, DECEMBER 5, 2011 (STANDARD) by Christine F. Herrera - Agrarian Reform Department told to look into expenses of President Benigno Aquino III’s family following its claims of a P2-billion debt

THE Supreme Court has ordered the Agrarian Reform Department to audit the books of President Benigno Aquino III’s family to find out how much of the P1.33 billion gained from the sale of lots within the Hacienda Luisita estate went to “legitimate corporate expense.”

The Supreme Court wants the estate’s land distributed to the 6,296 farmer-beneficiaries in six months, and it made its recent ruling after the management claimed it incurred P2 billion in debt from businessman Eduardo Cojuangco, the President’s uncle.

“For this purpose, [the Agrarian Reform Department] is ordered to engage the services of a reputable accounting firm approved by the parties to audit the books of HLI and Centennary Holdings Inc. to determine if the P1.33-billion proceeds of the sale of the three lots were actually used or spent for legitimate corporate purposes,” the Supreme Court said in its Nov. 22, 2011 ruling.

“Any unspent or unused balance and any disallowed expenditures as determined by the audit shall be distributed to the 6,296 original [farmworker-beneficiaries].”

Christian Monsod, counsel for 1,200 members of the Farmworkers Agrarian Reform Movement, rejected the loan contract, saying it was a case of transferring assets from “cousin to cousin.”

Besides, Monsod said, the P2-billion loan from Cojuangco was never disclosed to the farmers and not even to the Supreme Court while the merits of the case were being deliberated.

“The farmers believe that it will just be a case of transferring the assets cousin-to-cousin, and the management did not want to return the P1.33 billion proceeds from the sale of the 580-hectare lots to the farmers,” Monsod told the Manila Standard.

“The management wants to make it appear that the P1.33 billion is gone. The farmers reject the loan contract.

The Supreme Court said the audit should include the identification of the legitimate farmer-beneficiaries because the President’s family had been insisting that Hacienda Luisita Inc. had 10,502 farmer-beneficiaries, whereas the farmers were claiming only 6,296 original farmworkers.

But Monsod said the number 6,296 should even be reduced because the management had hired “supervisors” when the Stock Distribution Option was implemented on Nov. 21, 1989.

The high tribunal had rejected the stock plan for being unconstitutional. It said the value of Hacienda land would be based on the valuation made by the Landbank and the Agrarian Reform Department on Nov. 21, 1989, which was P170,000 per hectare or a total of P835.55 million for the entire 4,915.75 hectares.

The Supreme Court said the 580.51 hectares that had been sold for P1.33 billion should be exempted from distribution and remain being expropriated to the buyers because they acquired the property “in good faith.”

The high court affirmed the farmers’ position that “Unless there is land distribution, there can be no agrarian reform.”

“Any program that gives farmers or farmworkers anything less than ownership of land fails to conform to the mandate of the Constitution,” the high court said.

“In other words, a program that gives qualified beneficiaries stock certificates instead of land is not agrarian reform.”

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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