(Editor's intro: Raissa, foreign correspondent for South China Morning Post and Radio Netherlands, is an independent blogger.)
Philippine President Ramon Magsaysay presented an interesting proposition to one of his godsons.
Magsaysay had heard that the Spanish owners of Compañía General de Tabacos de Filipinasa or Tabacalera wanted to sell off their remaining asset in Tarlac – the sugar estate Hacienda Luisita which consisted of a sugar mill called the Central Azucarera de Tarlac and some 7,000 hectares surrounding it.
In 1957, Magsaysay told his godson, the young mayor of Concepcion, Tarlac named Benigno Aquino Jr : “I don’t want the Negros sugar people to invade you people in Tarlac.”
Ninoy Aquino of course could read the subtext of Magsaysay’s statement – here’s something for you but at the same time, this would help me politically since I’m at odds with the sugar barons of Negros, namely the Lopez family.
The deal was recounted by the late national artist Nick Joaquin in his book The Aquinos of Tarlac: An Essay on History as Three Generations. Joaquin based the book on, among others, extensive interviews with Ninoy.
Nick Joaquin had interviewed Ninoy Aquino before 1972. I suspect the book that Joaquin was to have published then was intended to launch Ninoy Aquino’s candidacy for president in 1973. It never took place, however, since President Ferdinand Marcos imposed military rule in 1972 and arrested Aquino. It was only in October 1983 or two months after Aquino was assassinated that Joaquin had the courage to publish his book.
Ninoy Aquino made a promise
In his book, Joaquin disclosed the bargain struck between the Philippine government and Ninoy Aquino. The family of his in-laws would buy the hacienda with the help of not only soft loans but also a government-guaranteed loan.
In exchange, the Cojuangcos would give it up after a ten-year period. Joaquin quoted Ninoy Aquino as saying:
The idea was to buy the hacienda, turn it into a viable operation, then subdivide it and sell it either to the workers or to agricultural cooperatives.
Ninoy Aquino was the first administrator or CEO of the estate and he soon turned a profit.
As part of his promise, he tried to turn the hacienda into a model sugar estate with housing for the workers and a free school. He even showed movies to distract the men from gambling and boozing.
Ninoy Aquino told Nick Joaquin why he wanted to turn the workers’ children into white collar workers:
At the rate the hacienda population was expanding the time might come when there would be more people than cane plants. My theory was that if the young learned a profession they would move out of the hacienda; if I could depopulate the hacienda I could give more man-hours per worker and increase the per capita income. So, education and scholarships were at the crux of my strategy.
According to the deal, by 1967 the Cojuangcos were supposed to have eased themselves out of the plantation. This year 2012 marks the 55th year that the hacienda remains in the hands of the Cojuangco clan.
In 1986 when when Corazon Aquino, Ninoy’s widow and a member of the Cojuangco clan, became president she was prevailed upon by her relatives to exclude the estate from direct land distribution.
Now the issue has come full circle. Just this week, the SC forced the Cojuangco family to disgorge Hacienda Luisita to its farm workers. The process will ironically be carried out by the government of Ninoy’s and Cory’s son, Benigno III.
The meaning of the Supreme Court ruling