Thousands lose out in Philippine leader's farm reform

Thousands of workers will lose out when a plantation owned by Philippine President Benigno Aquino's family is carved up for its farm hands next year, an official said Friday.

The 4,300-hectare (10,600-acre) Hacienda Luisita north of Manila would be fully redistributed by next year to its labourers after years of delay, Agrarian Reform Secretary Virgilio de los Reyes said.

"This will be the biggest redistribution of land to farmers in Philippine history," he said.

Even then, only about 6,200 of its more than 8,000 workers would get to physically own plots of land from the break-up, he said.

About 2,000 would not get land because they were not yet fully employed at the Hacienda in 1989, the year after the country's land reform law was passed, de los Reyes said.

Many of those excluded were mere "transient workers" who got part-time jobs for two months each year cleaning up the farm immediately after harvest, he added.

De los Reyes said the land division would amount to about 0.66 hectares (1.63 acres) for each farmer, who would need to pay about 80,000 pesos ($1,836) over 30 years for their title.

He brushed aside calls by activists to let all the workers get land for free.

"From where I sit, that is chaos," he said.

Hacienda Luisita has long been a symbol of the failure of land reform programmes in a nation that suffers from a sharp division between rich and poor.

Aquino's mother, then-president Corazon Aquino, signed a land reform law in 1988 which would have covered the plantation.

Her family, the Cojuangcos, owners of the plantation, tried to skirt the law by converting parts of it to non-agricultural uses and giving its workers shares in a company controlling the farm instead.

The Supreme Court ruled in November 2011 that the family must sell the land to the government, which would then sell it to the farmers on easy loan terms.

De los Reyes acknowledged that it would be difficult for these farmers to survive by farming their tiny plots alone, but suggested they join their farms together and promised government support.

De los Reyes said the Aquino government was still hoping to complete the country's land reform programme by 2016, the current president's last year in office.

About 822,480 hectares still in private hands will have been redistributed by that time, he added.

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