Tarlac, Philippines — Farm workers and owners of Hacienda Luisita, Inc. in Tarlac province signed a compromise deal on August 6. According to a report from GMANews.TV, the deal, in the hope of resolving the 21-year-old land row, has given farmers two options – to receive land parcels in the 6,453-hectare plantation; or to retain their stocks in the corporation.
More farmers are expected to prefer land parcels to corporate stocks. HLI owners must be wishing farmers would choose corporate stocks, not land parcels. Amid differing standpoints on the situation, both have one thing in common — they wish the land row would be resolved peacefully. But will the land dispute end? Primordially, it depends on both and the Supreme Court as well. If farmers would agree to the pact forged by and between the alleged “fake” farmers’ representative and HLI owners, or if HLI owners would be willing to give their lands up to farmers, or, if, when worse comes to worse, the High Court would decide for both parties congruent to the provisions of the highly questionable, thus contestable, Republic Act 6657, also known as Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP), only then will there be end to the age-old land dispute in the Philippines.
The resolution of the land row is hoped to curb more upheavals and bloodsheds in the farmland, now a byword for the seemingly endless conflict between the landed and the landless, or the rich and the poor, in the Philippines, and a sign of the continuing episode of peasantry and land tenancy under the atmosphere of poignant, obnoxious exploitation, oppression and manipulation by the landed sector of the society.
The bottleneck started to rev up when the Corazon Coquangco-Aquino administration did not prove its mettle to put to an end land disputes in the country. In 1987, her administration sent out to the public Proclamation 131 and Executive Order 229 to outline her land reform program. In 1988, her administration drummed up the support of the rubberstamp Congress to pass into law RA 6657 that was supposedly aimed at distributing lands to the landless but has, to the consternation of the farmers, snowballed the land row into another level of mockery of the basic right of the ordinary farmers to own lands. Which was expected of her administration. The Coquangcos and the Aquinos were not, are not and will not be willing to distribute their lands to the centuries-old downtrodden sector of the society. Which was expected of them, too.
When Jobert Ilarde Pahilga, counsel for a farmers’ group AMBALA, was poised to file before the Supreme Court a motion to nullify the signed agreement, the land row would now seem to find no resolution. It may be an intricately shrewd, albeit pointless, point of a lawyer screwed up for filing a case vis-à-vis such an agreement into which farmers should not have entered in the first place. Running counter to the very spirit for which RA 6657 was enacted into law, the deal is null and void ab initio and is inarguably a scrap. While it is nothing but a scrap, both parties have since been edging each other out, now apparently engaging themselves in a tug of war (i.e., a legal battle), wherein the first party (i.e., HLI owners) is not willing to abide by the rules (i.e., RA 6657), making the second party (i.e., the farmers) at the losing end.
The rationale of RA 6657 can be stated in a few words: “Give to Caesars what is due to Caesars.” Which makes it very easy for HLI owners to understand. But in a game like this, which is not supposed to be played anymore, as there is something fishy in its entirety from the very beginning, the farmless farmers may only have the last resort – face HLI owners in court up front and face the music by hook or by crook. After all, they had shared their part in making the situation worse after they began to show their deceivability and vulnerability to HLI owners when they signed a deal not in accord with their rights. In fact, they are by now supposed to be the rightful owners of the land they have tilled for years. For now, the farmers’ lawyer Pahilga should file a restraining order, aside from filing the nullification case, to stop HLI owners from implementing the pact signed by them and Noel Mallari, former AMBALA vice president, who allegedly has no right to represent AMBALA after he left the group.
To call a spade a spade here, this long-standing land row is like a game, wherein the players will not accept defeat. What is funny here is, one of the players (i.e., HLI owners) is the one who set the rules. Which is unfair on the other players (i.e., the farmers), who will, of course, be the sore losers, in the end.
When the Benigno Simeon Coquangco Aquino III administration started its rule over the land, once under a widely touted corrupt Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo administration, Filipinos have been carping about a New Society – one filled with hope and glory, not necessarily about the CARP passed into law obviously not to give lands to the landless, but to appease the angry landless farm people in Tarlac province, to whom the Coquangcos and the Aquinos must have owed gratitude and allegiance. They are the ones who put them up to the pedestal of powers and glory, and even lionized them despite their lack of concrete plata forma de gobierno.
The welfare of the general public is far more important than the welfare of the few, including his families. That is what a genuine principle in genuine public service is all about. Have the Aquinos realized it? When P-Noy, as President Aquino III wants to be called, declared he would not interfere with what has been going on between farm workers and owners of HLI, only then did we realize we again have another leader who proclaimed himself as the champion for the poor only during the election campaign period.
The land dispute is not only about his families, who are in conflict with the poor farmers. It is also about the poor farmers upon whose rights his families have long trampled. What does this imply? We should now start to question his commitment to genuine public service. Lip service is the highest form of corruption, and it is “onli in da pilipins”. His “walang mahirap kung walang kurakot” slogan does not make sense any longer. It is a mere slogan to make him look good in the eyes of his weary constituents. We do not need another Aquinos to do a rhetorics.
Whether a nullification case is filed is not the issue. Whether the deal is nullified in the end is not the issue either. The issue is rooted in a lack of genuine concern of the morally desiccated P-Noy for the hopeless Filipinos, like the farmers subservient to the landlords and us who left the country to better our lives.