On April 24, 2012, the Supreme Court of the Philippines ruled with finality to revoke the Stock Distribution Option (SDO) in Hacienda Luisita, the estate owned by the family of democracy icon, former President Cory Aquino and now current President Benigno Simeon Aquino III. The decision settled the long-running, most controversial and high profile land conflict in the country in favour of the farmworkers demand for land redistribution. Out of 4,915 hectares subjected to the SDO in 1989, 4,099 hectares were subjected to redistribution to 6,212 farmworkers. Each farmworker-beneficiary received 6,600 square meters, a land size that had been criticized in the past as economically negligible. In Hacienda Luisita however, a household normally has 2-3 qualified beneficiaries, such that that farmworkers households received between 1.3 to 1.98 hectares, at least officially.
It remains to be seen whether this process will ultimately lead to pro-poor outcomes. This early, however, there are indications that the struggle for real redistributive reform has yet to be achieved. Weaknesses in the land reform process have combined to stall or turn back the process of land ownership democratization. The lack of discussion, much less delivery of relevant support services has discouraged most farmworker-beneficiaries from seriously considering farming as a way out of poverty. Meanwhile, the re-consolidation of awarded lands through the ariendo system has continued by fully exploiting farmworker-beneficiaries who are desperate for cash for their daily subsistence.
The DAR’s last report to the Supreme Court dated 13 January 2014 states that:
“As of 31 December 2013, a total of 6,539 Certificate of Land Ownership Awards (CLOAs) have already been registered for 5,891 farmworker-beneficiaries (FWBs) of Hacienda Luisita Inc., out of which 6,308 (or 96.47 %) were already distributed to or received by 5,685 FWBs amounting to 96.67% of the total number of beneficiaries whose CLOAs had already been generated and registered. A closer look, however, reveals possible short-lived legal reform victory for farmer-beneficiaries as genuine control of the land remains uncertain.
The slow ground survey or monumenting of lot boundaries has been a major cause of delay in farmers’ take-over of awarded lands. Based on the projection that harvesting of sugarcane standing crops will be completed only by March 2014, the DAR granted the request of the surveyors for a three-month extension, further delaying farmers direct and actual cultivation.
In lands that have already been surveyed, however, many farmworker-beneficiaries have not yet been installed. In the meantime, the ariendadors have undertaken aggressive land preparation and replanting on the lands that have been awarded to the farmworker-beneficiaries. The DAR had publicly stated that the leasing is illegal but is not initiating any legal actions to prosecute the violators. The failure of the DAR to initiate legal actions against the ariendadors reinforces the perception that the agency is abetting and encouraging such illegal land transactions to continue. Recent DAR reports of beneficiaries’ installation should therefore be seriously doubted amidst the overwhelming presence and control of ariendadors on the awarded lands.
These informal and illegal land transactions are reconsolidating awarded lands. As of December 2013, farmer-beneficiaries estimate that 75-80 % of the total redistributed lands have been controlled by ariendadors through these informal lease agreements. The rate of lease ranges from P6,600 to P 13,000 per lot. Ariendadors have also encroached on previously uncultivated but reformed lands pre-empting the take-over of beneficiaries. The failure to provide transition support to long suffering farmer-beneficiaries has created an environment conducive to the ariendadors effort to reconsolidate lands around sugarcane production.
Given these trends, the scenarios that are likely to emerge in Hacienda Luisita are the following:
The last two scenarios are the ideal outcomes of successful agrarian reform in Hacienda Luisita where farmers are transformed as independent producers with secure food on the table and earning decent incomes from farming. Farmworker-beneficiaries, however, are facing serious constraints; they do not have seed capital for inputs, water for irrigation and market links. These support services, supposedly a part of the agrarian reform program, has proven so elusive for majority of farm worker-beneficiaries all over the country. It’s now time for the DAR to prove that agrarian reform is indeed comprehensive by providing timely and relevant support services.