BACOLOD City – The Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) in Negros Island Region is seeking a win-win solution between the provincial government and farmers asking to be installed at Sta. Rosa property in Murcia town where the Negros First Ranch is located.This, as DAR Secretary Rafael Mariano again denied the application of the Negros Occidental provincial government for exclusion from land reform of its 147.2865-hectare property where the Negros First Ranch is located.
The lot is in barangays Sta. Rosa and Canlandog, Murcia.
DAR- NIR Regional Director Stephen Leonidas said the provincial government has offered the adjoining 12 hectare land near the river to the farmers claiming to be agrarian reform beneficiaries of the property.
"But, it will still depend if the farmers will accept the offer from the provincial government," Leonidas said.
Leonidas met with Governor Alfredo Marañon Jr. and representatives of the Provincial Legal Office, Aug. 18, 2016.
"We still have to conduct a survey to determine the area of the land being offered," he said.
Leonidas pointed out that even before the order of Mariano came out, he has been conducting dialogues with the farmers who are camped outside the Capitol building.
“I initiated to help the farmers as they cannot just stay there. If they are given land they can peacefully make a living. This is not related to the case as it can be brought up to the Office of the President and up to the Supreme Court," he said.
But he said the farmers cannot be installed immediately because the land they are demanding is not covered by the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP).
"It is a portion of the rejected area that was rejected by the Land Bank of the Philippines. We need to send notices of coverage and go through the process," Leonidas also said.
Even the beneficiaries have yet to be identified, he said.
"The land acquisition process may take more than nine months. But to hasten it the farmers should cooperate in registration."
He said that there will be no immediate installation of farmers "as there is no basis."
The Negros Occidental provincial government had filed a motion for partial reconsideration to the order of Agrarian Reform Secretary Virgilio de los Reyes on May 10 denying its application for exclusion of the Negros First Ranch property where the provincial government raises cattle and sheep.
Mariano, in his resolution released Wednesday denied the governor's motion for reconsideration for lack of merit and affirmed the May 10 ruling.
Mariano directed the DAR regional director issue the corresponding certificate of exemption to the provincial government for the 12-hectare rejected portion of the ranch property identified as Lot No. 2 based on DAR Memorandum Circular No. 34, Series of 1997.
The properties denied exemption were Lot No. 1 with an area of 50 hectares covered by Transfer Certificate of Title No. T-091-2012000118 purchased from George C. Arguelles on March 30 2012; and Lot No. 3 covered by TCT No. T-105292, with an area of 97.2865 hectares purchased from the heirs of Alfonso Arguelles, Rosalina Exaltado, Alicia Arguelles, Lydia Arguelles and Fernando Arguelles on Dec. 29, 2010.
The three properties were purchased by the provincial government for a total of about P41.2 million, figures in their deeds of sale show.
Lot 1 was purchased for P13,900,000, Lot 2 for P3,044,525, and Lot 3 at P24,321,625.
Mariano said the provincial government did not dispute the fact that before June 15, 1988 and until 2010 (when it bought 97.2865 hectares in Lot 3) and in 2012 (when it bought Lot 1), the parcels of land were not used anymore for cattle-raising.
DAR records show that before June 15, 1988 and until 2010 or 2012, the land ceased to be used for cattle-raising. Hence, they can be and were rightfully placed under the coverage of Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP).
Based on the report of Provincial Agrarian Reform Program Officer Teresita Mabunay, George Arguelles voluntarily offered to sell Lot No. 1 before the DAR municipal officer of Murcia, Negros Occidental.
“As a result, the DARMO conducted preliminary activities to cover the lot up to the point where the Claim Folders was forwarded to the DAR provincial office for processing and documentation,” Mariano said.
On the other hand, before the sale, 58.0574-hectare portion of Lot 3 had already been covered and were issued CLOAs.
Mariano said that "these facts merely show that subject lands are proper subject of coverage."
“While it may be true that the provincial government now devotes the parcels of land purchased from Arguelles family for public use and purpose, the implementation of agrarian reform is also for public use and interest,” he pointed out.
Provincial Legal Officer Jose Ma. Valencia said that the Capitol will exert all legal remedies.
The provincial government remains the owner of the Sta. Rosa property, Valencia said.
Leonidas said he asked Marañon for a piece of land that the protesting farmers can till "until there is final decision on the case."
He also said that he cannot tell the farmers camping at the Capitol to leave because "it is their right."
"If they won't accept the offer of the provincial government, we will have to do another round of negotiations," Leonidas.