Palace rulings reverse land reform

Beneficiaries in Quezon lose farms as agriculture areas reclassified

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WORKERS load sugarcane into a truck in Hacienda Luisita, the single biggest symbol of land reform’s failure to break down expansive plantations into productive farms owned by those who till them. E.I. REYMOND T. OREJAS/INQUIRER CENTRAL LUZON

LUCENA CITY—Agrarian reform is suffering setbacks in Quezon with Malacañang siding with landowners in cases involving the reclassification of lands for the purpose of exempting these from the agrarian reform program.

In Sariaya, Quezon, at least 255 beneficiaries with certificates of land ownership awards (Cloa) expressed fear of suffering the same fate as that which befell six farmers who lost a case in Malacañang against a landowner who wanted to reclaim 10 hectares of farms that were covered by agrarian reform.

“We’re still fighting for the return of the coconut levy fund and now they are taking back our land that have already been awarded to us by the government,” said Romeo Clavo, head of Ugnayan ng Magsasaka sa Gitnang Quezon (Ugnayan).

Clavo said he and 254 other beneficiaries of agrarian reform lost a case in Malacañang to keep the lands that were given them through the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program Extension with Reforms (Carper) law because of a previous ruling made by Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr.

The decision by Ochoa, issued on May 28, rejected the appeal of Julianita Austria, Benito Magadia, Andrea Tolentino, Ricardo Macalalad, Josefina Panganiban and Alfredo Magadia for recognition as Cloa holders entitled to a parcel of agricultural land in Barangay Sampaloc II in Sariaya.

One Teresita Imperial, representative of Gem Nova International Corp., sought to exempt the land from agrarian reform coverage, citing the Sariaya local government declaration in 1982 that the area had been classified as an industrial zone.

In 2007, the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) ruled in favor of Imperial. The affected Cloa holders appealed their case to Malacañang.

The Cloa holders argued that the 1982 zoning ordinance had been revoked by the Sariaya local government in Resolution No. 53 in 1997.

The beneficiaries said the whole Barangay Sampaloc was within the “agricultural zone” of Sariaya.

But Ochoa dismissed the appeal and concurred with the DAR ruling.

Clavo expressed fear that 255 beneficiaries who hold Cloas for 512 hectares of farms in the villages of Bignay 1, Manggalang Kiling, Concepcion 1 and Concepcion Pinagbakuran, will also be dispossessed of their land.

Clavo said at least 1,500 families of agrarian reform beneficiaries in the area have similar cases pending in Malacañang.

“The areas are planted with coconuts and assorted vegetables,” Clavo said.

Clavo said should the government pursue its Cloa revocation scheme, “violence might return in central parts of the province.”

The Sariaya mountain villages on the slope of Mt. Banahaw were once the bastion of New People’s Army rebels.

Jansepth Geronimo, coordinator of Quezon Association for Rural Development and Democratization Services (Quardds), said the conversion and reversal of agrarian reform through exemption of reclassified lands has been putting tremendous pressure on agrarian reform beneficiaries.

“The main culprit is the policy issue on reclassification of agricultural lands,” Geronimo said, citing studies conducted by Quardds in late 2000.

He said there is a seeming “lack of coherence of local and national level DAR intervention” on the coverage of agriculturally productive and previously tenanted areas that were reclassified prior to Carp and Carper by the local government.

Geronimo said many landowners in central Quezon have used legal loopholes to recover their property by applying for exemption of their landholdings even after Cloas have been issued.

“Once exemption is clinched, the cancellation of Cloas follows, completing the process of reversal of agrarian reform gains where landowners retake possession and control of the land,” he said.

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