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Give up Hacienda Luisita now, Mr. Aquino!

With so much of our nation’s attention and the regime’s resources focused on the impeachment of Chief Justice Renato Corona, with even the press shamefully yoked to this project, and especially with the damage it has inflicted on the Supreme Court as an institution, President Aquino owes it to the country to make a declaration.

This is necessary to convince everyone that his is really an anti-corruption crusade, and not just a last-ditch effort to prevent the bankruptcy of his Cojuangco clan because of the Supreme Court’s decision on the Hacienda Luisita case.

Mr. Aquino must declare that his clan will immediately give up Hacienda Luisita, along the following lines:

“Whatever the outcome of the impeachment trial against Chief Justice Corona, my Cojuangco clan will not file a case at the Supreme Court asking it to change its Nov. 22 decision on the Hacienda Luisita case. It will immediately withdraw its ‘motion for reconsideration’ filed Dec. 12 on this.

“My clan owning Hacienda Luisita will vacate it in a week’s time, issue the necessary documents to turn over the lands to the agrarian reform department for distribution to farmer-workers, and accept as compensation the P196 million ordered by the Supreme Court. If ever the Court follows the claim of associate justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, my first appointee to the Court, that ‘just compensation’ should be P5 billion, we will not accept a single centavo of this.”

Consider the facts. Mr. Aquino, at the start of his administration, had been incessantly bad-mouthing Corona, and even broke tradition by refusing to have the Chief Justice swear him into office.

But he went ballistic and launched a media and political blitzkrieg to remove him as chief justice only after the Court issued its decision Nov. 22 requiring the Cojuangcos not only to turn over the Hacienda to their farmer-workers, but to give them the P1.3 billion the clan’s companies had pocketed selling tracts of the estate to various entities.

There is a more recent telling sequence of events. Just three weeks after the Court’s decision on Hacienda Luisita, 188 congressmen in a matter of three hours signed the move to impeach Corona, on Dec. 12.  The calculation that Corona will resign because of the media blitz—as Aquino was successful in pressuring Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez into resigning—cleared the way for the clan’s move a few days later, on Dec. 15.

On that day, while the nation’s attention was riveted to front-paged allegations against Corona, the Cojuangcos—not a single newspaper reported this—filed a “motion for clarification and reconsideration” with the Supreme Court.

Its petition to the Court: Instead of paying the Cojuangcos for the Hacienda based on the land’s 1989 valuation, as the Supreme Court decision ordered, the clan should be paid based on the lands’ 2006 market price. That’s 17 years later, after President Arroyo’s Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway connected the hacienda to the main highway, and after the economic growth under her regime made it profitable for the Cojuangcos to build an industrial park, posh residential subdivisions, and malls in the hacienda. Land prices in the hacienda therefore rocketed by 2006.

Under the 1989 valuation, which the Cojuangcos used for their sham land reform, the hacienda’s lands were valued at P40,000 per hectare. The Supreme Court simply adopted this valuation, and the “just compensation” for the Cojuangcos would therefore be  P196 million.

But if the Supreme Court amends its decision and order that the 2006 market value be adopted, the lands would be valued at P1 million per hectare. This would mean that the clan would be paid P5 billion—quite enough for the clan to walk away from the hacienda with its bloody, killing sugar-cane fields.

The Cojuangcos planned for this eventuality many months ago. Barely two months in office, in August 2010, Mr. Aquino appointed to the Court a relatively obscure legal academic, Ma. Lourdes Sereno. It shocked the legal community since she was just 50 years old, making her the youngest Supreme Court justice ever—an adolescent for that kind of job. After all, the country had a galaxy of legal supernovae, who had spent decades practicing and studying law, much more qualified to be in the Court than Sereno. But other than being Mr. Aquino’s Ateneo college buddy, Sereno’s specialization was crucial for the Cojuangcos’ requirements: commercial law and arbitration.

Read justice Sereno’s “concurring and dissenting opinion” on the Hacienda Luisita decision—and you’ll immediately understand why Mr. Aquino appointed her to the Supreme Court.

Sereno’s “opinion” is practically the Cojuangcos’ legal brief.  At 19,000 words nearly as long as the Supreme Court judgment itself, it belabored one major point: That government must pay the Cojuangcos using its 2006 market price: P5 billion.

No wonder Presidential Spokesperson Edwin Lacierda gushed over her, saying that “the chief justice (to replace Corona) that Aquino is looking for is someone of (sic) the likes of Maylou Sereno.”

The plan is out of the bag. When Corona is kicked out, and with Aquino’s power over Congress and the press quite amply demonstrated, a submissive Court would adopt Sereno’s “dissenting opinion”—for a P5-billion windfall for the Cojuangco clan. This “historic” impeachment trial is really all about money, for Mr. Aquino’s kinsmen.

Aquino of course could easily prove this thesis ridiculous by categorically declaring now that his clan will follow to the letter the Nov. 22 Supreme Court decision, and withdraw its motion asking for an atrociously high payment for the Hacienda.