POSTSCRIPT / April 26, 2012 / Thursday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Historic niche awaits P-Noy in Luisita case

HELP WANTED: From my Yahoo inbox —  “Seeking Filipino caregiver for my elderly parents. They resided at one time in the Holy Land where all our relatives and friends have only Filipinos caring for them in their old age. We are located in the suburb of Baltimore, Maryland. — Ali Weinberg;”

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GUESSING GAME: What would President Noynoy Aquino do in the face of the Supreme Court final ruling that his clan’s 4,916-hectare Hacienda Luisita in Tarlac must be distributed among its 6,296 workers?

With his A-1 intelligence, the President knew all along how the 8-6 vote evolved, affirming the Court’s order last November for the land distribution and the voiding of the Luisita option to just give shares of stock to the farmers.

Some people found it odd that the President had no ready reaction two days after the decision was announced. That was because he had to wait for the official text of the SC ruling to properly act or speak in response to it.

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CENTER STAGE: By his own statement, the President no longer has any share of stock in Hacienda Luisita Inc. and is theoretically an outsider.

Still, as Chief Executive sworn to enforce the law and as an heir to the Cojuangco-Aquino fortune, he cannot be a mere disinterested bystander.

President Aquino is in fact on center stage as the final scenes of the Luisita drama unfold.

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EXTREME OPTIONS: As I see it, the President could hew to either of two extremes — or to a scenario in-between:

1. In a vengeful mood, he could throw the land to the kasamak, the farmhands who had caused his family so much embarrassment, and watch them gradually lose their small farms and rue the day they broke away from the hold of the hacendero.

2. Or, in an enlightened mode, he could funnel all-out government support to the tillers-turned-landowners after organizing them for a more systematic flow of assistance. The goal is to maximize production and profits – and improve the quality of their lives.

The option that Noynoy Aquino chooses would etch in the mind of the watching world the kind of person and president he is.

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COMPENSATION: Last November, the SC unanimously upheld a 2005 order of the Presidential Agrarian Reform Council to recall the HLI stock distribution plan and place the estate under compulsory coverage of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program.

In its final decision this week, the SC pegged the just compensation for the HLI owners to the fair market value of the land in November 1989. Some reports placed this at P40,000 per hectare.

This valuation places the hacienda’s worth at some P200 million, a far cry from the P5 billion that the HLI owners reportedly wanted based on its value in January 2006 when the Department of Agrarian Reform issued a notice of coverage.

The 1989 valuation was taken from the opinion of Chief Justice Renato C. Corona and concurred in by seven justices. A minority of six justices opined, on the other hand, that the DAR be the one to determine the just compensation for HLI.

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SOB STORIES: It is easy, if the President so desires, for the government to make it difficult for the Luisita farmhands to make good in their newfound status as independent landowners.

The government agrarian reform program is replete with sob stories of farmers failing as owners of a small patch in the hacienda they used to till before it was subjected to agrarian reform.

Without comprehensive and sustained government assistance, many farmers are unable to make both ends meet as they grapple with lack of credit, certified seeds, fertilizer, irrigation, et cetera, and a marketing scheme.

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SURE FAILURE: While waiting for his crops to ripen for harvest, how will a small farmer feed and clothe his family, pay for the children’s schooling and medical care, and tackle a host of other problems that can send him crawling back to the former landowner?

Before long, the farmer can lose his small patch of land to loan sharks who take advantage of his poverty and lack of quality government assistance.

In the Luisita case, each farmer beneficiary is likely to receive less than a hectare of sandy soil suitable largely for slow-growing sugarcane that requires vast tracts to attain economic scale.

How does a household of at least five earn a decent living from some 7,000 square meters of sandy soil and pursue the parents’ dream for their children?

The stark reality of agrarian reform in the Philippines seems to have been designed for sure failure for the farmer-beneficiaries.

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CARPE DIEM!: In Luisita is a situation cut out for an enlightened President who truly – or even belatedly —  cares for the workers who had contributed blood, sweat and tears to making the hacienda a source of great wealth for his family.

As we have been saying again and again, Noynoy Aquino may not be aware of it, but he is standing on a stage of history where he could carve out a niche as the most socially enlightened president this country ever had.

If he has the vision and the political will, he could make Hacienda Luisita, the family heirloom, into a model agrarian reform area that the farming world may want to visit, study and emulate.

All he has to do is funnel government aid and resources to the Luisita beneficiaries. The idea is to help them organize for a more systematic flow of farm inputs, thereby assuring optimum benefits from their cooperative farming and marketing.

Noynoy Aquino, carrying the illustrious name of Ninoy and Cory Aquino, should seize the moment!

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of April 26, 2012)

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