Hacienda Luisita, still a long way to go

The Supreme Court resolved on Nov. 22, 2011 to invalidate the 1989 Stock Distribution Plan (SDP) of Hacienda Luisita. In lieu of the SDP, the Court ordered the parceling of the huge estate consisting of 4,915.75 hectares (about twice of Makati’s 2,736 hectares) for eventual distribution to the 6,296 qualified farmworker-beneficiaries (FWBs).

Constitutional mandate. Hailed as a triumph of social justice, the resolution – penned by Justice Presbitero J. Velasco Jr. –

held that tillers should be made owners of the land they work on, not just minority shareholders cum workers in the owning corporation controlled and managed by their former landlords.

It rests on the Constitution’s mandate for the state to “undertake an agrarian reform program founded on the right of farmers and regular farmworkers, who are landless, to own directly or collectively the lands they till…”

The resolution partly reversed a July 5, 2011 decision, also written by Velasco, allowing the FWBs to continue owning shares of stock in the Hacienda Luisita Inc. (HLI) and to be paid with 3 percent of gross revenues, salaries, home lots and corporate profits.

However, the parceling and distribution is subject to the caveat, likewise of the Constitution, that requires the “payment of just compensation” to the landowners; in this case, the family of Jose Cojuangco, father of the late President Cory Aquino.

On this constitutional rock, President Benigno Aquino III – the only son of President Cory – confidently anchored his concept of agrarian reform: “Farmers need to be empowered so they can have their own lands to till. But agrarian reform has a second part. Let us not deplete capital. That means there should be just compensation so that the owners of land do not end up having their land taken from them, that they are rightly paid. The capital that is returned can be invested in other industries that can create more jobs in the country.”

Unanimity and divergence. The underlying principle of “land to the landless tiller” was unanimously upheld by 14 magistrates (Justice Antonio Carpio inhibited). But they were divided on several corollary issues; the major one being precisely how to determine “just compensation.”

The resolution was fully concurred in by only six justices (Velasco, De Castro, Peralta, Del Castillo, Abad and Perez). It held that just compensation should be based on the “fair market value” of the estate on Nov. 21, 1989 (totaling less than P1 billion) when the Presidential Agrarian Reform Council (PARC) approved the SDP, and thus legally made the “taking” of the estate. But this is “only preliminary” as the HLI can still revert to the Regional Trial Court “to determine just compensation.”

The other justices had divergent views. Justice Sereno reckoned the “taking” on Jan. 2, 2006. The market value in 2006 could be many, many times more than in 1989, given the phenomenal rise of property prices. Justice Bersamin, joined by two others (Reyes and Bernabe) left the reckoning date to the Department of Agrarian Reform, the Land Bank and “ultimately to the Special Agrarian Court.”

Apart from the date of the “taking,” other nitty-gritty issues include (1) how to account and treat the 3 percent of the gross revenues already given to the FWBs under the SDP; (2) should the P1.250 billion sales proceeds of the 500 hectares converted into an industrial park and business center, plus the P80.5 million paid for the sale of 80.5 hectares (at P100/sq m) and used as part of the Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway (SCTex) inure to the FWBs (the total of P1.33 billion is more than enough to cover the 1989 appraisal of about P1 billion); (3) how to compute the “legitimate taxes and expenses” incurred for “legitimate corporate purposes” of HLI, and (4) how the home lots given the FWBs under the SDP are to be valued and accounted.

Avoiding problems and delay. The Court tossed these contentious details to the PARC, DAR and LandBank. The PARC is chaired by President Aquino and is composed of 10 Cabinet secretaries, plus the LandBank president and three representatives of landowners.

More questions. The SCTex traverses Hacienda Luisita. Naturally, the parcels adjacent to or near the expressway would command much higher prices than the interior ones. Should the 4,915 hectares be divided and allotted equally among the 6,000 FWBs at an average of a little less than a hectare per FWB? Who gets what and where? Which brings a deeper issue: Should the FWBs who accepted the SDP be treated the equal of those who fought it? Also, may the FWBs now sell their putative parcels?

The Nov. 22, 2011 resolution, complicated by the many concurring and dissenting opinions, is by no means easy to implement. Add the fact that the implementation is to be undertaken by P-Noy’s alter egos. Indeed, the road ahead is still long and winding, full of slippery slopes with sharp twists and turns that could still careen the contending parties into the precipice of confusion and partisan conflicts. These conflicts could mutate this triumph of justice into decades of more unrest before the FWBs could enjoy their own farms and the landowners receive their just compensation to create more jobs, as P-Noy avows.

To help shorten, straighten and flatten the road, the Court, I think, should render one omnibus resolution that will include all the justices’ opinions and clearly show where the majority is. In the past, omnibus resolutions have been issued to clarify contentious opinions.

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