“THIS IS IT” Farmers from Hacienda Luisita erupt in celebration in Baguio City after the Supreme Court affirmed its ruling ordering the total distribution of the sugar estate owned by the family of President Benigno Aquino III and pegging the land value at 1989 prices.  (Richard Balonglong / Inquirer Northern Luzon)

MANILA — Hacienda Luisita, which is owned by the family of President Benigno Aquino III, will finally be distributed to farmers as the Supreme Court (SC) stood pat on its earlier decision that the 4,915-hectare sugar estate be divided among the farm workers.

In a unanimous vote, the High Court affirmed its decision issued on Nov. 23, 2011 that the land, not stock options, should be distributed to the farmer-beneficiaries of Hacienda Luisita Inc. (HLI), which has been owned by the Cojuangco and Aquino families for more than 50 years.

The tribunal also ruled that just compensation for the hacienda owners will be based on the 1989 land valuation.

HLI had asked the court to peg the compensation based on the 2006 land value.

Had the SC granted this appeal, the owners of the hacienda would have gotten P10 billion as payment for their landholding.

But the tribunal said that the date of reckoning for the valuation of the lands should be from Nov. 21, 1989, the date of issuance of the Presidential Agrarian Reform Council’s (PARC) resolution approving HLI’s stock distribution plan.

SC spokesman and Administrator Jose Midas Marquez said that the court affirmed its stand that agricultural lands must always be in the control of tillers.

Chief Justice Renato Corona, Associate Justices Presbitero Velasco, Roberto Abad, Jose Perez, Jose Mendoza, Martin Villarama Jr., Arturo Brion and Teresita Leonardo de Castro voted to use the 1989 land valuation as guide in the computation of compensation.

Those who dissented were Associate Justices Diosdado Peralta; Lucas Bersamin, Mariano del Castillo; and Mr. Aquino’s appointees Maria Lourdes Sereno, Bienvenido Reyes and Estela Perlas-Bernabe.

Justice Antonio Carpio did not take part in the case.

The SC opined that given the current proportion of the shareholdings of HLI, the 6,296 farm-worker beneficiaries (FWBs) who will choose to remain as stockholders if its July 2011 decision will be implemented will not be able to have control of the land.

“In line with our finding that control over agricultural lands must always be in the hands of the farmers, we consider our ruling that qualified FWBs should be given an option to remain as stockholders of HLI, inasmuch as these qualified FWBs will never gain control given the present proportion of shareholdings.”

Meanwhile, the court sustained a portion of its July 2011 ruling directing HLI to pay the 6,296 FWBs “P500,000,000 as their share for the sale of 200 hectares out of the 500 hectares covered by the Aug. 14, 1996 Conversion Order.

It also upheld its ruling ordering the latter to pay the “consideration of P750,000,000 received by its owned subsidiary, Centennary Holdings, Inc. for the sale of the remaining 300 hectares of the aforementioned 500-hectare lot to Luisita Industrial Park Corp. and P80,511,500 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.”

The court ordered the hiring of an accounting firm to check on the books of HLI and Centennary Holdings Inc. to determine the correctness of the figures.

The ruling said that any unspent or unused balance as determined by the audit shall be distributed to the 6,296 original FWBs.

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