The Supreme Court has ordered the distribution of nearly 5,000 hectares of land to more than 6,000 farm workers at the Hacienda Luisita, a sugar plantation owned by President Benigno Aquino’s family. The decision -- 14 of 15 justices voted for the distribution of the land -- ends a long drawn out battle to protect workers’ rights. In its 56-page ruling, the court amended a decision it made in July giving 6,296 farm workers the choice of owning agricultural land or shares amounting to the value of the estate. The decision today follows an appeal by the Presidential Agrarian Reform Council and means 4,916 hectares of land will be divided and given to the workers. “Control over agricultural land must always be in the hands of the farmers,” the court said, adding that shares in the estate would not benefit the farmer-beneficiaries. The court also ordered Hacienda Luisita Inc. to pay the beneficiaries 1.33 billion pesos (US$32 million) for previous sales of estate properties. Father Edu Gariguez, executive secretary of the Catholic bishops’ National Secretariat for Social Action, Justice and Peace, welcomed the ruling, calling it "a long awaited decision and a step forward for the court in its efforts to prove that it can truly stand for truth and justice.” The secretariat has been at the forefront of the Church’s campaign for genuine agrarian reform in the country.
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