Coconuts for ‘noche buena’ land farmer in jailBy Tonette Orejas
Inquirer Central Luzon
CITY OF SAN FERNANDO—When Jose Laysa on December 23 picked three coconuts from trees which he planted long before lands in Barangay Sumalo in Hermosa, Bataan, became the subject of a dispute, he looked forward to extracting enough gata (coconut milk).
The coconut milk was intended for ube yam, which his wife was planning to make, the only delicacy his family would share for noche buena (Christmas Eve dinner).
Instead, guards securing the Litton property accused him of stealing crops. The 213-hectare property has been fenced off on the order of a local court.
“Why should I steal when this land is mine?” the 47-year-old farmer argued while his young son stood by his side.
His argument fell on deaf ears. “Three or five guards of AZH Security, accompanied by their officer in charge, dragged [Laysa] to their barricades [where] a police vehicle [was parked to take] Laysa to the Hermosa police station,” said Sumalo village head Ronaldo Martinez, in a telephone interview.
Laysa’s detention was documented in a barangay council report.
Laysa, he said, is listed as a beneficiary when Sumalo was placed under the coverage of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program last year.
Martinez said he visited Laysa on Sunday and pressed for his release.
“The police agreed to release him because the 18-hour detention period was almost over and there was still no complaint made against him for stealing coconuts,” he said.
Laysa was released at 2 a.m. on Monday.
An official of AZH Security could not be reached for comments.
The incident occurred two days after Sumalo farmers met with Manila Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo to discuss how the Catholic Church could help resolve the agrarian row over the Litton property.
Because of what happened to Laysa, Martinez said some 100 farmers in the village feared suffering the same treatment.
He said the farmers had asked him to request Agrarian Reform Secretary Virgilio de los Reyes to intervene by asking the Littons to allow them to gain entry and gather crops for the holidays.
Martinez and the farmers had gone back to the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) to question how the Littons managed to have the properties titled when their grandparents had been tilling the lands for decades.
According to court and agrarian reform documents, the Littons had made a voluntary offer to sell to the DAR covering their Sumalo lands in 1989.
The DAR had offered to buy these lands. But the Littons quickly applied for the conversion of their properties’ land use classification to industrial, commercial and residential after the enactment in 1991 of the bases conversion law (Republic Act No. 7227), which created the Subic Bay Freeport. The free port encompassed lands in Morong and Hermosa towns.
During the same period, the Bataan and Hermosa legislative boards declared the Hermosa Agro-Industrial Estate an industrial area.
In 1996, then Agrarian Reform Secretary Ernesto Garilao denied the Littons’ application for conversion.
In 1997, then Executive Secretary Ruben Torres approved the conversion in a Malacañang resolution only to be overturned by his successor, Executive Secretary Ronaldo Zamora, in 1998, who reinstated Garilao’s order.
But farmers had been stymied by an Aug. 16, 2006 decision issued by the Supreme Court’s first division, which allowed the Littons to convert their Sumalo lands, after stating that Torres’ resolution “had become final and executory hence can no longer be altered or modified.”
Affirming a June 16, 2000 ruling by the Court of Appeals, the Supreme Court also ruled that the Sumalo residents, who contested the conversion of the Litton properties, are seasonal farm tenants and not landless farmers who are protected under the constitutional provision over agrarian reform.
As home lot occupants, therefore, the high court concluded that “they have no personality to assail the Torres resolution.”