Philippine President’s Family Loses Control of Sugar Estate in Court Fight

Philippine President Benigno Aquino’s family lost control of one of the country’s largest properties after the Supreme Court awarded more than 75 percent of the Hacienda Luisita sugar plantation to farmers.

The decision to hand over almost 5,000 hectares (12,355 acres) of the plantation ends a decades-old dispute over a property that has become a symbol of inequality and the slow pace of Philippine land reform, according to Ramon Casiple, an analyst at the Institute for Political and Economic Reform. In November 2004, seven farmers demanding changes to land laws and better wages were killed near the plantation’s gates.

Aquino’s government has been battling the court over policies and law as he seeks to prosecute his predecessor, Gloria Arroyo, on corruption charges. She appointed 12 of 15 justices on the court, which is also reviewing her indictment and arrest for election fraud.

“I don’t think President Aquino was a factor in the decision since he has divested his stake,” Casiple said. “My concern is the small lots are economically inefficient and could hardly sustain a family unless the farmers agree to develop the land together.”

In the ruling, which was released today, the court unanimously blocked a plan that allowed landlords to award company shares instead of land to more than 6,000 farmers in Tarlac province north of Manila. The ruling supersedes the court’s decision in July that said farmers could choose between shares or land.

“Control over agricultural lands must always be in the hands of the farmers,” the court said.

Divested Shares

The government will comply with the order if no appeals are filed, Agrarian Reform Secretary Gil de los Reyes said in a phone interview today. Aquino divested his shares in the estate before he assumed office in June 2010, his spokesman, Edwin Lacierda, told reporters today.

The 6,443-hectare Hacienda Luisita, one of the nation’s biggest properties, has been controlled by the Cojuangco family since the 1950s. Cojuangco is the maiden name of Aquino’s mother, the late President Corazon Aquino, who made land reform a pillar of her 1986 presidential campaign.

She thought of the idea to award stock to farmers and fast- tracked a land reform law after 13 farmers were killed during a protest march to her office 11 months into her term.

To contact the reporter on this story: Norman P. Aquino in Manila at naquino1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Clarissa Batino at cbatino@bloomberg.net; Peter Hirschberg at phirschberg@bloomberg.net

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