QUEZON CITY, Feb. 8 – In the wake of a productive dialogue with Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) officials, Hacienda Luisita farmers will now reap the fruits of their fight as DAR Secretary Rafael “Ka Paeng” Mariano upheld the 2012 Supreme Court ruling to install agrarian reform beneficiaries (ARB) to the sprawling sugar plantation.

The decades-old agrarian struggle in the Tarlac estate also took a leap forward as residents of Barangay Mapalacsiao and Barang Lourdes forged an alliance to end all disputes between local farmers’ groups and strengthen the fight against the landlord-oligarchs Cojuangcos.

Mariano called for a meeting between farmer groups of the said barangays to address disagreements within their ranks. “Now, more than ever, we need the peasant movement to be a united front in our fight for genuine agrarian reform. Let us remember who the real enemies are. Let us unite against landlord-oligarchs,” Mariano declared.

DAR Assistant Secretary for Field Operations Lucius Malsi, at the beginning of the dialogue, reached out to the farmers and asked them to discuss the issues properly. “Tayong lahat ay mga magsasaka. Ang pagresolba sa kontradiksyon ng mga mamamayan at magkaka-uri ay hindi dapat antagonistiko,” he added.

Following the directive of the agrarian reform chief, longtime tillers and members of the local farmworkers’ organization Alyansa ng mga Manggagawang Bukid sa Asyenda Luisita (AMBALA) decided to give way to Certificate of Land Ownership Award (CLOA) holders who became agrarian reform beneficiaries (ARB) through the “tambiolo” system. The latter will now be installed to their respective landholdings where AMBALA’s cultivation areas stand.

According to DAR Undersecretary for Field Operations and Hacienda Luisita Task Force Chairman Marcos Risonar, the installation shall be implemented not later than April 23 and the days leading to the deadline will be considered as the transition time for its implementation.

About 28 hectares of land in Barangay Asturia will be awarded to 42 CLOA holders from Barangay Lourdes. Each will receive 6,600 square meters according to Provincial Agrarian Reform Program Officer Ileona Pangilinan.

“Considering that there is no more factual obstacle in the installation of the 42 CLOA holders within the former Hacienda Luisita land, the Provincial Agrarian Reform Office of the said province is hereby directed to install the 42 CLOA holders to their designated land allocations as stated in the existing subdivision plan,” Risonar explained.

Farmer groups have been in dispute over the ownership of the parcels of land for years now. With the “tambiolo” scheme, about 3,000 square meters of agricultural land that have been occupied and cultivated by AMBALA farmers were allotted by the previous DAR administration to beneficiaries.

This resulted to the displacement of several AMBALA farmers from Mapalacsiao and several attacks to their crops and properties by alleged goons of the Cojuangcos.

In the pursuit of finding peace in the hacienda, however, farmers decided to unite amid the growing call for genuine land reform. Farmers of Barangay Lourdes agreed to let the crops of AMBALA that are currently planted on awarded lands to complete its cycle.

Furthermore, farmer-beneficiaries who were previously disqualified in the agrarian reform program after refusing to sign the Application to Purchase and Farmers’ Undertaking (APFU) will now receive their CLOAs.

Last Jan. 31, Mariano issued Administrative Order (AO) 1 suspending the guidelines that require farmer-beneficiaries to sign “promissory notes” or the APFU document to qualify as beneficiary of agrarian reform program. “Refusing to sign the APFU should not be a ground for disqualifying an individual as beneficiary of land reform,” Mariano said.

About 111 CLOA holders in the Hacienda Luisita who failed to occupy their allocated lands will now be installed due to the recent issuance of the DAR secretary.

Luisita farmers now plan to strengthen their cooperative through collective farming. They aim to establish a task force that would strengthen their fight for genuine land reform.

On the other hand, DAR officials commended how the farmers solved their problems on their own. Dito natin nakikita kung gaano kaimportante ang lakas ng isang organisasyon na nagkakaisa,” Risonar added.