Fernando Cojuangco

NY Times stands by accuracy of Luisita story

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.”

Evenhanded

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.

Villar allies slam Aquino over Hacienda Luisita

Villar allies slam Aquino over Hacienda Luisita
By Gil C. Cabacungan Jr.
Philippine Daily Inquirer

MANILA, Philippines—Sen. Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III, the Liberal Party standard-bearer, came under fire Tuesday after his cousin was quoted in The New York Times article published March 14 as saying that the Cojuangco family would not give up Hacienda Luisita.

The distribution of all agricultural lands to farmers—over 1 million hectares in the most productive areas of the country that had not been distributed under the agrarian reform program in the past two decades—is mandated under a new law extending the program for five years and appropriating P150 billion for its implementation.

Hypocrisy, double-speak

Gilbert Remulla, spokesperson of Nacionalista Party presidential candidate Manny Villar, accused Aquino of “political double-speak” over the hacienda issue.

“Senator Aquino says in his latest political ads that he will continue the fight. I think he owes it to the Filipino people to first settle his family’s fight with the farmers and tenants of Hacienda Luisita in Tarlac,” said Remulla, also an NP senatorial candidate.

“It is hypocrisy and double-speak, plain and simple,” Remulla said.

“He can no longer evade the issue as he did all these months. For a presidential candidate who is supposedly running on a platform of change, the appalling conditions that pervade in his family’s hacienda and the continuing plight of the farmers and tenants there should be explained and not swept under the rug,” Remulla said.

Anakpawis party-list Rep. Rafael Mariano accused Aquino of “sheer posturing” when he promised on the first day of the campaign to distribute Hacienda Luisita should he win in May.

Mariano said that the remarks made by Aquino’s cousin, Fernando Cojuangco, in The New York Times article showed that the Cojuangcos would “never let loose their stranglehold of the hacienda.”

Mariano warned that Aquino’s posturing would be “a portent of things to come” such as the revival of Kamag-anak Inc. which flourished during his mother’s term.

He also called Aquino “conceited” for “bragging” in a television interview that the Cojuangcos could have made P3 billion from selling the 4,500-ha Luisita for P4.5 billion if his family did not care about the farmers and was only worried about its interests.

License to massacre

“Noynoy wants to make it appear that if not for the self-proclaimed benevolence of the Cojuangco-Aquinos, Luisita farmers would have nothing. The Cojuangco-Aquinos cannot reverse the truth, that they have used this so-called ‘benevolence’ as a license to massacre farmers, exploit and deny them their right to the land,” Mariano said.

“The truth is Luisita farmers were forced, deceived and coerced into agreeing to the onerous and one-sided stock distribution option scheme. This is the ultimate reason why up to now the Cojuangco-Aquinos still control the hacienda.”

Cavite Rep. Crispin Remulla, a Villar ally, said he was not surprised by the remarks of Aquino’s cousin.

“That has been expected. He cannot control his family and shows the weakness of a person masquerading as a leader. He cannot stand up to the family patriarch and proves he is not his own man,” Remulla said of Aquino in a text message.

Bayan Muna party-list Rep. Satur Ocampo said Fernando Cojuangco’s statement “defines the basic stand of the clan to hold on to Hacienda Luisita.”

Aquino: NY Times unfairly misquoted cousin on Luisita issue

Aquino: NY Times unfairly misquoted cousin on Luisita issue
By Philip Tubeza
Philippine Daily Inquirer

NAGA CITY—Sen. Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III Tuesday accused The New York Times of unfairly misquoting his cousin and said that the Cojuangco family had unanimously decided on drastic changes in the operation of Hacienda Luisita.

“It is clear to me and my clan met—all the six families composed of my mother and her siblings’ families were represented—and there was a unanimous decision that we will be at the very minimum changing what is present there,” Aquino said in a press conference at the airport here.

Part of The New York Times article reads: “But Mr. Aquino’s cousin, Fernando Cojuangco, the chief operating officer of the holding company that owns the plantation, said that the extended Cojuangco family, owners of this plantation since 1958, had no intention of giving up the land or the sugar business.

