‘Go ask Arroyo, she knows SCTEx lobbyist’
MANILA, Philippines—Did former President Corazon Aquino personally lobby to build the Tarlac exit of the Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway (SCTEx) across her family’s sprawling Hacienda Luisita just before the 2004 elections?
Cavite Rep. Crispin Remulla, an ally of Nacionalista Party standard-bearer Sen. Manny Villar, suggested in a news conference that President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo could provide the answer.
Remulla claimed that the Bases Conversion Development Authority (BCDA), implementing agency of the Japanese-built and designed expressway, had balked at diverting the expressway across the sugar hacienda.
But he said that the agency was ordered to continue the construction of the hacienda interchange after a “powerful person” called Ms Arroyo.
Although Remulla had previously tagged Aquino as the caller, he refused to name the late President Wednesday.
Dead men tell no tales
“Dead men tell no tales. It’s unfair to attribute anything to them, that’s hearsay. That’s not credible. I was told by somebody close to the President that somebody called her up because if she didn’t, it would have not been implemented. Who has that much influence to call somebody to push through with the project? Go ask GMA (Ms Arroyo). She should know,” he said.
Remulla’s charge came less than a week before the start of the campaign for the May 10 elections with Villar and Aquino’s son, Sen. Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III, in a statistical tie in the presidential derby, according to the latest Pulse Asia survey.
Asked why Ms Arroyo would grant a favor to Corazon Aquino, Remulla said the ex-President had been a key player in the ouster of President Joseph Estrada in 2001. “At that time, they were really the best of friends,” he said.
But Corazon Aquino asked Ms Arroyo to resign after the “Hello Garci” election fraud scandal in 2004 and became an ardent critic.
Estate value went up
Remulla said that the first check for the right-of-way (ROW) purchase of P50 million was issued to Hacienda Luisita a month before the May 2004 elections. He reckoned that the money was used to bankroll Noynoy Aquino’s reelection as Tarlac representative.
In a statement, Remulla claimed that a member of “Kamag-Anak Inc.”—referring to the Cojuangco family of the late president—had also made a phone call to Ms Arroyo shortly after she assumed power in 2001 to negotiate the ROW across 83 hectares of land.
The interchange jacked up the Cojuangco property from P10 per square meter to P100.
Remulla said the Cojuangcos not only cashed in on the ROW purchase of P80 million but they also got an interchange worth P170 million for free, which instantly boosted the hacienda’s value from P600 million to P60 billion.
He said the interchange was key to the Cojuangcos’ long-time plan to convert the vast sugar plantation into an industrial estate.
The family had lobbied with Estrada to expand the Subic-Clark expressway, meant to connect the country’s main economic zones, to include Tarlac and had secured provincial approval of the estate’s conversion into an industrial zone, Remulla said
He said the conversion of the hacienda into an industrial estate was the final act of the Cojuangcos to take full control of the 6,453-hectare land.
Corazon Aquino’s father, Jose Cojuangco, acquired the estate through a loan in 1957 from the Government Service Insurance System on a promise that 4,000 ha would be distributed later to farmers and the remaining 2,453 ha sold to local residents at cost and on installment.
Remulla said the Cojuangcos never lived up to their promise and even fought off an attempt by the administration of President Ferdinand Marcos to force the distribution of the hacienda in court.
He noted that Corazon Aquino had used her powers to exempt the hacienda from agrarian reform and even endorsed a stock distribution option plan to subvert the program.
“They really have no plan to give back the land that rightfully belongs to the farmers. Hacienda Luisita is the country’s Little Palestine because it has been the cause of so much bloodshed,” Remulla said.
He said Noynoy Aquino could not claim that he had no hand in the hacienda management because he was a direct beneficiary, that he abstained in the voting on the extension of the comprehensive agrarian reform program, and that he got P2 million as his share from the ROW purchase.
“If his minority shares and business interest do not suffice to affect the Luisita’s corporate decisions, does the same apply to his silence as an elected public official for three terms in Congress and another in the Senate? Shall he continue to claim the same when he is elected President?” Remulla asked.