GMANews.TV | 8 November 2010
by Jerrie M. Abella
Farm workers of the Cojuangco-owned on Monday asked the Supreme Court (SC) to stop the reported negotiations between the property owners and a Chinese company for the lease of the 6,500-hectare estate for sugarcane production.
In an omnibus motion, the farmers who belong to the Alyansa ng mga Manggagawang Bukid sa Asyenda Luisita (Ambala) asked the high court to order Hacienda Luisita Inc. (HLI) and the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) to explain the alleged deal with Hangzhou Wahaha Group Co. Ltd., China’s largest beverage producer, and submit any documents pertaining to the deal.
The group likewise called on the court to ask the DTI to explain its role in the negotiation, and have DTI Undersecretary Cristino Panlilio explain why he should not be cited for contempt for facilitating the talks.
“(We view) the act of HLI and DTI as complete disregard of the authority of the Supreme Court," the group said in a statement sent by its lawyer Jobert Pahilga, as the landholdings are the subject of a legal debacle.
“We have the right to information on such matter and HLI is under obligation to disclose whatever nature or kind of agreement it has entered or it intends to enter into with Wahaha with the assistance of DTI," the group said.
According to Pahilga, the reported negotiation has become a cause of concern among HLI farmers, as it will nullify their call for land distribution and the revocation of the stock distribution option (SDO), where farmers could hold stocks instead of own lands.
The group is seeking a court order prohibiting HLI and DTI from concluding the deal with Wahaha, saying the farmers remain the stockholders and beneficiaries of the land.
The petition is also asking the SC “to issue an order directing the HLI and DTI to cease and desist from further negotiating with the Wahaha Group to assuage the fear of the farm workers that their struggle to revoke the SDO and to have the land distributed unto them will not be for naught."
According to its website, Wahaha, established in 1987, is China’s “largest and most profitable beverage company", with 30,000 employees and total assets amounting to 30 billion yuan (US$6 billion).
Both HLI lawyer Tony Ligon and the DTI could not be reached for comment as of posting time.The HLI property, owned by the family of President Benigno Aquino III, is now the subject of a legal dispute as farmers demand ownership of the land in line with the government’s land reform program.