SAN FRANCISCO—The Supreme Court ruling on Hacienda Luisita was such an important event it merited a major speech by President Aquino.
In fact, it was a golden opportunity for P-Noy – a chance for him to take charge of such a historically important issue and tell a compelling story.
The decision was widely portrayed as a blow to P-Noy’s family – and to him. But Aquino could have turned it around.
Unfortunately, his first reactions to the decision fell flat, his message muddled, even defensive.
As reported by the Philippine Daily Inquirer, P-Noy finally discussed the decision with reporters at the birthday celebration of his ally Mindoro Oriental Governor Alfonso Umali.
“The executive is prepared to enforce the law and to carry out the instructions of this decision,” he said. “But before we say that we will implement such-and-such by such-and-such date, we have to know what we are being tasked to do and that is not yet clear. The last time I asked, we don’t have hard copies of the decision.”
On TV newscasts, farmers and their supporters were shown dancing and cheering, and some were even in tears, after the ruling was announced. And here’s the president offering a drab statement and giving the impression that the issue is so unimportant his staff hasn’t even bothered to secure a copy of the ruling.
Does he consider the decision a victory for the farmers? This is where he tips his hand. As ABS-CBN reports, for Aquino, portraying the ruling a victory implies there was a “conflict.”
By that, he was referring to his family’s proposal, which they argued had the support of some of the farmers, for a stock distribution plan. That plan, which was heavily criticized, was eventually struck down by the court.
But then, P-Noy also adds, “But that’s water under the bridge.”
So why bring it up?
“As far as my family is concerned, remember, the agrarian reform law was passed under my mom’s term. That was her flagship project. So as her son and someone who believes in her ideology, who would not want to empower farmers?”
“Gusto ng family namin siguraduhin na nasa maayos sila, hindi ‘yung sumama ang sitwasyon nila,” the president was quoted as saying. “’Yun lang naman ang desire from the start e.”
Given the long history of bitter conflict and even bloodshed at Hacienda Luisita, it was an unfortunately weak, even incoherent, reaction.
But Aquino can still formulate a stronger one. He can still embrace what many see as a unique chapter in our history when ordinary Filipinos scored a victory over the rich and powerful – and use it to strengthen his own political position.
Many Filipinos believe his reform agenda. By showing that he is willing to take on even his family’s interests, even more Filipinos would be more inclined to support his efforts to clean up government and build a more equitable society.
The gloating responses of his critics, including Chief Justice Renato Corona, were predictable. And P-Noy’s own tepid reaction didn’t help.
But there’s still time to take charge of this issue. As many have noted, the bigger problem will be how to effectively hand over the estate to the farmers. P-Noy can still lead in that effort.
Land reform has long been a life and death matter in our country.
Many people have died in the fight over Hacienda Luisita and many other haciendas in the country. They’ve starved and struggled with repression. They’ve protested and cried for justice. They’ve taken up arms and joined guerrilla movements.
Noynoy Aquino is now in a unique, if difficult, position.
He is now poised to become the first Philippine president whose family ended up losing economic power – instead of gaining more – during his term.
Many see that as a stunning defeat for Aquino. But handled properly, Luisita could actually pave the way for one of his greatest victories.
For Noynoy Aquino’s presidency could still turn out to be one compelling story… about how the scion of a hacendero class actually helped dismantle an oppressive system.
On Twitter @KuwentoPimentel. On Facebook at www.facebook.com/benjamin.pimentel