POSTSCRIPT / November 27, 2011 / Sunday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Noy could have moved on Luisita earlier, faster

MISSED IT: President Noynoy Aquino and his PR-marketing experts missed that one. They were overtaken by the Supreme Court unanimous decision giving his clan’s Hacienda Luisita to its 6,000-plus farm workers as dictated by law and equity.

As Chief Executive with his fingers on the switches, Mr. Aquino could not have been unaware that that straight fast ball was coming to strike him out in the agrarian reform game.

Or maybe he saw it coming – note the frantic efforts to discredit the Supreme Court in advance – but did not know, or was not properly advised, how to handle it.

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MORE THAN A YEAR AGO: The Intensity-14 ruling sent me searching my <manilamail.com> archive for old Postscripts on Luisita. My column titled “Noynoy’s clan may lose land, but end up winner” that came out Aug. 22, 2010 (LAST YEAR!) said:

“President Aquino is standing on a stage of history where he could be projected as the nation’s most socially enlightened president ever. In one bold stroke of his pen, he could be that president.

“The storyline revolves around Hacienda Luisita, the family heirloom. The sugar estate in Tarlac can gain for Noynoy that coveted niche in history that had eluded his father Ninoy in death and his mother Cory in life.

“The entire scenario rests on his solemn presidential oath to defend the Constitution and execute the law.

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“VISION & LEGACY: If the Supreme Court decides that Luisita must not be packaged as a corporation but parceled out to the workers as mandated by the agrarian reform law, the President is duty-bound to carry out that ruling without mental reservation.

“An SC decision adverse to the hacienda owners is still a big if. But if it does come, that could be the defining moment of Noynoy, who could then cement the Aquino legacy on social justice without having to die for it.

“If he has the vision, and the right advice, Noynoy should prepare precisely for that possibility.

* * *

“MODEL HACIENDA: Despite their sentimental attachment to the hacienda, the clan should not fall back to a Plan B exploring a possible evading or diluting of the decision.

“Respecting a Supreme Court decision is standard reaction. President Aquino can rise above the norm by an exemplary handling of the situation after the land is distributed.

“In quick follow-up, the President can make history and score for social justice by moving resolutely to transform Luisita into a Model Agrarian Reform Area. It will be a dramatic statement that he truly cares.

* * *

“SUCCESS STORY: There are validated in-depth studies on why agrarian reform in these parts has faltered, why beneficiaries have not become productive and contented tillers after the land was given to them.

“With these lessons, President Aquino can make Luisita a success story of how government breathed life into agrarian reform and liberated the tenant from the bondage of the soil.

“Aside from boosting production by the optimum use of credit and inputs (such as fertilizer, irrigation, certified seeds, etc.) and income through integrated marketing, a new Luisita can be made a model community complete with the amenities of a progressive farming village.

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“SMALL PRICE TO PAY: If/when an adverse SC ruling is handed down, President Aquino should promptly announce full compliance, following up with a READY plan for the estate’s conversion into a model integrated farming community.

“The President’s family need not lose Luisita altogether. They can even gain points, and revenue, by helping organize the new owners into a dynamic work force with the former landlord helping optimize production and marketing.

“Hacienda Luisita is a small price to pay for ensuring the niche of the only son of Ninoy and Cory as the country’s most enlightened president in agrarian reform and social justice.”

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WIN OR LOSE: Then our Postscript of Feb. 6, 2011 (NINE MONTHS AGO!) said that President Aquino could even preempt an unfavorable SC decision:

“The political interests of President Aquino and the higher interests of the presidency would be served if his clan moves EARLY to transfer the land to the tenants and help them maximize their yield and improve the quality of their lives.

“If the Luisita clan loses the case and then must comply with the SC decision, it would look like they gave the land to the tenants only because the Court ordered it. That is not a pretty picture.

“If the Luisita clan wins the case and keeps the land, the strife may not necessarily end there. The legal debate and possible physical resistance could continue. The seeming reluctance and resistance to agrarian reform would continue to haunt the Aquino presidency.

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“UNDERCUT THE S.C.: We assume that the President has up-to-date A-1 intelligence on the status of the case, so his clan should be able to move BEFORE the court hands down a ruling.

“If an adverse SC decision is coming as rumored, the magnanimous act of distributing the land now (FDP: that was last February) will make the court’s ruling moot and irrelevant.

“Early distribution will make President Aquino come out winner – thereby easing the hurt of the loss of the family heirloom and cushioning the political setback dealt by an adverse SC ruling.

“After giving out the land on their own, the more the hacienda owners will grow in esteem if they help the new small owners organize to achieve economy of scale, adopt modern farming and integrate production and marketing efforts.

“Hacienda Luisita could become a model of enlightened agrarian reform, helping cement the Aquinos’ place in history.”

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of November 27, 2011)

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