Luisita Magsasaka

Why Luisita Matters

By: Jojo Robles

Why Luisita matters

In the coming days, expect to hear more about Hacienda Luisita, the giant, undistributed Tarlac agricultural estate owned by the family of leading presidential candidate Noynoy Aquino. That’s because, whether he likes it or not, Aquino’s flagging political fortunes may hinge on what he does or does not do about this festering issue.

But first, it can be argued that the last thing Aquino needs right now, when his survey rankings are on the verge of a free fall, is one of his own camp followers breaking ranks. But that’s apparently already happening, with no less than one of his own Liberal Party senatorial candidates going public with a demand that Aquino’s family distribute the lands in Hacienda Luisita to the farmers there.

The supposed token leftist in Aquino’s senatorial lineup, Akabayan party-list Rep. Risa Hontiveros, could not have come out with the statement on the ticklish issue that the leading presidential bet has repeatedly sought to dodge at a worse time. But Hontiveros, according to one news report, explained that her being a guest candidate in the LP senatorial slate did not mean that she had abandoned her quest for justice for the victims of the so-called Hacienda Luisita and Mendiola massacres.

“Healing and reconciliation can only happen if justice is served for the victims of the Hacienda Luisita and Mendiola massacres. But there’s no justice yet for the victims,” Hontiveros said.

Hontiveros’ demand came even as farmers’ groups allied with their fellow tillers in the Cojuangco-Aquino sugar plantation stepped up the pressure on Aquino to act to distribute the land to the tenants, who were given shares of stocks in the family corporation instead of land titles under a controversial exception made in the late President Cory Aquino’s land reform program. And now, Aquino’s rivals are also digging up the circumstances of the sale of a portion of the hacienda land to the government to make way for a new highway—a sale that allegedly did not benefit the farmer-stockholders, who control a third of the corporation on paper, at all.

Cavite Rep. Crispin Remulla, who is closely identified with Aquino’s chief opponent Manny Villar, castigated Aquino for not lifting a finger to help the Luisita farmers, despite alleged profits made by his family on the sale of 80 hectares of Luisita land. The government paid the amount to Aquino’s family so that the new Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway may pass through the sprawling 6,453-hectare agricultural estate.

Remulla said Aquino’s family never intended to distribute the land to the tenants there since his grandfather Jose Cojuangco Sr. bought the plantation more than 50 years ago with a loan from the Government Service Insurance System. The government guaranteed a $2.1-million foreign loan taken out by the Cojuangco family to buy Luisita from its Spanish owners in 1957, apart from extending a P5.9 million facility that allowed the elder Cojuangco to purchase the property on the condition that all of the land would eventually be distributed to the farmers and residents there.

The government sued the Cojuangcos during the Marcos regime over the refusal of the family to distribute the land. But the suit was uncharacteristically withdrawn upon Cory Aquino’s assumption to the presidency in 1986, upon the lobbying of officials of the new administration, Remulla said.

Then the so-called Mendiola Massacre took place in early 1987; 13 farmers were killed and 39 others were wounded in a clash with policemen and soldiers who were guarding Malacañang Palace that day. The massacre spooked the new President into fast-tracking the “genuine” land reform program that she had promised during her campaign against Marcos a year earlier.

Cory’s land reform program met stiff opposition from plantation owners throughout the country who protested what they called the government’s seizure of their property. Still, the program allowed the family of the President to keep their land through a stock distribution option, wherein their tenants were given shares of the family corporation instead of titles to the land they were tilling.

* * *

During the abbreviated term of President Joseph Estrada, the Aquino-Cojuangco clan lobbied hard for the extension of the North Luzon Expressway to Tarlac, to connect the economic zones in Central Luzon, according to Remulla. The project, which was implemented by the current Arroyo administration through the Bases Conversion Development Authority, eventually connected Clark and Subic to Tarlac through Luisita.

The Cavite congressman said the farmland was overpriced 10 times when it was sold to the BCDA at P100 per square meter. On top of that, the family also got an interchange worth P170 million for free, which boosted the hacienda’s value from P600 million to P60 billion, he said.

Remulla said part of the payments made by the Arroyo administration to the Aquino-Cojuangco family were used to bankroll the congressional bid of Noynoy Aquino in 2001. The release of the payments were also expedited because of the lobbying of the late President, Remulla alleged, because Mrs. Aquino and President Arroyo were political allies at the time, having both worked for the ouster of Estrada.

During this time, the Aquino-Cojuangco family also started drawing up plans to convert their agricultural estate into a giant mixed-used development project, something that would effectively end the land claims of the farmers. During this period, Noynoy Aquino also worked as an executive of the family-controlled corporation, which meant that he had intimate knowledge of the SCTEX land purchase and the conversion plans, Remulla added.

