Finding win-win solutions in Luisita

Social justice is giving more law to those who have less in life, so goes a favorite adage. But for the farmworker-beneficiaries (FWBs) of Hacienda Luisita, the grant of more law may not be enough. Social justice should give them both the means to lift themselves out of destitution and the freedom to transform themselves and their children from blue-collar workers to white-collar professionals and entrepreneurs. And those means and freedom should be theirs now, not later, not after debilitating decades of more wrangling and unrest.

Parceling Luisita. The Supreme Court was unanimous in recognizing the collective right of the FWBs to own the hacienda. Nonetheless, in my view, three issues block their access to these means and freedom. These blocks are found (1) in parceling the hacienda; (2) in determining just compensation; and (3) in selling the FWBs’ parcels.

On the first item, the Court ruled that, to be deducted from the total hacienda area of 4,915 hectares are (a) the 500 hectares earlier converted to an industrial park and commercial center, (b) the 80 hectares used for the Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway (SCTex), and (c) the “roads, irrigation canals and other portions of the land that are commonly owned.”

The exact area of the commonly owned portions is not yet known but, assuming it is 10 percent of the total area, the net balance would be 3,902 hectares to be divided among the 6,296 qualified FWBs, at .6196 hectare per FWB.

Let us round that up to .62 hectare or 6,200 sq m, a really small farm lot. Consider that the hacienda’s soil is not uniform. Some part is rocky, some clayish, some flooded, some steep and elevated. My point is that the farm lots measuring only 6,200 sq m on the average are too small and at times too problematic to make farming viable.

Determining just compensation. The majority of the justices ruled that the market value of the property on Nov. 21, 1989 should be the basis of just compensation. At that time, the value was only P40,000 per hectare, or P4 a sq m. And yet, a decade later, the price paid for the SCTex was P1 million per hectare or P100 a square meter.

After fixing the date, the Court tossed the other price details to the Department of Agrarian Reform. Moreover, it said that the landowners could appeal the DAR’s rulings to the regional trial courts, and then to the Court of Appeals and later to the Supreme Court.

The landowners will surely fight mightily to protect their right to just compensation. Which simply means decades more of tedious litigation before just compensation can be finally settled.

Selling the parcels. The third block is the Court’s ruling that the FWBs cannot sell or transfer their parcels to third persons within 10 years from the issuance and registration of their emancipation patent (EP) or certificate of land ownership award (CLOA). Since no such documents have been issued, the 10-year period has not yet begun. Hence, the FWBs cannot sell their parcels.

Given the peculiar facts of this case arising from the Stock Distribution Plan (SDP), I think the 10-year period should be counted from the issuance of their shares of stocks per the SDP. That was the time the FWBs acquired titles to their shares, the equivalent of the EP and CLOA. And that was more than 10 years ago.

The 10-year period was meant to protect the farmers from unscrupulous people who might fool unsuspecting FWBs into parting with their newly acquired land for nothing. But – as pointed out by Justice Maria Lourdes P.A. Sereno – the FWBs have endured protracted litigation and are quite conscious of their rights.

They should be allowed to use the means given them – the small parcels awarded them – to rise from their destitution immediately. How to do this requires innovative judicial thinking. Strict legalism is empty rhetoric and must give way to liberal interpretation that takes into account the peculiar factual environment of the FWBs, to accord them timely and substantial, not abstract and bookish, justice.

Some FWBs may want to sell to help their children pursue higher education as the road to their future. Others may not want to tie down their families to farming and may see small- and medium-scale enterprises, like restaurants, shoeshine stands, or variety stores, more suitable. Of course, those who want to remain tillers, either by themselves or in cooperatives, may do so. The point is to give them the freedom to chart their future by allowing them to resell.

To sum up, both the FWBs and the landowners should be given a suitable venue to craft a mutually useful compromise to end their conflict. To accord them this venue, I think the Supreme Court – as opined by Justice Lucas P. Bersamin – could toss the issue of just compensation, including the date of reckoning, to the regional trial court where the parties will have the opportunity to find win-win solutions freely and voluntarily.

The development of the Diosdado Macapagal Airport, just 20 minutes way, will make the hacienda a very valuable resource. With proper planning, it could become a multi-use hub of commerce, industry and agriculture, similar to the Canlubang Sugar Estate in Laguna. If allowed to sell their parcels to reputable developers like Ayala, Robinsons or Megaworld, the parties would have a large bargaining room to settle their price differences at the soonest time. In this manner, the social justice granted by the Court will give the FWBs the means and the freedom to realize their dreams sooner than later.

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