PRESIDENT Benigno Aquino III’s family has managed to reclaim ownership of the 6,453-hectare Hacienda Luisita, reducing the farmer-beneficiaries who were supposed to own the land under the agrarian reform program to sakadas or plantation workers, a federation of agricultural workers said Monday.
The Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura disclosed that Aquino’s family sold the Central Azucarera de Tarlac to a businessman, Martin Lorenzo, but the company remains under the control of the family, through the President’s first cousin, Fernando Cojuangco, who is a first cousin of the President.
UMA acting chairman John Milton Lozande said the sale was made to avoid paying back farmer-beneficiaries some P1.33 billion in proceeds from the sale of lands in
Hacienda Luisita and to abort the distribution of land to farmers and farmworkers.
After the sale last year, Lorenzo named Cojuangco the president and chief operating officer of CAT.
Using CAT, which is within the Hacienda Luisita estate, Cojuangco immediately acquired shares of other Aquino-Cojuangco firms such as the Luisita Realty Corp. and Luisita Industrial Park Co. through the CAT Resource and Asset Holdings Inc. This effectively made the Aquino-Cojuangco family the real owners of Hacienda Luisita, Lozande said.
In May, Lozande said, almost 700 workers of the CAT were retrenched and forced to sign “voluntary retirement” papers.
Those to be rehired this milling season starting November will now work as contractual workers, he said.
“Because of fake land distribution implemented in 2013, the supposed 6,212 farmer-beneficiaries who used to work for CAT and Hacienda Luisita Inc. are now back to being tenants,” Lozande said.
“It’s like killing people all over again just to revive a ‘zombie’,” Lozande said in describing the revival of CAT.
Lozande said Lorenzo’s excuse in undertaking the retrenchment was to give the Cojuangcos “a lesson or two in efficiency” after he acquired the sugar mill in 2014.
But UMA said the massive retrenchment and contractualization in the mill, coupled with land grabbing and the wholesale swindle of supposed agrarian reform beneficiaries—were tantamount to the slow death of farmers and laborers in Hacienda Luisita.
“They are still raking in profits primarily through the blood and sweat of workers and peasants, who are now doubly exploited through contractualization and the… leaseback scheme.”
Lozande said the planned sale by Lorenzo of land assets under CAT and LRC is a ploy to enable the Cojuangco-Aquino family to evade payment of its standing debt to farmworkers.
The Cojuangco-Aquino-owned HLI, established in 1989 to implement the stock distribution option under the land reform program, still owes farmworkers a total of P1.33 billion.
In its April 24, 2012 landmark decision for total land distribution in Hacienda Luisita, the Supreme Court also ordered the audit of the P1.33-billion farmworkers share in the sale of 580 hectares of the company’s land assets to RCBC, Centennary Holdings, and the SCTEX area traversing Hacienda Luisita.
“Disposing the CAT and LRC’s land assets will muddle the audit, as we believe that these are still part of HLI’s assets where farmers have a legitimate share. Morally and historically, the Cojuangco-Aquinos do not deserve a single centavo, they should no longer own even a single inch of land in Luisita,” Lozande said.
These assets include 505 hectares that are purportedly no longer required for cane milling and sugar refinery operations, and that Lorenzo plans to sell or develop out of the self-declared 628-hectare refinery complex, he said.
Other than that, he said the Supreme Court ordered the Department of Agrarian Reform to cover other agricultural lands originally held by another Cojuangco-Aquino firm, the Tarlac Development Corp. or Tadeco.
In February 2014, the LRC applied to the Philippine Economic Zone Authority to declare a 260.4-hectare property located in Barangay Balete, Luisita for inclusion to the existing Luisita Industrial Park-Special Economic Zone, Lozande said.
The area, where scores of farmers were injured when their crops were bulldozed and their huts were burned in 2013, is purportedly a Tadeco property, he said.
“The PEZA’s ultimate go-signal for the LRC’s application must be approved by President Aquino himself,” Lozande said.
“Aquino’s alter-egos at the Department of Justice and the DAR have so far failed to act positively on any of the complaints and petitions filed by the Alyansa ng Manggagawang Bukid sa Asyenda Luisita (AMBALA), on behalf of the victims and affected farmers.
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