But the Luisita farmers still wanted their land, and in 2004, when construction of the SCTEX was already being started, the Luisita Massacre took place. This time, seven plantation workers were killed when soldiers broke up a picket line put up by farmers demanding that the Aquino-Cojuangco family give the land to them.

Then, only last year, upon the expiration of the Cory Aquino land reform law, Congress passed CARPer, which extended the land-distribution program. The passage of CARPer into law was significant, because it removed the exemption that allowed landowners to distribute stock options to farmers in agricultural landholdings, like the Aquino-Cojuangco family did at Luisita.

Ever since he became a Tarlac congressman, according to Remulla, Noynoy Aquino never said anything about the Luisita controversy. And when he became a senator, Noynoy did not vote to extend the land reform program, which abolished the stock-distribution scheme.

Now that he is a presidential candidate, Noynoy has repeatedly said that he own only a small fraction of Luisita personally. But even the sizable holdings of the farmers are dwarfed by the shares of the Aquino-Cojuangco companies that control Luisita.

As the campaign heats up in the coming days, Noynoy Aquino will continue to be hounded by questions about Hacienda Luisita—questions that have remained unanswered in decades. As his own fitness for the presidency comes increasingly under scrutiny, expect Noynoy’s huge family plantation to loom large in the background.


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MetroPac: SCTEx contract cost ‘unrealistic’

BusinessWorld | 02/09/2010 11:21 AM

MANILA, Philippines – Financial terms required by the government agency bidding out the contract to operate the country’s longest tollway are “unrealistic,” according to businessman Manuel V. Pangilinan.

Traffic volume at the Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway (SCTEx) remains small and whoever wins the operation and management or O&M contract will have to shell out a huge sum for subsidies, he said in an interview last Friday.

State-owned Bases Conversion and Development Authority (BCDA) is considering the financial offer of Manila North Tollways Corp., a unit of listed Metro Pacific Tollways Corp. which is part of the Pangilinan-led Metro Pacific Investments Corp., for the 94-kilometer SCTEx.

The BCDA had actually rejected the financial offer of Manila North Tollways, although it passed technical requirements. Another bidder, Northlink Toll Management, Inc., a joint venture between San Miguel Corp. and Star Tollways Corp., was declared “ineligible” for failing to comply with the technical requirements. Both firms are appealing the BCDA’s decisions.

Under BCDA’s terms, the winning bidder must bear the “operational funding requirements for the management, operations and maintenance of the SCTEx including periodic maintenance works, special/major/emergency works and all other additional works, and insurance.” The winner must also provide management services, toll collection, traffic safety and security management, tollroad maintenance including greenery and landscaping, and other related services.

The BCDA wants a semiannual lease or concession fee amounting to either the peso equivalent of the yen-dominated loan taken out by the government to finance the tollway’s construction as well as all financing charges; or 20% of audited gross revenues, whichever is higher.

Mr. Pangilinan, who is also chairman of Philippine Long Distance Telephone (PLDT) Co., said the BCDA’s requirements were “unrealistically high.”

“Let me put it this way. The traffic and the revenues that are being generated by SCTEx are not sufficient to service that loan, period.”

“So the concessionaire will have to subsidize and incur a loss. But who will do that for a number of years? Who would want to lose money?” he asked.

BCDA officials could not be reached for a comment.

The BCDA had estimated the annual loan payments to Japanese creditors at P1.2 billion starting 2011. The loan for the SCTEx project amounted to P26 billion.

“I think their financial terms are unrealistic in relation to the projected traffic. The conces-sionaires will have to lose money in the first year,” Mr. Pangilinan said.

Last year, more than 18,000 vehicles used the SCTEx daily on average. The original projection was an average of 35,000 vehicles daily in the first year of operation.

The tollway is being operated temporarily by Tollways Management Corp., which is 46% owned by Metro Pacific Tollways.

Manila North Tollways operates the North Luzon Expressway (NLEx), which is connected to SCTEx in Pampanga. It hiked profits by 16% to P1.17 billion on revenues of P4.07 billion from January to September 2009, when an average of 149,164 vehicles passed through NLEx.

Metro Pacific is the Philippine unit of Hong Kong’s First Pacific Co. Ltd., which partly owns PLDT. Mediaquest Holdings, Inc., owned by the Beneficial Trust Fund of PLDT, has a minority stake in BusinessWorld.

Shares in Metro Pacific stayed at P2.22 apiece yesterday after shedding 4% on Friday. is the online news department of ABS-CBN Interactive Inc., a subsidiary of ABS-CBN Broadcasting Corp. ABS-CBN and Meralco are both part of the Lopez Group of Companies.

