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Farmers at Luisita say the battle does not end with Supreme Court

 

MANILA (Agencies) : The land claim of the farmers from Hacienda Luisita has become a litmus test for the rule of law in The Philippines, but even with a decision handed down by the Supreme Court at the end of April verifying their ownership of the 4,100 hectares granted by the Agrarian Land Reform Programme, their struggle is far from over.
 
The secretary general of the Union of Farm Workers, Rodel Mesa, told CBCP News, “The struggle of the Hacienda Luisita farm workers doesn’t end at the High Court’s decision. We must show no complacency and move forward for the immediate and actual land distribution.”
 
He added that the Cojuangco-Aquino coalition that has held onto ownership of the land against all legal odds is sure to appeal again against the Supreme Court decision.
 
“The Cojuangcos will definitely drag their appeal to prolong the process of distribution. They will use different legal tactics to ensure that they will get what they want. That is why utter vigilance should be exercised by each and every farm worker. We should not depend on the Supreme Court decision alone,” he explained.
 
Mesa said that the most insidious thing is that the Department of Agrarian Reform, the government office that granted the land to the farmers in the first place, is actually not on the farmers’ side and that he is sure that officials in the department tip off the Cojuangcos as to what to expect next.
 
He claimed that they are advising the Cojuangco family of wide options that would allow them to keep a significant interest in the property even if they should lose sole control of the sprawling estate.
 
Mesa added that he is certain that they will challenge the compensation package that was awarded to them from the Supreme Court, as it falls well short of the 10 billion pesos ($1.8 billion) that they were asking for.
 
Mesa is also angry that newspapers are carrying stories that the farmers are divided on the issue of their claim, saying that this is not true and it is just another case of the powerful family using its influence to buy off the press in order to spread lies to weaken their opposition.
 
He claimed that it is not true to say that a significant percentage of the farmers want to settle for a stock option rather than get possession of the land to farm for themselves, yet newspaper articles are claiming this.
 
In addition to this, he pointed out that the Cojuangco family is not the only interest vying for the land, as the Yuchengco Rizal Commercial Banking Corporation is also running after a 182-hectare portion to develop an industrial estate.
 
“Mr. Yuchengco’s business has been used to malign us, the legitimate owners of the land,” Mesa stated.
 
He said that the bank has already brought false charges against farmers for robbery, grave coercion and illegal possession of private property in order to split the farmers and weaken their resolve to fight this case through to the end.
 
“The only thing that is left for the farm workers to safeguard their victory is to continue their relentless pursuit for the complete package of ownership of Hacienda Luisita. It is safe for me to say that they should not stop their militant undertaking. There are many groups that have links with (President) Aquino that want to grab our initiative and pull our struggle to a stalemate. The farm workers should be wary of the groups and individuals,” Mesa said.
 
“The farmers are ever thankful for the unyielding support of mass organisations, as well as the 
Catholic Church under the National Secretariat for Social Action, 
Justice and Peace, through 
Bishop Broderick Pabillo,” he continued.
 
The farmers held a thanksgiving Mass to celebrate their initial victory over the land dispute that had run for almost 50 years.
 
Mesa is also angry that newspapers are carrying stories that the farmers are divided on the issue of their claim, saying that this is not true and it is just another case of the powerful family using its influence to buy off the press