NY Times stands by accuracy of Luisita story
By Philip Tubeza
Philippine Daily Inquirer
MANILA, Philippines—It’s all on tape.
The New York Times Wednesday stood pat on the accuracy and fairness of the paper’s story that quoted a cousin of Sen. Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III as saying that the Cojuangcos had no intention of leaving Hacienda Luisita.
Aquino, the Liberal Party presidential candidate in the May 10 elections, on Tuesday said that the article “favored one side of the issue.”
“I don’t think it was a fair treatment,” he added, suggesting that the quotes were taken out of context.
“We stand by our story. The interview with Mr. Fernando Cojuangco was recorded. If he wants us to release the tape, we will be more than happy to do so,” said Carlos H. Conde, the newspaper’s local reporter. He said he had been authorized to speak on the matter.
Cojuangco, 47, chief operating officer of the holding company that owns the sugar plantation, was quoted as saying in the interview on Feb. 23 that the family had no intention of giving up the land or the sugar business.
Not out of context
“No, we’re not going to,” Cojuangco was quoted by the Times as saying. “I think it would be irresponsible because I feel that continuing what we have here is the way to go. Sugar farming has to be; it’s the kind of business that has to be done plantation-style.”
Conde said he and NYT Southeast Asia bureau chief Norimitsu Onishi interviewed Cojuangco for an hour and a half at the plantation on Feb 23. He said he reviewed the tape after Aquino disputed the Times story.
“They were not taken out of context,” Conde said. “There were portions of the interview that were off the record but not those quotes.”
Conde said that the Aquino camp had asked for copies of the tape but he said it could only be released to Cojuangco, who had so far not made such a request.
Disputing Aquino’s claim of bias, Conde said, “We included his side in the story and the supposedly good things that had happened in the hacienda which Mr. Cojuangco said.”
Conde said he thought that the article was “evenhanded.”
“I don’t know why he is saying it was unfair,” he said.
Edwin Lacierda, Aquino’s campaign spokesperson, Wednesday said that the senator’s statement was based on what his cousin had told him about the interview. “We have nothing further to say,” he said.
Aquino said in his Tuesday news conference that members of the extended Cojuangco family had agreed in a meeting before he announced he was seeking the highest post in the land in September last year that it was no longer feasible to run the hacienda as a sugar plantation.
“It’s a sunset industry and then there’s politics. So, we are considering many schemes, wherein the debts of the company would be gone and we would be able to transfer the sizeable portion to our farmer beneficiaries,” Aquino said.
“If the significant majority says yes, then the intracorporate dispute is resolved and they can proceed as to the direction of the company they own.”
Case in Supreme Court
Aquino did not spell out the options open to the family, which is battling in the Supreme Court an order from the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) rescinding a stock distribution option in lieu of land distribution.
The DAR said that the stock option did not improve the lives of the 10,000 workers of 6,000-hectare hacienda the Cojuangcos acquired in 1957 on a loan guaranteed by the government on condition that the estate be distributed to farmers under the social justice policy of the Ramon Magsaysay administration.
The Aquino family said that the DAR decision was a reprisal after the late President Corazon Aquino, the senator’s mother, had joined calls for the resignation of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo following revelations in the “Hello Garci” wiretaps that she stole the 2004 elections—a charge she denies.
A five-year extension of the 1988 agrarian reform law signed last year called for the distribution of the remaining 1.2 million hectares of prime agricultural land, including Hacienda Luisita, that had so far escaped coverage through various corporate schemes.