MANILA (UPDATE)—President Rodrigo Duterte on Tuesday hit the exemption of Hacienda Luisita in Tarlac from the land reform program as the "greatest aberration" even as he asserted he had "nothing against the Aquino family."
"I'd like to state very clearly that I have nothing against the Aquino family. 'Yung 2 presidente, pati ang pamilya (The two presidents and the family)," Duterte said during the 31st anniversary celebration of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program in Quezon City.
He was referring to the late former president Corazon Aquino and her son Benigno Aquino III, his predecessor.
He said his family supported Corazon Aquino during her term as president after the late dictator President Ferdinand Marcos - whose family has close ties with Duterte's - fell from power in 1986.
"I'd like to put it in record, that for the first two Aquino presidents, sumuporta po kami, ang pamilya namin sa Davao (we supported, our family in Davao) because we believed in Corazon Aquino," Duterte said.
He reiterated, however, that Aquino exempted her clan's sugar estate in Tarlac, Hacienda Luisita, from the government's land reform program.
The estate belongs to Corazon Aquino's side of the family, the Cojuangcos.
"Tinanggal nila (Cory Aquino administration) ang Doña Luisita," Duterte said.
He called the act the "greatest aberration."
The President also lamented those who died in the Hacienda Luisita massacre, which saw 7 farmers killed in 2004.
"Far and in between the years that it was fighting, I mean the tenants, marami ho ang namatay (many died). A lot of people died, invest(ed) their blood, just to realize until late today, 'yung mga lupa na dapat sa kanila (the land that is supposed to be theirs)," Duterte said.
Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) Secretary John Castriciones said the last batch of Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP)-covered land from the Tarlac sugar estate has a total area of over 100 hectares and distributed to 114 farmer beneficiaries.
"Sa Hacienda Luisita, we have around 112 hectares coming from the last 10 barangays, which have not been covered from the past administrations. So right now, this will be the completion of the distribution of those lands belonging to Hacienda Luisita," Castriciones said.
The President led the turnover of the certificate of land ownership awards.
Meanwhile, DAR is looking into the reported conversion of agricultural lands in Hacienda Luisita.
Castriciones said the law allows the conversion of agricultural land if it is not irrigable, no longer viable for agricultural purposes and has been fully paid.
“If it was converted without any conversion order, then that definitely is illegal,” he said.
“There are some information. We are actually conducting some investigation, although we have not yet finalized, because we need the cooperation of those people who are furnishing us with this information,” Castriciones added.
Along with the remaining CARP-covered portion of Hacienda Luisita, the DAR will also distribute 87,648 hectares of agricultural land to around 58,000 beneficiaries during the celebration of CARP’s 31st anniversary on Tuesday.
These are in the Cordillera Administrative Region, Regions, 1, 3, 4, 4A and 4B.
“We will be having a separate distribution in Region 5 because that is a high land area and it is also an insurgency area. So we would like that to be given much attention. We will have it given separately,” Castriciones said.
Last August 3, 2 days after the 10th death anniversary of Corazon Aquino, Duterte criticized the democracy icon's legacy, particularly her land reform program, saying she only became popular after losing her husband Benigno "Ninoy" Aquino Jr.
The widow of the former opposition senator, who had staunchly opposed the Marcos dictatorship, had risen to power following the latter's 1983 assassination. She became the country's first woman president three years later.
Corazon Aquino succumbed to colon cancer on Aug. 1, 2009 at the age of 76.
"When she said, 'I would like to declare land reform in all of the Philippines.' Hindi niya sinali ‘yung kaniya (she did not include hers). She exempted her… So you quarrel what? The one who freed, emancipated… It’s incongruity, they call it," Duterte said.
The Supreme Court in 2011 ordered the distribution of some 4,915 hectares of Hacienda Luisita, one of the largest pieces of privately-owned land in Luzon, to some 6,296 beneficiaries.
In July last year, the high court released a resolution saying Hacienda Luisita had "fully complied" with its order to distribute unused funds from the P1.33-billion sale of over 500 hectares of its land.
-- reports from John Gabriel Agcaoili and Vivienne Gulla, ABS-CBN News