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A final push for land reform in hacienda

Government agencies are gearing up for a final thrust to install some 300 farmer-beneficiaries of the Comprehensive Land Reform Program (CARP) in Hacienda Matias in San Francisco town, Quezon province, even as owners of the estate still insist that the documents given to the farmers are dubious and lack legal basis.

Representatives of the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR), Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG), Department of Justice (DOJ), Commission on Human Rights (CHR), military and police were scheduled to meet on Wednesday to set the date for installation, said Cornelio Villapando, head of the DAR-Quezon II.

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The meeting was postponed pending review of the specific tasks of the agencies and other process details, but the representatives earlier agreed to accompany the land reform beneficiaries to the 1,715-hectare coconut plantation in the Bondoc Peninsula on April 22.

Lawyer Victor Gimenez, counsel of the Matias clan, maintained that the decision of the DAR to distribute the land is not final since his client still has the right to appeal the case before the Court of Appeals.

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The farmers received their certificates of land ownership award (Cloas) for about half of the estate but were unable to occupy the land. They have claimed they were harassed by armed men working for the hacienda owners and that their coconut produce were forcibly taken from them.

Camp-out

On April 13, over 100 beneficiaries camped out at the gate of the DAR central office in Quezon City to demand their full installation in Hacienda Matias. The number went down to 12 after three days.

They vowed to continue protesting “until the government heed our demand that they accompany us back home and truly implement the land reform program,” said Maribel Luzara, president of Kilusang Magbubukid ng Bondoc Peninsula and a Cloa holder.

Villapando gave assurance that “the whole government forces will be with the returning land reform beneficiaries.” He added: “It is our commitment to the farmers.”

DAR records showed that Hacienda Matias, covered by seven land titles, had already been placed under the CARP. The land given out last year involved three titles, while that covered by the other titles are now in the name of the government and waiting to be distributed to qualified beneficiaries.

But conditions inside the Matias estate have remained volatile.

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On April 14, representatives from the San Francisco municipal agrarian reform office and Land Bank of the Philippines who went to Matias for an inspection and land valuation were prevented from entering by some 200 hacienda workers.

Guillermo Catandihan, hacienda overseer and leader of barricading workers, vowed that they were “ready to die” and protect the estate from “intruders.”

Gimenez accused the DAR of breaking the law for insisting that the Matias family no longer has rights to the vast estate even when the legal processes are not yet completed.

“The resolution of the case is not yet final. That’s why any Cloa or papers being distributed by DAR is dubious and bereft of legal basis,” he said in reply to a text interview on April 16.

‘Cattle ranch’

The lawyer stressed that Hacienda Matias should be exempted from land reform coverage, describing it as a “cattle ranch.”

Gimenez claimed that it was only on April 10 when the Matias family received the Malacañang decision dated June 9, 2014, which turned down “for lack of merit” the appeal of the landowners to exempt the hacienda from land reform for being a cattle ranch.

The decision, signed by Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr., said Malacañang found no reason to “modify or reverse” the earlier decision of the DAR.

Villapando said the Matias family had the right to contest the decision in court. “But since the Palace decision demands immediate execution, we are duty bound to implement the order,” he said.

Gimenez said the beneficiaries were strangers to the place and not legitimate tenants. “This is an anomaly. Isn’t it only right that only those who have long been working (for Hacienda Matias) be made beneficiaries in the event the estate will be distributed?” he asked.

But Villapando said all farmers inside the estate, including hacienda workers, would benefit from the CARP once they qualify as legitimate beneficiaries.

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