By JONAS ALPASAN
MANILA – Farmers of Hacienda Luisita in Tarlac province urged the government to reopen land distribution in a motion for reconsideration filed on Aug. 8.
The case involves eight parcels of land registered under Tarlac Development Corporation (Tadeco) with an aggregate area of 358.2243 hectares. The estate is part of Hacienda Luisita, a more than 6,453-hectare estate in Tarlarc City that has been subject of dispute for decades.
The sugar workers’ struggle for decent wages led to the 2004 gruesome massacre that left seven of them killed. No one has been held accountable for the massacre as of this writing.
In 2016, the Department of Agrarian Reform ordered the distribution of lands that were under the control of the Cojuangco family through Tadeco. This was four years after the Supreme Court’s historic order to distribute the 4,916 hectares of the Hacienda Luisita to its 4,296 original farm workers.
However, Luisita farmers, in their motion, said Tadeco refused to receive the notice of coverage. After an affidavit of no service was executed, the agrarian reform office proceeded with the publication of notice in a national daily. Tadeco later on filed an appeal before the Office of the President, claiming that the serving of notice was void.
This was granted by the Office of the President under former President Rodrigo Duterte.
“We are hoping that the Office of the President will reopen this case and set aside the technicalities. After all, the process of the distribution of Tadeco began even before the extended agrarian reform law lapsed back in June 30, 2014,” Jobert Pahilga, executive director of Sentro para sa Tunay na Repormang Agraryo (Sentra), in a phone interview.
Notice of coverage
In the motion filed on Aug. 8, farmers debunked claims by Tadeco that there was no valid notice of coverage for the eight parcels of land as it was “done through publication and the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) did not allegedly avail or resort first to personal service or substitute service.”
Luisita farmers said that DAR’s Administrative Order No. 7 (series of 2011) allows immediate publication if service of order fails.
“But records of the case would show otherwise. As can be seen thereof, the Protestant simply refused to receive the NOCs with the intention of defeating or disregarding the processes of coverage of the subject lands,” the motion filed by farmers read.
According to the farmers, the public official actions of the DAR, including a seven-day public posting by the local government unit (LGU) concerned of the copies of the NOC, will refute allegations of Tadeco that the government agency “did not observe the procedures prescribed under the rules and belie its allegation that the DAR immediately resorted to publication without availing the first and the second modes of serving the NOC.”
What DAR has done
The Office of the President has since issued three orders on this case.
On Feb. 2, 2022, the Office of President asked DAR to re-issue another notice of coverage. Four months later, the office issued another order, saying that the agrarian reform department no longer has the power to issue a notice as the extended agrarian reform law has already lapsed.
This decision was later declared final in another order dated Oct. 26, 2022.
Farmers, through their lawyers, however, argued that “it is very well settled that once jurisdiction was already obtained by a court or quasi-judicial body, it should continue exercising such jurisdiction until the final termination of the case.”
“Additionally, had there indeed been a procedural flaw — and there was none — the Office of the President should have remanded the case back to DAR to correct it in the pursuit of agrarian justice. No NOC should be invalidated in so careless and arbitrary a manner,” Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura said in a statement.
The three orders granting Tadeco’s plea, meanwhile, were never served to the farmers and their lawyers, they said.
In their plea, farmers said they only received “orders only from the City Council of Tarlac City which issued Resolution No. IX-14-203 requesting the Honorable Office through the DAR to cause the review of this case.”
Luisita’s future under a Marcos administration
Former Anakpawis Rep. and acting chairperson of UMA Ariel Casilao said, “despite the criticisms of Rodrigo Duterte on land grabbing issue of Cojuangco-Aquino family, it did not really dismantle the hacienda.”
“Meanwhile, Marcos Jr. may appear to be a political rival of the Aquinos but he also served as a stumbling block on its distribution,” he said.
Casilao also compared the Marcos administration’s apparent indifference to the plight of the Luisita farmers to his predecessors, adding that “his indifference was evidenced further by his refusal to issue directives for a new agrarian reform policy.” (RTS, DAA)