In what a farmer leader described as “surprisingly welcome,” Malacañang finally sided with 255 agrarian reform beneficiaries struggling to keep 461 hectares of land already awarded to them by the government in Sariaya town, Quezon province.
Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr. dismissed “for lack of merit” an appeal by a clan of rich landowners represented by Emiliano Gala to reclaim their vast estate in the villages of Concepcion I, Pinagbakuran and Manggalang Kiling. A copy of his decision dated Dec. 16, 2013, was received by the farmers.
Ochoa’s ruling favored 255 holders of certificate of land ownership awards (Cloas), who belong to Bukluran ng Mamamayan ng Concepcion-Sariaya, Quezon and Kalipunan ng Manggagawa at Magniniyog. The groups are under the umbrella of Ugnayan ng Magsasaka sa Gitnang Quezon (Ugnayan).
Romeo Clavo, Ugnayan president, said in an interview on Tuesday that “after several rejection of our appeals based on the same points of arguments, here comes Mr. Ochoa finally siding with us and reversing his earlier prolandlord decision.”
On May 28, 2013, President Aquino’s top lieutenant turned down the appeal of six Sariaya farmers for recognition of their Cloas and allowed the return of the parcels of land to the former landowner. One of them had died from depression.
Jansept Geronimo, coordinator of Quezon Association for Rural Development and Democratization Services, had earlier urged the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) to provide the farmers with lawyers to pursue their quest for justice.
“The losing landowners will surely resort to using all powers and influence to reverse the decision. The Cloa holders should brace themselves for more challenges,” Geronimo had said.
In April 2008, then Agrarian Reform Secretary Nasser Pangandaman rejected the Gala family’s appeal for exemption. He said the municipal zoning plan “does not show any clear delineation or classification of the applied landholdings.”
Pangandaman also argued that the ownership of the lands had already been transferred to the agrarian reform beneficiaries and thus the former landowners had no more legal personality to apply for exemption.
The Gala family subsequently appealed the DAR’s decision to Malacañang. Ochoa upheld the decision of Pangandaman and cited that he “has exclusive jurisdiction to classify and identify landholdings for coverage under the CARP.”
Clavo said Ochoa’s decision brought joy to the families of the 255 Cloa holders and gave them special reasons to celebrate Valentine’s Day on Feb. 14. “They even wanted to send Valentine cards to Mr. Ochoa,” he said.
The farmers, along with other agrarian reform beneficiaries who have similar agrarian cases pending in Malacañang, would hold novena prayers to ask Ochoa to also rule in their favor and that the Palace and the DAR would not reverse the latest ruling.
“The issues and arguments raised and the pertinent laws and rulings that Mr. Ochoa cited in his latest decision that favors the Cloa holders are all carbon copies of all pending and past cases,” Clavo said.
On Jan. 15, a DAR sheriff ordered seven Cloa holders in the villages of Sampaloc II and Tumbaga to leave and surrender their lands to the original owners. Delfin T. Mallari Jr.