SCTEx controversy bigger than C-5, says Villar ally

by Carmela Fonbuena, | 01/21/2010 12:54 AM

MANILA, Philippines – The Aquino family should pay the government for the construction of the interchange in Hacienda Luisita, which is estimated to be worth around P170 million, an ally of Nacionalista Party (NP) standard-bearer Sen. Manuel Villar said.

At the continuation of the House oversight committee hearing Wednesday on alleged irregularities in the Subic Clark Tarlac Expressway (SCTEx), Cavite Rep. Jesus Crispin ‘Boying’ Remulla said the family of presidential survey frontrunner Benigno ‘Noynoy’ Aquino III should refund the government for the purchase of the allegedly overpriced right-of-way property for the SCTEx road project.

He claimed that regular government procedure mandates the landowner should give the property to the government at zero cost.

“Interchanges in private properties have to be paid for by the private property owners. He should donate the right-of-way. They [Aquinos] still have the industrial land,” Remulla said.

Remulla also claimed that the SCTEx road controversy is “bigger” than the C-5 road extension project scandal against Villar.

“’Yong kay Villar, zonal value ang pinag-uusapan. Hindi overpriced. Dito may interchange pa. Ang laki ng kanilang pakinabang masyado,” Remulla said.

No overprice, no payment needed

Sought for comment by, Aquino’s spokesman, Edwin Lacierda said the interchange “need not be paid because the contractors designed the Luisita toll to be the end point.”

In a text message, he said the interchange was “supposed to promote commerce between Subic and the Luisita industrial zone corridor.”

Lacierda also said Remulla has not presented evidence that the right-of-way property was overpriced.

“He has been mouthing overprice without proof. Government officials have already testified to the non-overpricing. This is not C-5,” Lacierda said.

He said Remulla should not “divert the issue.”

During Wednesday’s hearing, retired Brig. Gen. Robert Gervacio, the Bases Conversion Development Authority (BCDA) program manager for SCTEx’s operational and support services, cleared Aquino of any wrongdoing in the project.

“Everything is aboveboard. There was no contact between BCDA and Senator Aquino,” Gervacio said in response to questions raised by Akbayan Rep. Ana Theresia “Risa” Hontiveros, a guest senatorial candidate of the Liberal Party.

Extraordinary transaction?

Philippine National Construction Corp. President Maria Teresa Defensor on Wednesday’s hearing testified that the government does not ordinarily pay private landowners for right-of-way properties in government projects because the private landowner presumably benefits from the construction of a national road.

Defensor also testified that the Toll Regulatory Board, which processes applications for interchanges in major road projects, does not normally pay for the construction of interchanges in private lands.

She said there’s a process where private landowners apply for the construction of an interchange and, if approved, shoulder the full cost of construction. This is also because the value of the land will presumably increase, and the landowner benefits from the rise in property values resulting from the infrastructure project.

“Ang suwerte naman nila masyado. The value of the industrial land is now P1,000 per hectare because of the interchange,” Remulla said.

The cost of the interchange built inside the Hacienda Luisita complex was shouldered by the government and funded through a loan from the Japan Bank and International Corp. It is a flagship project of President Gloria Arroyo.

Just lucky?

However, Bases Conversion and Development Authority (BCDA)-SCTEx project engineering chief retired general Eduardo Lena explained that the government paid for the construction of the interchange because it was part of the original plan for SCTEx.

The hearing failed to directly link Senator Aquino to the allegedly irregular transaction. The BCDA had negotiated with Senator Aquino’s uncle, Pedro Cojuangco.

But Remulla said Senator Aquino should still be held accountable.

“It’s the uncle. It’s just one family you are dealing with. And he is a direct beneficiary. He cannot control his family. Patay malisya siya pag family ang involved. Pero nakinabang siya,” he said.

Remulla added that it is also a taxpayers’ issue because the people will shoulder the cost of the loan.

SCTEx controversy

The SCTex controversy began in November 2009 with Remulla’s allegations that Senator Aquino’s family benefited from the allegedly overpriced sale of the right-of-way property. The property was sold for P100 per hectare.

Remulla questioned it because the zonal value was only P8, he said.

The controversy has since branched out into several other allegations of irregularities such as:

-Senator Aquino’s family allegedly failed to fairly distribute to the farmers their share in the sale of the right-of-way property;
-The contraction of the interchange inside the Hacienda Luisita was allegedly irregular;
-The Cojuangco family has allegedly not been paying government royalty fees for the quarrying activities inside Hacienda Luisita.
Remulla also revived calls for the Cojuangco family to distribute Hacienda Luisita to the farmers.

Remulla said there will be two to three more hearings on the controversy.

Comment by Maria Elizabeth Embry

is this shows that you’re anti-noynoy for his candidacy for president?

Comment by Gil Nambatac

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