Big landowners on the Bondoc Peninsula in Quezon province are fencing their properties to stop agrarian reform beneficiaries from taking possession of the land that had been awarded to them, a leader of a nongovernment organization in Lucena City said Friday.
Citing reports from field officers, Jansept Geronimo, campaign officer of the Quezon Association for Rural Development and Democratization, said owners of large tracts of land, particularly the Matias estate in San Francisco town, were constructing fences around their properties to keep farmer-beneficiaries who received their Certificate of Land Ownership Award (CLOA) from occupying the land.
“They put up barbed wire, purportedly to protect their cows, but it is actually to prevent the takeover by their tenant-beneficiaries under agrarian reform,” Geronimo said.
This developed after the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) announced that more farming estates in the Bondoc Peninsula would be turned over to their farmer-tenants following a land distribution program held in Mulanay town on Feb. 6.
Agrarian Reform Secretary Virgilio de los Reyes, who distributed CLOAs covering 480 hectares of the estate owned by the heirs of Domingo Reyes in the towns of San Narciso, Buenavista and San Andres, had said there would be more land distributions in the Bondoc Peninsula even after the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program extension with reforms (CARPer) ends next year.
Geronimo appealed to President Aquino, the DAR and the Commission on Human Rights to speed up the agrarian reform program in Quezon and protect the farmer-beneficiaries from harassment by landowners.
Geronimo also called on Rep. Danilo Suarez and Gov. David Suarez to persuade the landowners to surrender their land and stop harassing their tenants.
“Most resisting landowners are Suarez’s political allies and supporters, particularly the Reyes and Matias clans. They have the influence to persuade them to respect the government program which they have evaded for so long,” Geronimo said.
When contacted, Representative Suarez in a text message said he “will check on the situation.”
For his part, Governor Suarez invited Geronimo and farmer leaders to his office, assuring that “we will help them.”
Samuel Solomero, provincial agrarian reform officer of Quezon, said he would dispatch a team to investigate Geronimo’s allegations about the Matias estate.
“We want to determine if the portion of the estate that is being fenced off is the one scheduled for survey next month for eventual distribution,” Solomero said.
Solomero called on all landlords in Quezon whose estates are covered by CARP to respect the legal process and not subvert the authorities.
He said the Matias estate covers an estimated 1,700 hectares but the DAR had yet to determine the total number for distribution because of an exemption case filed by the estate in the Office of the President.
In November 2010, the estate filed for exemption from CARP coverage, declaring the land to be a “cattle ranch.”
De los Reyes in an order on June 14, 2012, denied the application for exemption for “utter lack of merit.” The owners of the estate brought the case before Malacañang.