IBON today urged the Duterte administration to ensure the distribution of the Hacienda Luisita and provide support services to farmers to show its resolve in firming up free land distribution as the basic principle of genuine agrarian reform during the last round of peace talks with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP). The group said that effectively dismantling the Hacienda Luisita land monopoly should be a top priority and could be implemented even prior to the signing of a Comprehensive Agreement on Social and Economic Reforms (CASER), one of the key agreements being negotiated by the government and the NDFP as they seek to end almost five decades of armed conflict mainly caused by widespread rural landlessness.
The group stressed that such urgency is justified considering the long delay in and attempts under the previous Aquino administration to undermine the distribution of Hacienda Luisita, which have unjustly deprived its tillers of effective control over the vast sugarcane estate even after the Supreme Court (SC) has already ruled in their favor. IBON cited the controversial “tambiolo” (raffle) system that resulted in the displacement of long-time tillers in Hacienda Luisita from the land distribution ordered by the SC in 2012 and the disqualification of farmers as beneficiaries of land distribution for refusing to sign the contract on amortization. The group also pointed out that portions of Hacienda Luisita have been exempted from land acquisition and distribution in favor of the Cojuangco family that has controlled the estate for decades even when these have not been really developed for their stated industrial use.
The problematic land reform program of past administrations and the need for a sustained state support for the beneficiaries are further highlighted by reports being verified by the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) that as much as 95% of the 6,212 farmer beneficiaries in Hacienda Luisita have leased their lands for Php7,000 to 10,000 a year while settling for meager wages, IBON said.
Breaking up large landholdings for free distribution to farmers and providing sufficient and reliable support services to ensure that they keep and make the lands productive is seen as among the necessary first steps towards achieving peace. IBON pointed out that the 6,453-hectare Hacienda Luisita has become the symbol of peasant landlessness and of monopoly control by powerful landlords over land and resources in the country.
IBON also reminded President Duterte that land reform and agricultural support services are among his campaign promises. Fulfilling this will not just address the urgent needs of Filipino farmers but could also boost the CASER discussion and overall peace negotiations with the NDFP.
The group added that since there is already the SC decision as well as ongoing efforts by the DAR to reverse anti-farmer policies previously carried out in the sugarcane estate, the actual transfer of effective control over the Hacienda Luisita to the farmers could be already implemented with strong support from the President even as the CASER has not been finalized yet. But IBON stressed that finalizing a CASER and its provisions for a genuine agrarian reform and rural development program is important to ensure that the distribution of Hacienda Luisita and other large landholdings in the country will be sustained and will truly benefit the farmers. ###