Philippines ready to carve up Aquino farm

Manila's land reform agency Wednesday said it was ready to carve up the vast farm of President Benigno Aquino's clan, which lost a Supreme Court battle for $100 million in compensation.

The Philippines' highest tribunal on Tuesday reaffirmed an earlier ruling to sell 4,300 hectares (10,600 acres) -- most of the nearly 5,000-hectare Hacienda Luisita -- to its workers for much less than the clan's asking price.

The move would crown the Philippines' 14-year effort, ironically launched by the incumbent leader's late mother, then-president Corazon Aquino, to give millions of share croppers land to help dig themselves out of poverty.

"The DAR stands ready to implement the Supreme Court decision," the Department of Agrarian Reform said in a statement.

Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said Aquino was withholding comment because the full details of the court decision had not been released to the executive branch.

"This is an issue of just compensation. There is a formula that has been provided for, and that's the reason why we need to know first exactly what the Supreme Court decision stated," Lacierda told reporters.

The court battle over the sugar cane farm had played out as Aquino and his allies in parliament led a campaign to remove Supreme Court chief justice Renato Corona from his post.

Corona, who voted against the clan's appeal, is now on trial in the Senate after being impeached on charges of failing to declare his assets and blocking Aquino's moves to investigate his predecessor Gloria Arroyo for corruption.

Corona said Wednesday he expected Aquino to retaliate against him over the farm ruling.

Hacienda Luisita, one of the country's largest corporate farms, spreads across several towns in the central plains north of Manila and has come to symbolise the failure of the first Aquino president's land reform programme.

The farm corporation is controlled by Corazon Aquino's Cojuangco clan, which had been accused of trying to avoid giving up their land by converting parts of it to non-agricultural uses and giving its workers shares of stock instead.

A total of 6,296 Hacienda Luisita workers stand to be able to buy small segments of several hectares each under terms that still have to be set out by the agrarian reform agency.

The Supreme Court had already ruled against the Cojuangcos on the issue in November last year, but the clan appealed the court decision.

The clan also demanded a million pesos ($23,000) per hectare, much higher than the 40,000 pesos that the agrarian reform department was prepared to pay for it.

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