MANILA, Philippines — The Philippine Supreme Court has ordered vast sugarcane plantation lands owned by President Benigno Aquino III's relatives to be distributed to thousands of farmers under a government land reform program.

The high court — which has been at odds with the president — said the 11,115-acre (4,500-hectare) Hacienda Luisita in northern Tarlac province should be turned over to 6,296 farm workers. The ruling that was made public Thursday changes a decision last July that gave the workers a choice of getting shares of stock in a corporation that runs the plantation instead of land.

Left-wing peasant groups have alleged the stock-option scheme was conceived so the sprawling plantation owned by the president's clan could evade the land reform program, which has been hampered for decades by opposition from influential landlords and a lack of government funds to buy the land from owners.

The court also ordered the Hacienda Luisita Inc. — owned mostly by Aquino's uncles, aunts and other relatives __ to pay the farmers up to $30 million (1.3 billion pesos) from past sales of plantation lands, including those that have been turned into a residential enclave and a modern highway.

The decades-old plantation, which features sugar mills and farming communities, has long served as a symbol of the Aquino family's economic might. A decision by his politically-influential clan to give up the bulk of its landholding to poor farmers has been seen as a crucial test of the president's resolve to battle crushing poverty, which has largely been blamed on Filipino farmers' lack of land in the countryside.

Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said Aquino divested his share of the family wealth in the hacienda a month after he won a landslide victory in last year's presidential elections on a promise to battle corruption and appalling poverty, which afflicts a third of the Philippines' 94 million people.

"He has already divested so there is nothing that will put him in a compromising position," Lacierda said in a news conference.

The Supreme Court has been at loggerheads with Aquino. His administration recently defied a court order allowing former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo's request to leave the country for medical treatment as she faced elections fraud charges. Justice and elections officials later charged Arroyo in court, which ordered her placed under arrest in a hospital, where she has sought treatment for a bone disease.

Majority of the Supreme Court's 15 justices were appointed by Arroyo before she ended her stormy nine years in power in June last year. She won a seat in the House of Representatives. Aquino refused to be sworn in as president by the current chief justice, Renato Corona, a former Arroyo chief of staff whom she appointed as head of the high tribunal shortly before she stepped down.

Supreme Court spokesman Midas Marquez and Lacierda separately said the court ruling on the hacienda was not influenced by differences between the high tribunal and the president, son of late pro-democracy icon Corazon Aquino, who had called on Arroyo to resign when she was implicated in corruption and vote-rigging scandals. Arroyo has denied any wrongdoing.