OUTGOING President Benigno Aquino III and Budget Secretary Florencio Abad could be held criminally liable for allegedly misusing P471 million in Disbursement Acceleration Program funds to pay for parcels of land at the Aquino-owned Hacienda Luisita.
Incoming Agrarian Reform secretary Rafael Mariano said he would order an investigation into the matter as soon as he assumes office on July 1.
“There is documentary evidence regarding the use of P471 million from DAP, which was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court, for the payment of parcels of lands at the Hacienda Luisita owned by the Cojuangco-Aquino family in Tarlac,” Mariano said at a news forum.
“We will immediately review the sham land reform implemented by the DAR [Department of Agrarian Reform] in Hacienda Luisita,” Mariano said.
Mariano said Aquino could no longer invoke his immunity from suit as president of the Republic when he steps down by June 30.
The CARP (Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program) law provides that the chief executive is the ex-officio chairman of the Presidential Agrarian Reform Council (PARC), which decides agrarian reform cases like Hacienda Luisita.
Mariano said the probe would determine the legality of the payment scheme carried out by the Aquino administration, not just in Hacienda Luisita but also for other big corporation claimants under the Agrarian Reform Law.
The Supreme Court ruled with finality in 2012 that the sugarcane estate—covering 6,453 hectares—owned by the family of President Aquino should be redistributed and that the Cojuangco family be compensated at the land prices prevailing in 1989.
Mariano has vowed to reverse any “anti-farmer” decisions at the DAR, including the Hacienda Luisita case.
He also vowed to strengthen the farmers’ security of tenure over the land and vowed that no farmers would be displaced under his watch.
Mariano, the incumbent chairman of the leftist farmers group Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas, earlier slammed the Aquino administration for the agrarian reform deals it forged with the President’s uncle, Eduardo Cojuangco Jr., and former secretary Manuel Roxas II’s relatives, the Araneta family.
The KMP said it will hold a send-off protest rally against Aquino’s anti-farmer deal at the DAR’s main office in Quezon City.
Some 200 farmers in San Jose del Monte, Bulacan, and Silang, Cavite, led by the KMP will march to the DAR’s main office.
The KMP said more than 300 hectares of land were being grabbed from the farmers for the construction of Metro Rail Transit 7’s inter-modal depot along with its commercial and residential components.
“To this day, the Aranetas, a big landlord family of Spanish origin, continue to control tens of thousands of hectares of land in Bulacan and other parts of the country,” the KMP said in a statement.
“This is worsened by the irony that the heirs of General Emilio Aguinaldo, who claimed so-called independence from Spanish colonialism, are now leading the land-grabbing and eviction of farmers in Cavite.”
The group said farmers from the villages of Tartaria and Lumil in Silang town were now facing eviction in the more than 350-hectare Aguinaldo Estate being grabbed by the heirs of General Emilio Aguinaldo that include outgoing Transport Secretary Joseph Emilio Aguinaldo Abaya, another Liberal Party stalwart.
The KMP said the Cojuangco family “immediately maneuvered to secure their landholdings” after Mariano was mentioned as a possible DAR secretary.
The group cited reports by the Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura on the most recent incidence of violence against the farmers of Hacienda Luisita that occurred on May 30, when agents of the Cojuangco-Aquino family attempted to demolish a farmer’s house in Barangay Mapalacsiao inside Hacienda Luisita.
“We will conduct a no-holds-barred review and reversal of the DAR’s anti-farmer decisions, [declare] a moratorium on land-use conversion and a stop to the cancellation of farmers’ land ownership certificates,” Mariano said.
“This review will also include the pending petition by farmers for the revocation of the land-use conversion issued by the DAR in favor of the Cojuangcos of Hacienda Luisita.”
Farmers have complained that the Cojuangco-Aquino family has defied a Supreme Court ruling that the President’s family must distribute the land to the farmers, and claim the DAR is conniving with them.
The Court also ordered the family to return P1.33 billion to the farmers, saying that amount came from the proceeds of the sale of some 500 hectares in the hacienda.
The Palace on Tuesday defended its agrarian reform record, including its actions on Hacienda Luisita.
“Government has implemented the CARL and all applicable laws without fear or favor. It has also complied with the Supreme Court decision ordering the distribution of land,” Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said in a text message to The Standard.
“Having observed good governance principles including transparency and accountability, the outgoing administration believes its actions and decisions will pass public scrutiny,” Coloma added.
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