Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Cojuangcos reject Aquino plan to distribute Luisita

by Christine F. Herrera

Original Story: http://www.manilastandardtoday.com/insideNews.htm?f=2010/march/16/news1.isx&d=2010/march/16

The Cojuangcos have rejected the plan of presidential candidate Benigno Aquino III to transfer ownership of the vast clan-owned Hacienda Luisita in Tarlac to thousands of farmer-beneficiaries.

The New York Times reported over the weekend that Fernando Cojuangco, chief operating officer of Azucarera de Tarlac and Jose Cojuangco & Sons, rejected Aquino’s campaign promise to distribute up to 4,915 hectares of the hacienda to farmers under the agrarian reform program.

“No, we’re not going to,” Cojuangco told the Times. “I think it would be irresponsible because I feel that continuing what we have here is the way to go. Sugar farming has to be; it’s the kind of business that has to be done plantation-style.”

Aquino played down Cojuangco’s rejection, saying his first cousin represented only one of six families that own the hacienda.

“When I called for a meeting a month after I declared my presidential bid and gathered the six families, including mine, only one family, represented by my cousin, opposed the plan. All the rest agreed. So the talks are ongoing on how to proceed with the land distribution,” Aquino told the Manila Standard in a phone interview.

Still, Fernando represents his father, Pedro Cojuangco, president and majority owner of Hacienda Luisita Inc.

For years, the Cojuangco clan has resisted land distribution, even during the administration of Aquino’s mother, President Corazon Aquino, who was born a Cojuangco.

The family opted instead to make its tenant farmers shareholders in Hacienda Luisita Inc., and under a much-criticized stock and profit-sharing program that Mrs. Aquino agreed to under pressure from large landlords.

The government eventually found that the Cojuangcos had violated the agreement by failing to share profits with the farmers, and ordered the land distributed. The Cojuangcos have been fighting the order before the Supreme Court for the last five years.

Last month, under constant attack by leftist groups for allowing the hacienda to skirt the agrarian reform program, Aquino said he had already asked his “extended family” to find ways to transfer the estate to farmers by June 2014.

“This should be done debt-free to allow the farmers to begin without financial baggage,” Aquino said, a complete turnaround from his previous position that he could do little because his family controlled only a minority stake in the hacienda.

Of the original 6,500 hectares, 1,585 have already been converted into industrial and commercial land, including the Hacienda Luisita Mall and the right-of-way for the Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway. That left some 4,915 hectares for distribution to farmers.

“Noynoy [Aquino] had better stop insulting us, the legitimate farmers who have tiledl the land for decades, and he had better stop misleading the public that the Cojuangcos would give up the hacienda,” said Lito Bais, president of the Hacienda Luisita Workers Union, in a separate interview with the Manila Standard.

“The Cojuangcos, including the Aquinos, are fighting tooth and nail to keep the land to themselves when this historically [and] rightfully belongs to the farmer-beneficiaries.”

Bais said Aquino was making “empty campaign promises to look good” when he was actually “one of the Cojuangcos” that oppressed farmers for many years.

“The Cojuangcos have set up a ranch inside the hacienda,” Bais said.

“They had their homes built in Sitio Alto. It is a pity that while the land rightfully belongs to us, the Cojuangco’s horses and fighting cocks are the ones enjoying and occupying the land.”

Original Story: http://www.manilastandardtoday.com/insideNews.htm?f=2010/march/16/news1.isx&d=2010/march/16

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