Infighting among Hacienda Luisita farmers deepens after SC victory

The Inbox

By Homer Teodoro, VERA Files

Seventy-year-old Felix Nacpil, Sr. jumped in joy when he heard the news about last week's final ruling of the Supreme Court awarding the Hacienda Luisita sugar estate owned by the family of President Benigno Cojuangco Aquino III to their 6,296 farm workers.

Nacpil, one of the farmer beneficiaries, has been fighting for the right to own the 5000-hectare Hacienda Luisita since he was in his 20s, or about 50 years now. He was the founding chairman of the Alyansa ng mga Manggagawang Bukid sa Asyenda Luisita (AMBALA), one of the groups representing the farmers of the contested sugar plantation.

Despite the SC decision in their favor, Nacpil is wary that the Cojuangcos will do everything to stop the distribution of their land to the farmers. He noted that a few days following their SC victory, a press conference was held by a rival farmers' group which he associated with the Cojuangcos.

In that press con, Noel Mallari said his group of farmers belonging to the Association of 1989 Original Farm workers (AOF) represents the true beneficiaries of Hacienda Luisita. He used to be Nacpil's co-chairman at Ambala before forming its two other rival groups --- the Farm Workers Agrarian Reform Movement (FARM)-Luisita and now AOF, which he set up after leaving the former group. (The fourth rival group is the Lehitimong Manggagawang Bukid ng Hacienda Luisita, or LMBHL.)

Nacpil  said he knows Mallari very well because he is his grandson, who lives in Barangay Mabilog, Conccepcion, Tarlac like him. He said he kicked Mallari out of their organization (AMBALA) in 2003 because of "his pro-management stand."

"Noel, I am telling you to stop your foolishness before we end up doing each other wrong," Nacpil advised Mallari.

He added: "The Government is Noynoy and Noynoy is a Cojuangco. How can we expect him to extend help to the farmers of Hacienda Luisita? We do not have financiers to finance us in planting. Most of us do not even know how to plant palay because all our lives we have been planting sugarcane."

President Aquino III however assured that Malacanang would implement the SC ruling on the distribution of his family-owned Hacienda Luisita to their farm workers.

Leonor Teroza, AMBALA secretary-general, said some barangay officials inside Hacienda Luisita are insisting that they should be the ones to distribute the lands to the farmers. She said these barangay officials are being used by the Cojuangcos to pit them against the farmers.

Teroza said: "The Cojuangcos know the weakness of the people in the Hacienda Luisita and that is money. Money is what they will use to instigate chaos among us farmers so that there will be problem in the distribution of land. The Cojuangcos are known for this old tactics ever since."

The lawyer of Hacienda Luista, Inc. (HLI) is questioning the exclusion of some  4,000 plus beneficiaries from the SC ruling. There are more than 10,000 beneficiaries in the list of HLI   management, which AMBALA and its mother union, United Luisita Workers Union (ULWU), questioned.

Lito Bais, ULWU president, said that management's bloated list does not reflect the real beneficiaries as shown in their list.

Felix Nacpil, Jr., AMBALA chairman,  expressed fears that the Cojuangcos will push these beneficiaries in management's list to ask for their share of land, adding, "And if not given share, they will get mad at us and this may start a misunderstanding among us farmers."

The older Nacpil advised his son as the present head of AMBALA to first register their group as a non-stock and non-profit organization so that nongovernment organizations (NGOs) who want to help will be dealing with a legitimate group inside Hacienda Luisita.

The leaders of Ambala and ULWU are set to meet to plan their concerted moves before the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) representatives conduct an ocular inspection inside Hacienda Luisita.

"We will do it (distribution) immediately. Again, we will first have to conduct ocular inspection of the landholding and valuation will follow," Agrarian Reform Secretary Virgilio de los Reyes has been quoted as saying in news reports.

He told newsmen it may take from eight months to one year before they can implement the ruling of the Supreme Court at Hacienda Luisita.

(VERA Files is put out by veteran journalists taking a deeper look at current issues. Vera is Latin for "true.")