August 17, 2010
Farmers Deserve the Land They Till
(A Statement on the HLI Compromise Deal)
“The land shall not be sold in perpetuity, for the land is mine; for you are strangers and sojourners with me.” (Leviticus 25:23)
The earth is the Lord's and we are but stewards. Those who toil the land must be recognized and given their due as responsible stewards. They ensure that the land produces the fruits that sustain life for all. Land is life. It is a gift desecrated when the control of the land is left in the hands of the few. This desecration of God's gift has been a decades-old problem in the country as landlords continue to own large tracts of land confining the vast majority of peasants and farm workers in perpetual bondage and misery.
With this in mind, the National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP), in solidarity with the workers of Hacienda Luisita, denounces the so-called compromise deal between the workers and the Cojuangcos, the family of President Benigno Aquino III, over the 6,500-hectare Hacienda Luisita Inc. (HLI). For one, the said deal was pushed before an upcoming decision of the Supreme Court on the legality of the Presidential Agrarian Reform Council (PARC) decision to revoke the controversial stock distribution option (SDO). The SDO circumvented the outright distribution of land as mandated by the 1988 Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law (CARL) by making the farmworkers as HLI stockholders.
Secondly, to say that the SDO scheme failed to uplift the lives of the HLI workers is a gross understatement. In effect, the Cojuangco-Aquinos used the SDO scheme to perpetuate slavery. Before the infamous massacre in November 16, 2004, newspaper reports stated that the average income of a worker in Hacienda Luisita was P9.50 per working day! Could that ensure survival? With the compromise agreement, the SDO is retained with only a portion of the vast land or only one third of the remaining 4,102 hectares of agricultural land to be distributed to the farmers.
The NCCP maintains that there should be an effective distribution of land to maximize its blessings for the good of all God's creation. This should not be compromised. Thus, we join the petition in praying that the Supreme Court rule in favor of the 10,000 farmer-beneficiaries. They have rightfully earned the claim after toiling the soil for many years. Let this be a noble precedent for all other landholdings similarly situated. A decision in the farmers' favor will not only be a victory for other farmers experiencing the same but also for social justice. We remind President Benigno Aquino III that to take a stand on the issue and declare his “hands on” support to farmers instead of taking a “hands-off” policy befits a President who boldly declared in his inaugural address that the Filipino masses are his “boss”.
REV. FR. REX RB. REYES, JR.