DAR issues cease and desist order vs ALI, private landowner

Agrarian Reform Secretary John R. Castriciones (center) with DAR lawyers inspects the vicinity map of Sicogon Island before conducting a dialogue.

Agrarian Reform Secretary John R. Castriciones has issued a cease-and-desist order (CDO) against a tourist resort in the island of Sicogon. The order, dated March 6, 2019, was directed against the landowner, Sicogon Development Corporation (SIDECO) and property developer Ayala Land Inc. (ALI).

Sicogon Island is part of the Iloilo province, where SIDECO-ALI is constructing a 334-hectare tourist destination.

“The priority at this juncture is to ensure that the last, actual, peaceable, and uncontested state of affairs is being preserved. This is not a matter of law but a matter of equity,” the order read.

“There is an urgent need to ensure that the scenario of an automatic coverage of the landholding under the (Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program) in the event of a revocation of the Conversion Order may still be implemented,” it continued.

The need to preserve the status quo ante is due to a petition for revocation of land conversion filed by agrarian reform beneficiaries (ARB) against SIDECO-ALI for failure to deliver what the developer has promised under the compromise framework agreement.

The agreement was signed by farmer-residents represented by the Federation of Sicogon Island Farmers and Fisherfolk Association (FESIFFA), SIDECO and ALI with the participation of the National Anti-Poverty Commission.

The ARBs entered into a compromise deal with SIDECO-ALI on November of 2014 whereby the former will renounce their claim over the subject property.

Under the agreement, the two companies agreed to allocate 30 hectares for resettlement housing, P76 million for the construction of amenities and land preparations for the residential site, P38 million for livelihood and training projects of FESIFFA and its members, and a donation of a 40 has. of land for conventional farming.

For allegedly failing to abide by the abovementioned provisions, SIDECO-ALI has been the subject of several dialogues conducted by the DAR to resolve the issue raised by FESIFFA and its request to revoke the land conversion order.

“The merits of the Petition for Revocation is not the concern of this Office at this juncture. The Show Cause Order was issued to ascertain if the current activities in the area being undertaken by ALI or SIDECO will render the resolution on the Petition for Revocation moot and academic,” the decision read.

Under Section 18 of DAR Administrative Order No. 3, Series of 2017 or the 2017 Rules of Agrarian Law Implementation Cases, in cases “where the doing or continuance of certain acts will render the case moot and academic... the Secretary... may... issue a CDO to prevent grave and irreparable damage while awaiting resolution of the case.”

Under the CDO, all parties are enjoined to refrain from continuing any kind of development activities within the area of Sicogon until the petition for revocation has been resolved or acted upon.

This prohibits activities involving ground preparation, construction of structures, earth-moving activities, and even measuring, testing and surveying activities.

It is directed against owners, officers, employees and agents of SIDECO-ALI and persons directly or indirectly acting on behalf of SIDECO-ALI.

Regional and Provincial officers of the DAR covering Sicogon and the Philippine National Police, among various administrative agencies, have been instructed to ensure the implementation of the Order which takes effect immediately.

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