THE Supreme Court (SC) has tentatively scheduled on August 3 the oral arguments on the land dispute case involving Hacienda Luisita, the sugar estate of President Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III's maternal family in Tarlac.

Chief Justice Renato Corona issued the ruling following a regular session, wherein he likewise moved the case to the en banc from the First Division.

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Court spokesman Jose Midas Marquez said it was the Chief Justice who scheduled the oral arguments for August 3 "so that we can hear all the parties and all issues will be threshed out".

He said the transfer to the en banc was due to importance of the case and the parties involved, though he was quick to say that the case will be treated as ordinary.

"The justices thought it best the entire court be involved to thresh out all the issues in that particular case. The case will now be heard by the full court sitting en banc."

According to Marquez, the oral arguments will give the magistrates the chance to ask the parties "clarificatory questions which answers are not found in the pleadings".

He noted that the development was not in response to the request of various groups, urging the Corona to resolve the long-standing dispute between the family of President Aquino and farmer-beneficiaries of the 5,000-hectare sugar land in Tarlac.

Before the transfer, the Hacienda Luisita case was originally assigned to the Third Division and was later on transferred to the First Division, chaired by Corona.

In June 2006, the SC issued a temporary restraining order stopping the Presidential Agrarian Reform Council (PARC) from executing Resolution no. 2005-32-01 dated December 22, 2005, which will subject the Cojuangco family's sugar estate under the coverage of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP).

To date, the SC has yet to revoke the TRO and the case has remained pending before the tribunal.

The SC ruling called for the implementation of the stock distribution option (SDO) plan of the Tarlac Development Corp/Hacienda Luisita Inc. (HLI) in a bid to resolve the land dispute between the Cojuangcos and some 5,000 farm workers.

The assailed PARC resolution affirmed the recommendation of the DAR to recall and revoke the SDO plan of the Luisita management.

The PARC also resolved to place the subject lands forthwith under the compulsory coverage or mandated land acquisition scheme of the CARP.

But the HLI contested PARC's rulings, elevating the case to the SC which issued a TRO on 2006. (JCV/Sunnex)