MANILA, Dec. 1, 2011— A Catholic bishop has asked for President Benigno Aquino III’s ‘compassion’ to unburden the farmers from the supposedly P2 billion in debt of the Hacienda Luisita, Inc. to San Miguel Corporation (SMC).
In a statement, Manila Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo said the government must help the farmers so that the hefty debt of HLI, owned by Aquino’s family, will not be passed on to them.
“The likelihood of having to shoulder such onerous liability, even at the dawn of their rejoicing, is like a douse of disappointment that negates the justice rendered to the farmers,” said Pabillo.
According to him, the debt was a family affair transaction and that the farm workers have nothing to do with it.
“If this loan were indeed negotiated between the two corporations owned by the president’s family, then he must parley on behalf of the farmers to absolve them of debts which they did not even profit from in the first place,” he said.
Pabillo chairs the National Secretariat for Social Action—Justice and Peace of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines which has been at the forefront of the church’s campaign for genuine agrarian reform.
The 2-billion debt obligation to the SMC, of which Aquino’s uncle, Eduardo “Danding” Cojuangco is chair, reportedly stemmed from advances given around 2004 that the conglomerate used for its alcoholic beverages.
Around 6,000 farm-worker beneficiaries recently claimed victory after the Supreme Court ruling nullified the HLI stock distribution option and ordered the distribution of lands of the 6,453-hectare sugar estate to the farmers.
“Now that a decision has been made in their favor, we call on the farmers groups in Hacienda Luisita to strengthen one another in mutual support and avoid any form of discord that will drive a wedge between and among their ranks,” said Pabillo.
The bishop also called on the government to provide the necessary financial and technical assistance to the farm-workers.
Comprehensive land reform, he added, is not just the distribution of land but also helping the farmers to make the land productive.
“Likewise, we appeal to civil societies and the general public to steadfastly support the cause of the farmers and move in unity and solidarity with them until they are securely installed in their lands,” said Pabillo.
“The case is partially won and the adversaries might try to derail the actual land distribution. But in unity there is strength. So we pray for their continuous vigilance and determination to keep their land,” he said. [CBCPNews]