“‘No, we’re not going to,’ Mr. Cojuangco, 47, said in an interview here. ‘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.’”

“My understanding is—and I cleared this up when I asked—I said ‘We’re all clear that this is really no longer viable for anybody. That running it in the present scheme is not a sound venture. That was clear to everybody,” said the Liberal Party presidential candidate in the May 10 elections.

Aquino said that the family meeting happened after he formally declared last September his intention to seek the highest post in the land following the death of his mother, former President Corazon Cojuangco-Aquino.

To distribute land in 5 years

When the campaign started in February, Aquino said that his family would distribute the land to farmers within five years (the specified period for the distribution of land still not covered by agrarian reform under a new law) but was still deciding how this would be done without putting on the beneficiaries the burden of the hacienda’s huge debts.

“If you look at the entire story of The New York Times, unfortunately they have a colleague here, I think it favored one side of the issue. I don’t think it was a fair treatment,” Aquino said.

“As I told you there are many options that are being explored. There are 10,000 beneficiaries who are members of the corporation who have to be consulted and they will pick among all these schemes which best meets their needs,” he added.

Cousin’s apology

Aquino said his cousin Fernando, a son of his uncle Pedro Cojuangco, had sent him a text message and also apologized to him. Fernando Cojuangco is reportedly checking his own records of the interview with The New York Times.

“He said ‘It looks like negativism really sells.’ He’s wondering if he was quoted accurately. He’s starting to search his records,” Aquino said.

He said that it was unlikely for Fernando, a lawyer, to question the status of agrarian reform as the centerpiece program of the late President Corazon Aquino.

“I cannot imagine him talking that way about my mother. All of us were brought up to respect our elders. He as a lawyer would have studied the matter,” Aquino said.

“I really am not sure if he was taken out of context, if at all,” he said.

On Monday, Aquino said that his family could have earned P3 billion from selling the large sugar plantation. He said the 4,500-hectare plantation could have been sold for P4.5 billion, at a price of P100 per square meter, if his family did not care about the farmers and only worried about its own interests.

Excerpts of Times article

The New York Times article written by its correspondent Norimitsu Onishi and published on March 14 said in part:

“Despite the government’s assertion that a two-decade-old land distribution program has been a success, most farmers in the Philippines have yet to benefit significantly. The uneven ownership of land, this country’s primordial problem, continues to concentrate economic and political power in the hands of large landowning families and to fuel armed insurgencies, including Asia’s longest-running Communist rebellion.

“The land problem has drawn fresh attention since Mrs. Aquino’s son, Benigno Aquino III, declared his candidacy for the May 10 presidential election, running on his mother’s legacy of ‘people power.’ Through Mrs. Aquino made land reform a top priority, she allowed landowning families to eviscerate her distribution program. Critics say there is no greater example of the failure of land reform than her own family’s estate.

“For the past five years, the family has been fighting in the Supreme Court a government directive to distribute the 10,000-acre Hacienda Luisita—the second-biggest family-owned piece of land in the Philippines, about 80 miles north of Manila—to 10,000 farmers.

“In 2004, the military and police killed seven protesters during a strike by farmers fighting for land and higher wages. Since then, the family-controlled Hacienda Luisita Inc. has managed to plant only 40 percent of the estate with sugar cane; the rest has been seized by individual farmers or remains idle.

“Criticized for his family’s position, Mr. Aquino, 50, the front-runner in the presidential election, announced recently that the family would transfer the land to the farmers after ensuring that debts were paid off.

“‘It will be theirs clear and free,” Mr. Aquino said in an interview in Manila.

Is this the centerpiece?

“He (Fernando Cojuangco) dismissed the widely held view that Mrs. Aquino, his aunt, had made land reform a centerpiece of her government.

“‘Is there a document that it was a centerpiece? I always asked that question even to her ex-Cabinet members. Was there a Cabinet meeting where she said this is the centerpiece?’”