Saturday, July 31, 2010

Reactions to My Land Reform Piece

In my column of three weeks ago I concluded with a paragraph which I thought was a motherhood statement. I wrote then: “But one indispensable requirement of land reform is that the owner must be given just compensation. A recent decision of the Supreme Court emphasized that the concept of just compensation embraces not only the correct determination of the amount to be paid to the owners of the land, but also payment within a reasonable time from its taking.” I did not realize then that the paragraph would provoke a hornet’s nest.

Shortly after that my office received calls asking for an appointment to discuss the article. I finally received a delegation last Thursday. The conversation was all about failed just compensation. And since land reform is not an area of justice which I have followed closely, the session was an education for me. Let me just try to summarize some of what I was made to hear.

First of all, I was reminded that the Court teaching on promptness of payment as part of just compensation was not anything new. In all logic, it really should not be. The reasoning behind this was recently repeated by the Court: “It has been repeatedly stressed by this Court that the true measure is not the taker’s gain but the owner’s loss. The word ‘just’ is used to modify the meaning of the word ‘compensation’ to convey the idea that the equivalent to be given for the property to be taken shall be real, substantial, full, and ample.

The concept of just compensation embraces not only the correct determination of the amount to be paid to the owners of the land, but also payment within a reasonable time from its taking. Without prompt payment, compensation cannot be considered ‘just’ inasmuch as the property owner is made to suffer the consequences of being immediately deprived of his land while being made to wait for a decade or more before actually receiving the amount necessary to cope with his loss. Put differently, while prompt payment of just compensation requires the immediate deposit and release to the landowner of the provisional compensation as determined by the DAR, it does not end there. Verily, it also encompasses the payment in full of the just compensation to the landholders as finally determined by the courts. Thus, it cannot be said that there is already prompt payment of just compensation when there is only a partial payment thereof, as in this case.”

What stories did I hear? One is probably a generic story true of many families.

“It has been 38 years since the program was implemented, and many original landowners are now DEAD, their children have likewise died. Unfortunately, many of the original landowners died without receiving the just compensation for their land, which all Philippine Constitutions promised them.

“Worse, before heirs can claim the promised compensation, they must pay all the estate taxes (plus penalties) because the original landowner, their children and grandchildren have died. Today, many third or forth generation landowners are still locked in litigation with DAR and the Land Bank over the issue of just compensation.”

Another tells a more personal story, of uncollected compensation, of a history of borrowing in order to maintain life, of home and family heirlooms disposed of to meet expenses, of a comfortable home sold, of struggles with DAR and the Land Bank ending with a small amount enough to be able to build a simple home out of the city while struggling with diabetes. It is a sad story.

I suppose that if these were to be within the priorities of the proposed Truth Commission other stories would be unearthed not just about the Arroyo years but even going back farther. But then I still have to see what the Truth Commission is all about.

All these bring me back to the Hacienda Luisita case about which I tentatively wrote three weeks ago. I anticipate that it will end as a victory for the farmer claimants. They will get the land they want. Then Hacienda Luisita and the Noynoy Aquino administration will be confronted with the problems of landowners seeking compensation for the lands they have lost. This may not be a bad thing after all. The Supreme Court has repeatedly said that social justice as a right of those who have less in life is not an instrument against those who have more.

• • • • •

This really has to nothing to do with the Hacienda Luisita case or with land reform in general. It is more of about the qualification of Mikey Arroyo. Already a case has been filed for his disqualification with the Supreme Court. But recently a case was also filed, or will be filed, with the House Electoral Tribunal. Who should the decide the case?

I have always taught my students that the jurisdiction of the Electoral Tribunal is over “contests” and that there is a contest when a losing candidate challenges the proclamation of a winning candidate and asks that he or she be declared the winner instead. No losing candidate is challenging Mikey Arroyo. I anticipate therefore that the Electoral Tribunal will throw out the case file against Arroyo.

Incidentally I am also watching how the Comelec will handle 1-Utak’s move to erase Angelo Reyes from the list of nominees. The Party-list Law says that the list submitted to the Comelec can be altered only when a nominee dies or when a nominee withdraws from the list in writing. I think Angelo Reyes is very much alive and I do not see him withdrawing his nomination in writing!

2 August 2010

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