Supreme Court nixes President Aquino’s ‘just’ payment plea for Luisita
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BAGUIO CITY-The Supreme Court April 23 rejected the plea of President Benigno Aquino III for "just compensation" to the Cojuangco and Aquino heirs of Hacienda Luisita in Tarlac which will be distributed to some 6,000 farmers.
By a vote of 8-6, the high court presided by Impeached Chief Justice Renato Corona affirmed its ruling last November setting the value of the sugar plantation at around P196 million based on 1989 prices. The Cojuangcos and Aquinos asked for at least P5 billion as just compensation.
Hundreds of farmers gathered in Baguio cheered as the announcement was made. The court has described its decision as a "litmus test" of the government resolve to implement a Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program launched by Mr. Aquino's mother, Corazon Aquino, after she took power following a People Power Revolution that ousted the dictator Ferdinand Marcos in 1986.
Briefing reporters in this resort capital, where the high tribunal is holding its summer session, spokesperson Midas Marquez said the court ruling was "final and executory." He said the court would no longer entertain further pleadings and motions for reconsideration on the dispute that had taken 27 years to resolve.
Earlier, the court had unanimously ruled in favor of the redistribution of the hacienda to the farmers.
The court also ruled that the Luisita farmers may pay amortization fees for the next 30 years, according to the 1989 land values for the 4,915-hectare estate when Hacienda Luisita Inc. (HLI) struck a deal in which management offered a stock distribution option (SDO) in lieu of outright land distribution.
In a ruling last November 22, the court rescinded the SDO and voted 14-0 to distribute the hacienda.
Chief Justice Renato Corona and Associate Justices Presbitero Velasco Jr., Arturo Brion, Teresita Leonardo-de Castro, Roberto Abad, Jose Perez, Jose Mendoza and Martin Villarama Jr. voted for the 1989 valuation, Marquez said.
Voting against were Associate Justices Lucas Bersamin, Maria Lourdes Sereno, Mariano del Castillo, Diosdado Peralta, Estela Perlas-Bernabe and Bienvenido Reyes. In the Nov. 22 decision, Sereno, Mr. Aquino's first appointee to the high tribunal, batted for a 2006 valuation, echoing the position of the HLI management.
Dozens of Hacienda Luisita farmers greeted the court's ruling with cheers and loud applause. They traveled 100 kilometers from their homes in Tarlac to Baguio, where the 14 justices deliberated on the issue.
"We are happy about the Supreme Court decision," said Felix Nacpil Jr., chairman of the Alyansa ng Manggagawang Bukid sa Asyenda Luisita, who was in Baguio City.
He described the farmers' victory against the Cojuangco-Aquino family as a remarkable achievement in land reform after a court battle lasting many years.
During its en banc session in Baguio City, the Court denied the motion for reconsideration filed by Hacienda Luisita Inc., which asked the Court to reverse its November 2011 decision and rule that the compensation be based on current values or on the land values prevailing in 2006, when the Agrarian Reform Department ruled against its stock distribution plan as an alternative to land distribution.
The company also asked the Court to give the 6,296 farmer-beneficiaries the individual option to choose whether they still want to remain stockholders of the company, and to lift the 10-year prohibition on the sale of the awarded land.
In its Nov. 22 resolution, the Court affirmed a July 5 decision that the just compensation for the distributed land be pegged at its value in 1989, when the company's stock distribution plan was approved, saying this was when the farmers were considered to be owners of the land.
The Court also ruled that the 10-year prohibition on the sale of awarded land had not started yet, since none of the farmers had been issued any certificates.
Company spokesman Antonio Ligon had earlier said the owners of the hacienda wanted P5 billion for the land, a value that was set by the Land Bank of the Philippines and the Agrarian Reform Department during the Arroyo administration.
Corona had earlier claimed that President Aquino wanted him impeached and removed from office because of the Court's decision on Hacienda Luisita, a charge the President has denied.
Leftist groups that had worked for Corona's impeachment on Tuesday hailed the latest Supreme Court decision.
Akbayan and Bayan, along with the Anakpawis, Bayan Muna, Gabriela, Kabataan and ACT Teachers, urged President Aquino to order the immediate distribution of the Cojuangco-Aquino-owned hacienda to the farmer-beneficiaries.
But Bayan Muna Rep. Teddy Casiño insisted that if agrarian reform was indeed social justice, then a one-peso compensation for the Cojuangcos would suffice because the land distribution was long overdue.
"The Cojuangco-Aquinos do not deserve to be compensated," said Anakpawis Rep. Rafael Mariano.
"For the past five decades, they maintained illegal and immoral control of Hacienda Luisita and enriched their clan at the expense of poor hacienda farmers and sugar mill workers."
Ligon on Tuesday said they would abide by the Court's ruling but deferred comment until he had received an official copy of the resolution.
The Palace also declined to comment for the same reason. "We have not read the decision itself. We will defer to the Office of the Solicitor General and the Department of Agrarian Reform on this," said deputy presidential spokeswoman Abigail Valte.
Following the Court's latest ruling, a volunteer lawyer for the Hacienda Luisita farmers, Christian Monsod, said the Department of Social Welfare and Development should step in to extend help to the beneficiaries.
In the House of Representatives, lawmakers welcomed the Supreme Court decision.
Maguindanao Rep. Simeon Datumanong, a member for the minority of the House Committee on Justice, said the Aquino administration had no choice but to respect and enforce the ruling of the Court.
Agham Party-list Rep. Angelo Palmones commended the Court led by Corona for "standing their ground."
"It proves that our justices are not cowed by the impeachment of Chief Justice Corona," said Palmones.
"It assures us that there is still a balance of power of government in a democratic country like ours."
In the Senate, the chairman of the agrarian reform committee also welcomed the decision, saying the ruling would set the tone for implementing the agrarian reform law in the future.