POSTSCRIPT / August 10, 2010 / Tuesday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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President can’t evade making a Luisita stand

SDO VOTE: The referendum on the status of workers in the 6,500-hectare Hacienda Luisita partly owned by President Noynoy Aquino’s family members will not resolve the basic question of whether the Stock Distribution Option offered to them is legal or not.

Only the Supreme Court can. The tribunal still has to rule on the validity of the SDO, which seeks to make the workers stockholders instead of agrarian reform beneficiaries of a third of the land area of the sugar estate in Tarlac.

The voting on a “compromise agreement” where most of the workers reportedly have opted to remain stockholders is irrelevant to the question of its legality, although the SDO promoters made sure the voting was held before the SC hearing set on Aug. 18.

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SIDESTEP: The parties — mainly the Luisita owners and their workers — cannot agree or conspire to violate the agrarian reform law through the expedience of a “compromise” or an extra-legal sidestep called an SDO.

If the SC rules (mark that “if”) that the SDO does not conform to the law, the workers voting 100 percent for it and all the press releases on their overwhelming vote will not make it legal.

In this light, the SDO can be seen as a psychological attempt to influence the High Court before its crucial ruling is handed down.

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NOYNOY FACES TEST: We have been told that President Aquino is a detached bystander. He has either fully divested or has reduced his Luisita holdings to only one percent, depending on who is talking for him.

This attempt to minimize the involvement of Mr. Aquino in the dispute that nearly derailed his presidential run last May appears calculated to prevent his becoming part of the collateral damage in the bitter battle for control of Luisita.

His handlers are probably hoping Filipinos are dumb enough to miss the fact that whether a total outsider or a one-percent shareholder, the President cannot evade the call of duty on this issue.

Mr. Aquino is the President. He is sworn to defend the Constitution and execute the law.

Hacienda Luisita as an agrarian reform area is a severe test of his sincerity, evenhandedness and maturity.

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NO FREE CHOICE: The rush referendum on the SDO is being represented as a democratic process of directly asking the workers what they want.

Aside from our observation that the parties involved cannot agree to violate the law using a stratagem simulating a democratic referendum, we note that the voting as conducted under the auspices of the Luisita management is not a free process.

Faced with the specter of receiving a small plot of overused land that cannot be made productive enough to support his family, how can a tenant be said to be free to make a choice?

When called to cast a vote for SDO, the economically-challenged Luisita farmer has no choice!

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DESPERATION: The farmer, like most peasants elsewhere, is bedeviled by the reality of lack of capital, inputs and adequate government assistance in production and marketing, not to mention the other necessities of a humane family life.

His situation is not unlike that of a mother in a remote village being offered a wad of cash by a glib recruiter to allow his daughter to work as a waitress in a restaurant kuno in faraway Manila.

To many poor farmers, a paltry sum and the tantalizing prospects of becoming a stockholder in a high-profile corporation offer a more direct relief and psychic reward than a dusty plot of tired soil.

Under the dire circumstances, the desperate Luisita farmer is not free to make a choice.

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TURN-AROUND: How come the Department of Trade and Industry made a sudden 180-degree turn last July 29 against suspected profiteers in the flour industry and dismissed the case against millers on a mere technicality?

The question is being asked by industry and consumer sectors that were surprised by the DTI turn-around. The move may have jeopardized plans to stabilize the cost of pan de sal and other bakery products.

The DTI in the National Capital Region earlier ordered 11 millers to reduce ex-mill flour prices to P630-P680 per 25-kilogram bag from the more than P700 prevailing price while profiteering charges against them were pending.

The bureau ordered the millers not to sell ex-mill flour at P770-P790 per bag, and reduce the price to P630-P680 per bag. The bureau filed the complaint after comparing international prices of wheat to locally milled flour from January 2007 to May 2010.

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COUNTER: The respondent firms were identified as Universal Robina Corp., Republic Flour Milling Corp., Philippine Flour Mills, San Miguel Mills Inc., Pilmico Food Corp., Liberty Flour Mills, Philippine Foremost Milling Corp., Delta Milling Industries, Morning Star Milling Corp., General Milling Corp. and Wellington Flour Mills.

Philippine Foremost Milling reportedly refused to heed the order. Instead, it filed a case with the Regional Trial Court in Manila questioning the legality of the DTI-NCR’s preventive measure order.

Named respondents were the DTI-NCR adjudication officer and the Bureau of Trade Regulation Consumer Protection.

Ma. Carolina Carbonell of the NCR trade adjudication office shelved the complaint filed by the BTRCP on June 9 against the flour millers for the bureau’s failure to submit a “certification of non-forum shopping.”

Carbonell said that while the technical rules of procedure are not to be strictly applied in quasi-judicial cases, steps must be observed to promote the orderly administration of justice.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of August 10, 2010)

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