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Supreme Court orders Hacienda Luisita to distribute land to farmers

(Updated 1:26 p.m.) The Surpeme Court, voting 14-0, has ordered the distribution of almost 5,000 hectares of land to some 6,000 farmer beneficiaries of Hacienda Luisita Inc.(HLI), the sugar plantation owned by the Cojuangco side of the family of President Benigno Aquino III.
In a 56-page decision, the 14 magistrates "recalled and set aside" the option given to the farmer beneficiaries — some of them members of Alyansa ng mga Manggagawang Bukid sa Hacienda Luisita (Ambala) and Farm Workers Agrarian Reform Movement (FARM) — to remain as stockholders of HLI. 
The court "partially granted" the motions for reconsideration separately filed by the farmer beneficiaries regarding this option. Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio inhibited himself from the process.
GMA News reporter Jam Sisante said members of Luisita farmers' groups trooped to the SC on Thursday morning to thank the justices for their decision. HLI spokesperson Antonio Ligon said the estate’s management will respect the decision, but will still have to study the full decision to be able to decide their next move.   “We still have to look at all angles of the decision, pero ang maganda dito, positive naman itong decision. Walang aversion. We are not against the land distribution ruling,” Ligon said in a phone interview.
Malacañang declined to issue any reaction. "We have not seen a copy of the decision yet and we will defer comment until such time," presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda said in a text message to GMA News Online.
Modified version of July decision
In its decision, the Supreme Court adopted a modified version of the decision they handed down last July. Justice Presbitero Velasco penned the 56-page resolution promulgated on Tuesday but only made available to media the next day.
Among the modification are salaries, benefits, the 3 percent of the gross sales of the production of the agricultural lands, the 3 percent share in the proceeds of the sale of the 500-hectare converted land and the 80.51-hectare Subic-Clark-Tarlac-Expressway (SCTEX) lot and the homelots received by the 10,502 beneficiaries - both 6,296 original beneficiaries and the 4,206 non-qualified beneficiaries "shall be respected with no obligation to refund or return them."
The high court said the 6,296 original beneficiaries "shall forfeit and relinquish" their rights over the HLI shares of stocks, and in turn, the HLI will have to transfer these shares to the stocks and transfer book.
Taxes, fees, and charges should not be imposed on these transfers, the Supreme Court said.
Meanwhile, unlike the original beneficiaries, those who are the non-qualified beneficiaries will remain as stockholders.
P1.3 billion to farmers
In its ruling, the court also ordered the HLI to pay the 6,296 beneficiaries a total of P1,330,511,500, broken down as follows:
  • P500 million received by the HLI for the sale of 200 hectares out of the 500 hectares covered by an August 14, 1996 conversion order;
  • P750 million received by the HLI's subsidiary, Centennary Holdings, Inc. for the sale of the remaining 300 hectares from the 500-hectare land; and
  • P80,511,500 paid by the government for the sale of the 80.51-hectare lot used for the construction of the SCTEX road network.
The court said three percent of the proceeds of the transfers shall be deducted from the total amount of P1.3 billion.
The court ordered Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) to get the services of a "reputable accounting firm" to audit the books of HLI and Centennary Holdings to determine if the P1.3 billion proceeds "were actually used or spent for legitimate purposes. Any unspent or unused balance from the total amount shall be distributed to the original beneficiaries, the court added.
The court assured the HLI that it was still entitled to "just compensation for the agricultural land that will be transferred to DAR." In turn, the DAR was given six months from finality of the ruling to submit a compliance report.
The DAR also has to submit quarterly reports on the  execution of the decision within the first 15 days after the end of each quarter, until fully implemented.
July 5 decision
In their July 5 decision, the court upheld the revocation of the stock distribution plan (SDP) that gave farmers shares of stock in HLI instead of land in the sprawling sugar estate in Tarlac.
The newly promulgated resolution agreed again with the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) and the Presidential Agrarian Reform Council (PARC), who last July asked the SC to order the land distribution of the Hacienda Luisita sugar estate to farmer beneficiaries of the Cojuangco-owned HLI.
In a 44-page motion for partial reconsideration filed last July 22, the two agrarian reform bodies adopted the “land to the tiller" position of their predecessors under the administration of then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
In that joint appeal, DAR and PARC asked the Supreme Court to fully adopt PARC’s 2005 resolution which revoked the stock distribution option (SDO) agreement that gave farmers in 1989 the choice between owning shares of stock in HLI or land in the sugar estate.
Claiming that the SDO failed to improve the farmers' lives, the council ordered compulsory land distribution of Hacienda Luisita land to the farmers.
Seven years after Hacienda massacre The Supreme Court's resolution came seven years after the Hacienda Luisita massacre. Seven protesting farmers died at the Hacienda Luisita on November 16, 2004 in a clash with security forces. The youth group Anakbayan welcomed the SC decision and dared President Aquino to “break free from his family interests and immediately and fully implement the Court ruling through the free and full distribution of land to all Luisita farm workers." Hacienda Luisita in Tarlac is owned by the Cojuangco clan, the family of President Aquino's late mother, former President Corazon Cojuangco Aquino. The current Hacienda Luisita has an area of 4,334.55 hectares. It used to occupy 6,435 hectares but over the years, portions of land have been sold to industrial companies. The stock distribution plan has been in place since 1989, when HLI forged an agreement with thousands of farmers to get stocks instead of land. But in December 2005, the PARC ordered the revocation of the SDP for its alleged failure to fulfill the 1988 Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law's thrust of social justice and improved lives for farmers. HLI challenged the PARC order in the Supreme Court, saying the revocation of the SDP violated the 1987 Constitution. HLI also said the PARC has no authority to cancel the plan. In February 2006, the SC issued a temporary restraining order (TRO) which prevented the PARC from ordering land distribution.
Luisita Watch
In response to the SC ruling, the Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA) — the mother federation of Luisita-based groups — on Thursday launched a nationwide campaign called "Luisita Watch" that will be monitoring and ensuring that the terms in the court order will all be implemented.
The group also said it aims to "frustrate whatever legal maneuvers and sinister agenda the Cojuangco-Aquino clan has in mind to spoil the decision."
Meanwhile, Akbayan welcomed the court ruling, saying it was a victory not only for the 6,000 farmer beneficiaries but also for all Filipino farmers.
The group, however, still warned the farmer-beneficiaries not to be complacent and instead be more vigilant.
"The landlords in Hacienda Luisita still have a few aces up their sleeves and they will not hesitate to use it to derail agrarian reform at all costs," the group said. — with Amita Legaspi, Andreo Calonzo/ELR/LBG/RSJ/VVP/KBK, GMA News