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Tarlac sugar production in limbo after Luisita order

/ 11:25 PM November 29, 2011

CITY OF SAN FERNANDO—Planters anticipate uncertainties in growing sugarcane in Hacienda Luisita in Tarlac as the government, on order of the Supreme Court, prepares to distribute 4,915 hectares in the sugar estate owned by relatives of President Aquino.

“We [planters] are taking a wait-and-see attitude,” Mayor Noel Villanueva of Concepcion town said when asked how the implementation of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) would impact on sugar production in Tarlac.

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The lease contracts between planters and farm workers are expiring either in 2014 or 2015, Villanueva, also a sugar planter, said by telephone on Monday.

The Alyansa ng mga Manggagawang Bukid sa Asyenda Luisita (Ambala), the Farm workers Agrarian Reform Movement-Luisita (Farm Luisita) and barangay (village) councils obtained control over portions of Hacienda Luisita to either till these for food crops or lease these out to planters when there was no work in the estate or at the Central Azucarera de Tarlac (CAT) after the 2004 strike. A hectare is leased for P10,000 a year to planters.

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Romeo Lejano, manager of the CAT Planters Association, said the state of sugar production in Tarlac depends on when the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) would distribute lands to farm workers.

“Maybe it would take time,” Lejano said, adding that beneficiaries could not immediately shift to cultivating rice and vegetables because of lack of irrigation.

Teofilo Inocencio, DAR director in Central Luzon, said the agency is waiting for the final order of the high court.

But the DAR, he said, envisions to complete the CARP process, including the distribution of land titles, within a year.

DAR representatives have yet to visit Hacienda Luisita since the Supreme Court issued its decision ending the eight-year legal battle over the estate. It came after the milling season started.

More than 3,500 hectares in the estate have been planted to sugar cane without the relatives of President Aquino or the Hacienda Luisita Inc. (HLI) benefiting from land leases, HLI lawyer Antonio Ligon said in an earlier interview.

The HLI was formed in 1989 to manage the stocks representing ownership of the estate when the CARP was implemented through the stock distribution option (SDO). This was what the Supreme Court voided in its decision last week.

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Villanueva said in his case, he paid leases to legitimate farm workers. For every hectare that he rented, he said he also gave P1,000 to the barangay council for social services, like the provision of medicines.

He also shared with the HLI at least P35 per ton of milled cane so the company can pay real property tax to the local government.

Lejano said around 200,000 metric tons of sugar could be obtained from the areas planted in Hacienda Luisita.

The controversial estate is the single largest contiguous tract of land planted to sugar in the country.

While production has been reduced since its labor troubles began in 2004, the hacienda’s sugar central is still in operation, processing sugar cane transported there from plantations in nearby provinces.

At present, it remains unclear how the country’s overall sugar production levels would be affected by the recent Supreme Court decision canceling the SDO and ordering the distribution of the land to the farmworker beneficiaries.

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TAGS: agrarian reform, Hacienda Luisita, Philippines, sugarcane, Tarlac
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