Apr 28, 2021 @ 21:57

Justice at last! SC orders compensation for farmers of Cojuangco-owned Hacienda Luisita

The Supreme Court (SC) has ruled for a just compensation to the Cojuangco family-owned Hacienda Luisita Incorporated (HLI) for the distribution of its 4,915.75-hectare sugar land plantation in Tarlac to 6,296 farm worker-beneficiaries (FWBs).

In a resolution in December last year and released to the public on April 26, 2021, the SC en banc said the Presidential Agrarian Reform Council (PARC), the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR), and the Registry of Deeds should form a task force “for purposes of completing and collating the documentation required to validate the homelot awards.”

The SC also directed DAR to determine just compensation for HLI and for the Land Bank of the Philippines (LBP) to release the payment of just compensation according to the result of DAR’s validation.

The High Court said the just compensation for HLI should be derived from the Agrarian Reform Fund.

The SC directed the creation of a task force after HLI claimed it does not have the original copies of the transfer documents, which have either been submitted to the Registry of Deeds or given to the FWBs.

Previously, in compliance with the Court’s directive to implement the main decision and subsequent resolutions on the case, DAR began the process of validating the list of home lot awardees.

It found out, among others, the total home lot area and the number of FWBs awarded with home lot titles.

However, the PARC/DAR noted that the certified true copies of the transfer documents evidencing the award of home lots to the individual recipients are necessary to complete validation process.

It directed HLI to furnish DAR with the needed documents.

“Significantly, the completion of the DAR’s validation procedures is a pre-condition to the payment of just compensation. Thus, it is in HLI’s best interest to fully cooperate with the DAR which includes providing the necessary documents to the best of their ability. It is difficult to believe that HLI no longer possesses the originals/certified true copies of these documents,” the SC said.

“Certainly, as the transferor in the disposition of home lots, it must have retained copies of the documents evidencing those transfers,” it added.

However, the Court recognizes that the DAR’s request involves voluminous records, some of which may have already become unavailable, or difficult to locate, due to the passage of time.

It also acknowledged that producing the documents might be too costly and burdensome task if imposed on a single party or entity.

HLI’s entitlement to just compensation, the Court said, has been settled in its previous decisions with finality, barring parties from raising arguments aimed at modifying the final rulings.

“The Court cannot allow the parties to prolong these proceedings by filing motion after motion, only to perpetually deflect/delay [a legal] obligation,” the SC said.

Denied

The SC also denied with finality the motion of reconsideration of its on April 24, 2018 resolution, filed by Noel Mallari of the Alyansa ng mga Mangagawang Bukid ng Hacienda Luisita (Ambala) and Winsor Andaya of the HLI Supervisory Group.

In the resolution, the Court turned down Mallari and Andaya’s motion to execute the Court’s main decision issued in July 5, 2011 and November 22, 2011 resolution insofar as it directed that “any unspent or unused balance and any disallowed expenditures as determined by the audit shall be distributed to the 6,296 original FWBs.”

The Court said the order is considered “fully complied with”.

The November 22, 2011 resolution ordered the direct distribution of the sugar land plantation to its FWBs.

The resolution modifies the SC’s July 5, 2011 original decision giving FWBs the option to remain as stockholders of HLI in lieu of land distribution which is mandated under the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program.

The Court also directed the HLI to pay the original 6,296 farmworker beneficiaries the consideration of PHP500 million received from Luisita Realty, Inc. for the sale to the latter of 200 hectares out of the 500 hectares covered by the August 14, 1996 Conversion Order; the consideration of PHP750 million received by its owned subsidiary, Centennary Holdings, Inc., for the sale of the remaining 300 hectares of the said 500-hectare lot to Luisita Industrial Park Corporation; and the PHP80.5 million paid by the government through the Bases Conversion Development Authority for the sale of the 80.51-hectare lot used for the construction of the SCTEX road network.

For this purpose, DAR was ordered by the Court to engage the services of a special audit panel approved by the parties to audit the books of HLI and Centennary Holdings, Inc. to determine if the PHP1,330,511,500 proceeds of the sale of the three lots were actually used or spent for legitimate corporate purposes.

The SC said any unspent or unused balance and any disallowed expenditures as determined by the audit should be distributed to the 6,296 original FWBs.

“Still, the Court finds no reason to rule contrary to the Special Audit Panel’s findings. Each member of the Special Audit Panel arrived at the results after performing agreed-upon procedures which are in accordance with auditing standards generally accepted in engagements/services such as those required in the present case,” the Court ruled. (PNA)

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