Top officials of the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) today vowed to extend “all legal assistance necessary” to its provincial officers and employees in Negros Occidental who had been threatened with court cases for successfully installing 79 agrarian reform beneficiaries in Hacienda Victoria in Barangay Camangcamang, Isabela town last June 7.
The DAR Central Office, at the same time, expressed its approval on the plan of its provincial officers in Negros Occidental to file charges of obstruction against the lawyer of Hacienda Victoria’s landowner who tried to stop the installation of the farmer-beneficiaries.
“We fully support the efforts of the DAR-Provincial Office in Negros Occidental to install the rightful beneficiaries of Hacienda Victoria in Barangay Camangcamang,” said DAR Undersecretary for Legal Affairs Anthony Parungao.
“We will provide our provincial officers with lawyers from the Central Office and all legal assistance necessary if the legal counsel of the former landowner makes good his threat to hale our officials to court,” Parungao added.
Reports reaching the DAR Central Office showed that Atty. Leon Moya, the landowner’s lawyer, had threatened to file a case in court against DAR officials in Negros Occidental for the successful installation of the 79 farmer-beneficiaries in the 74-hectare Hacienda Victoria last week.
Provincial Agrarian Reform Officer (PARO) Lucresia Taberna said Atty. Moya issued the threat after he failed to block DAR officials and the farmer-beneficiaries from entering the hacienda.
The DAR, backed up by the police and military, successfully installed the 79 farmer-beneficiaries after a tense negotiation with representatives of hacienda owner AVINA Agricultural Development Corp. and their security personnel.
Taberna explained that the DAR personnel proceeded with the installation after the Regional Trial Court in La Carlota City finally lifted its Writ of Preliminary Injunction, which had prevented the DAR from covering Hacienda Victoria under the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP).
The DAR-Provincial Office in Negros Occidental first installed the 79 farmers affiliated with Task Force Mapalad on January 17, 2008, after Hacienda Victoria was subjected to Compulsory Acquisition due to the resistance of its owner, AVINA Agricultural Development Corp.
The agrarian reform beneficiaries, however, were ejected after the Regional Trial Court in La Carlota City issued a Writ of Preliminary Injunction on July 21, 2009, based on a Petition for Injunction filed by RISHI Developers Inc.
The firm argued that Hacienda Victoria should not be covered under CARP since Rishi Developers, Inc. has a valid Lease Contract with AVINA Agricultural Development Corp. for a period of 25 years, covering the crop years 1987-2012.
The DAR had tried to contest the court decision in various pleadings, arguing that the local courts have no authority to stop the department from implementing the agrarian reform program. Under the law, only the Supreme Court, and no other court, can issue an injunction or restraining order against the DAR in its implementation of CARP.
But the court had refused to yield, prompting the DAR to request police assistance to install the farmers anew. The police, however, explained that that they could not assist the DAR with the installation pending resolution of the case.
When the Lease Contract expired on June 29, 2012, then DAR Undersecretary for Operations Narciso B. Nieto, issued a Memorandum to OIC- PARO Florentino Siladan with the instruction: “Considering that the lease contract already expired and subject to existing laws on the matter, you are hereby directed to cause the immediate installation of the farmers without delay.”
On September 12, 2012, however, the Regional Trial Court (Branch 63) in La Carlota City charged Nieto, PARO Siladan and MARO Elsa Zamora with Indirect Contempt.
Despite the Indirect Contempt charge, the Legal Affairs Office of DAR Central Office issued a Memorandum on September 20, 2012, with the opinion that subject Writ is no longer a bar to the undertaking of CARP-related activities in Hacienda Victoria.
On January 23, 2013, Taberna sent letters via mail to the President of AVINA Corp. and Rishi Developers, Inc. to Cease and Desist from further cultivating the landholding covered by CLOA No. 12989.
On February, 2013, OIC-PARO Taberna formally requested the PNP Regional Director, Negros Occ. PNP Provincial Director and the 303rd Brigade Commander of the Phil. Army for the police/military assistance.
Police and military authorities only agreed to escort the DAR personnel during the installation after the Regional Trial Court lifted its Writ of Preliminary Injunction.
The successful installation in Hacienda Victoria was part of the DAR’s ongoing efforts to distribute all CARP-covered lands before President Aquino’s term ends in 2016.
At the beginning of January 2013, there are still 93,000 landholdings covering 870,000 hectares that remain undistributed under the agrarian reform program. Of this total, more than 15,558 landholdings covering a gross area of more than 162,000 hectares of Phase 1-3A lands have been tagged as problematic due to pending cases or technical problems.
The technical problems in the land registration and titling system include missing titles, destroyed titles, and erroneous technical descriptions (open parcels, overlapping boundaries, timberlands that have private titles, etc.).
In Negros Occidental, for example, around 50,000 hectares of covered landholdings (as of the end of December 2012) have problems with technical descriptions that, when plotted, do not close (open parcels). DAR Central Office personnel, in cooperation with LMS and LRA, managed to resolve these errors for 8,900 hectares during the first quarter of 2013.
Of the remaining 870,000 hectares, an estimated 175,000 hectares will be retention areas of landowners. Under the law, a landowner may retain a maximum five hectares of land.
According to DAR officials, the remaining 695,000 hectares would be distributed to agrarian reform beneficiaries as follows: 160,000 hectares (2013); 240,707 hectares (2014); 180,707 hectares (2015); and 112,767 (January to June 2016).
DAR Undersecretary for Operations Jose Z. Grageda expressed optimism that the department has undertaken enough measures and reforms necessary, including closer coordination with other CARP-implementing agencies, to complete the land distribution in 2016.