Monday, January 9, 2012

It’s the Hacienda after all

The handwriting on the wall is more apparent now than before, when 188 members of Congress signed the articles of impeachment about a month ago. Soon, the Philippine Senate will convene to determine the fate of Renato Corona, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.

With the constant barrage of press releases and new revelations about Corona’s unexplained wealth by anti-Corona crusaders, including the prosecution panel and the government’s propaganda machine, there is now widespread public perception that Corona is guilty as charged. Corona, who’s been so negative to the public eye, could be burned at stake anytime. The impeachment trial is largely a political process and public opinion therefore plays a vital part in the minds of those senators who will make the final judgment.
President Noynoy Aquino ponders about the future of the family-owned
 Hacienda Luisita. Click link to view "Video documentary:Noyynoy's Luisita
But the real plot behind the impeachment of Corona is fully more evident now than when it was conceived in haste. The trial of former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, which everyone thought could be the trial of the century, turns out to be a sideshow, a dud muted by exchanges in the media by angry pronouncements from both pro and anti-Corona camps. Who would expect that Mrs. Arroyo would be happily convalescing from a mysteriously conjured-up illness while under house arrest at the Veterans Memorial Hospital?

As it turns out or as the impeachment denouement is expected very soon, all this “moro-moro” about Renato Corona is not about bias in deciding in favour of his former boss. The impeachment was not even about dismantling Noynoy Aquino’s final stumbling block in prosecuting Arroyo for corruption and election sabotage. It is all about recovering the Hacienda, a last attempt by the Cojuangcos to preserve the family’s sentimental vestige of feudal ownership.

The Senate has five months more to remove Corona from the highest court of the land. Failing that, the Hacienda must be redistributed to its lawful and rightful owners. Redistribution of the Hacienda to the farmers must be made in six months from the day the Supreme Court rendered its judgment on November 22, 2011.

Can the Senate be up to this task?

Judging by the numbers, the Senate needs only 16 senators to convict Corona. Although, a lesser number of magnificent seven of these senators is needed to acquit. But who among the senators are willing to turn back the momentum of history, and be remembered as the dark angels of the antichrist?

The die has been cast. If the decision to convict Corona is not unanimous as expected, the numbers predict more than 2/3 is hardly a difficult outcome.

Hacienda Luisita has been in the hands of the Cojuangco family, which includes the late former President Corazon Aquino and her son, incumbent President Benigno Aquino III, since the family acquired the property in 1958 through a loan from the Government Service Insurance System and a dollar loan from the Manufacturer’s Trust Company of New York, which was guaranteed by the Central Bank of the Philippines. A condition for the sale of the Hacienda to the Cojuangcos was the transfer of the lands to the tenants or farmers ten years after the loan has matured. Meaning, the lands have to be transferred to the farmers by 1967. Of course, this never happened because the Cojuangcos were a powerful political clan and they were able to thwart any attempts to transfer ownership to the farmers.

When Corazon Aquino became president of the Philippines, the Hacienda was exempted from land reform, the centrepiece of her administration. The property was placed under a stock distribution agreement between the landowners and farm workers in compliance with the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP). The stock distribution option (SDO) was a scheme under the CARP that was first implemented during the administration of President Cory Aquino.

Following a year of turbulent protests where several striking workers of the Hacienda were killed and dozens of others wounded, the Department of Agrarian Reform cancelled the stock distribution agreement on the ground that it had failed to improve the lives of more than 5,000 farmer beneficiaries. In May 2006, the Presidential Agrarian Reform Council junked the motion of the Hacienda management to reconsider the revocation of the SDO. The Cojuangcos, however, were successful in obtaining a temporary restraining order from the Supreme Court which effectively blocked the revocation of the SDO. On November 22, 2011, the Supreme Court finally ordered the redistribution of the Hacienda to the farmers holding that the farmers will not benefit from the distribution of shares of stock.

What can happen after the Senate renders its judgment against Corona?

Chief Justice Corona would be replaced by someone more hospitable to the Aquino government. If that person is one of the incumbent justices, a vacancy occurs which Noynoy Aquino will fill up with another justice of his own choice. The other justices appointed by former President Arroyo would have been successfully chastened by the impeachment process, emboldening Noynoy to do anything he wishes without opposition. Now, wouldn’t that be the most opportune time to reverse the Supreme Court decision on the redistribution of the Hacienda to the farmers?

Hacienda Luisita, which is as large as the total land area of the cities of Pasig and Makati combined, is simply too big and of too sentimental value for the Cojuangco family to lose. The family held on to the Hacienda lands through eight presidential turnovers. Losing the Hacienda on the watch of one of their very own would be most hard to swallow.

The Hacienda the Cojuangcos dearly love is one of the last remnants of colonialism in the Philippines despite efforts by the government to implement land reform. One could picture Noynoy Aquino after retiring from the presidency galloping on a horse through the sunset while he surveys the vast landscape of his family estate. Or imagine Noynoy driving his Porsche over the long stretch of the national highway built on a large swath of Hacienda land by government money, as he is fond of doing in order to unwind. Or on a lazy Saturday afternoon, Noynoy could just drive to the range for practice shooting.

The lifestyle of the very rich and famous scion of the Cojuangco family—why would Noynoy be a fool to give the Hacienda up?

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