Barangay Balete, where yesterday’s “Occupy Luisita” took place, is one of first settlements in the area, cultivated by farmers way before the Cojuangcos acquired the estate in 1957. It is named thus because the very first residents felled huge balete trees to build their community. It is but just for them to tear down the walls built by the landlords – the Cojuangco-Aquinos and their business partners, the Yuchengcos of RCBC and Lorenzos of Lapanday. These walls prevent farmers from tilling the land that is morally, historically and legally theirs.
Despite the 2012 Supreme Court decision for total land distribution, the landlords with the backing of the previous administration of BS Aquino and his alter egos at the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR), transformed Barangay Balete into a virtual garrison. Balete became literally surrounded by concrete walls, barbed wire fences, elevated outposts guarded by armed security, a police detachment, and headquarters of a mechanized battalion where bulldozers and army tanks are occasionally parked.
Out of the total 6,453-hectare estate, the SC explicitly ruled to distribute 4,335 out of the original 4,915 hectares incorporated in the Hacienda Luisita, Inc. (HLI) stock distribution option (SDO) scheme, since 500 hectares were approved by the DAR for land conversion, and 80.5 hectares were utilized in the construction of the Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway (SCTEX). The Cojuangco-Aquino family sold these land assets and therefore owe their “stockholders,” the farmworkers, Php 1.33 Billion, according to the SC ruling.
The SC indeed ruled that commercial bank RCBC is but an “innocent purchaser” which acquired 184 hectares of land in Hacienda Luisita on November 25, 2004 – and not in 1996, as reported. Note that the date is only a few days after the gruesome Hacienda Luisita massacre. What occurred way back in 1996, is the DAR’s issuance of a land conversion order for 500 hectares of HLI property. In 2012, farmworkers under the Alyansa ng mga Manggagawang-Bukid sa Asyenda Luisita (AMBALA) challenged the RCBC and HLI’s other succesors-in-interest with a petition to revoke the said conversion order.
However, the new DAR administration, under Sec. Rafael Mariano recently issued a partial revocation of the conversion of 384 out of 500 hectares of RCBC and areas under the Luisita Land Corporation (formerly Luisita Realty Corporation) removing all legal impediments for farmers to take back what is rightfully theirs. The pro-Cojuangcos like Noel Mallari contend that the payment of Php 1.33 B to farmworkers would mean that the area will no longer be covered by land reform. But Luisita farmworkers are now legally entitled both to the proceeds of the land sale – and to the land itself – because RCBC and LLC have failed to develop the area under the terms of the 1996 conversion order.