We were forced to cancel land titles, says DAR
MANILA, Philippines–Under fire from lawmakers for failing to protect the farmers’ interests, the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) has passed the buck to the Office of the President (OP) for its decision to cancel the titles awarded to a group of farmer tenants in San Fernando, Pampanga.
Agrarian Undersecretary for Legal Affairs Luis Pagulayan said the DAR canceled 97 certificates of land ownership award (CLOAs) given in 2005 to farmers for a 130.7-hectare landholding in Barangay (village) Maimpis, San Fernando, based on a 2008 decision of the OP to exclude the landholding from agrarian reform.
This was during President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s term.
Pagulayan said the DAR had no other option when it canceled the CLOAs in 2011 because Malacañang’s decision was final.
He said the farmers’ lawyer appealed the DAR’s decision before the OP, which he said upheld the CLOAs cancellation order in December 2011.
“The department is bound by the order of finality made by the OP… DAR had no choice but to follow the 2008 decision of the Office of the President, thus DAR canceled the CLOAs,” Pagulayan said.
He also blamed the farmers’ lawyer for failing to seek reconsideration from Malacañang, and for failing to file a case in an appellate court.
“Had the counsel of the farmers in this case felt that there were errors in the decision ordering the cancellation of the CLOAs, he should have appealed the 2011 decision of the Office of the President,” Pagulayan said.
Two congressional committees recently recommended to the Office of the Ombudsman the investigation and prosecution of the officials responsible for the cancellation of the CLOAs.
The House committees on agrarian reform and on good government and public accountability conducted an inquiry after violence broke out during a court-approved demolition on the property last July.
Based on the congressional inquiry, the DAR placed the landholding under the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) on Feb. 19, 2005.
On Dec. 14, 2005, then Agrarian Reform Secretary Nasser Pangandaman exempted 96 hectares of the covered lands. On Oct. 28, 2008, then Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita upheld the order and even exempted the entire 130.7 hectares.
Former Human Rights Commissioner Eligio Mallari, who claimed ownership of the land, filed for CARP exemption due to supposed land use reclassification.
On Mallari’s petition, incumbent Agrarian Secretary Virgilio de los Reyes canceled the 97 CLOAs on March 10, 2011.
But the Philippine National Bank said it was the rightful owner on the grounds that Mallari had defaulted on payments.
During the congressional hearing, the Land Bank of the Philippines said the farmers had already paid the bank P9.2 million of the P10.69 million total land amortization.
“The DAR failed to safeguard the rights of the farmer-beneficiaries and did not accord the indefeasibility of the CLOA due respect. The DAR gave due course and consideration to actions, petitions or cases where substantial interest over… the land in question is not sufficiently established,” the committees said.
They said Mallari and his wife were “not the lawful owners of the property and therefore had no legal personality when they sought the cancellation of the CLOA.”
Both the Mallaris and the representatives of Zam-Bat Mining, the company that bought the property from the couple, reportedly failed to attend the congressional hearings.
Pagulayan said that only the OP or the appellate courts could revoke the cancellation of the CLOAs.
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