to school … I never want to go back to sugar cane … This is better…”

Sources: GMA News.TV, Bulatlat.com

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