Monday, June 28, 2010

Negros farmers hold protest outside Agri office

Photos released by the Task Force Mapalad to the Mindanao Examiner show poor Filipino farmers from the Arroyo-owned Hacienda Bacan in Negros Occidental province gather in front of the Department of Agrarian Reform central office in Quezon City on Monday, June 28, 2010 and urge on the agency to dismiss the application for the conversion of the hacienda from agricultural to industrial use. The farmers say the move is aimed at preventing the distribution to peasants through the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program the 157-hectare hacienda.

MANILA, Philippines – Farmers from Hacienda Bacan in Negros Occidental’s Isabela town and their supporters gathered in front of the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) central office in Quezon City to ask for the dismissal of the application for conversion of the hacienda from agricultural to industrial use.

Jose Rodito Angeles, president of the peasant federation Task Force Mapalad (TFM), said the application for conversion, filed two weeks ago at DAR by the family of First Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo, is an 11th-hour attempt to evade the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) and prevent the distribution of the 157-hectare hacienda to 67 farmer-beneficiaries.

“We want DAR Secretary Nasser Pangandaman to immediately dismiss the petition because there is no legal basis for conversion of Hacienda Bacan. It is already a government property, having been acquired under CARP through compulsory acquisition and already paid for by the government in the amount of P42.3 million,” Angeles said in a statement sent to the Mindanao Examiner.

Angeles said the farmers will hold camp outside DAR until after the application for conversion is dismissed and the property is formally awarded to the farmer-beneficiaries.

“Secretary Pangandaman has until tomorrow - June 30 - to decide on the petition, but if he defers any decision, we will bring our case to the next administration,” he said.

The farmers said the application for conversion was filed by Ruy Rondain, lawyer of Mr. Arroyo, on behalf of Rivulet Agro-Industrial Corporation, the registered corporate owner of Hacienda Bacan.

“We decided to stakeout at DAR because anything can happen between now and until President Arroyo steps down at noon of June 30. We have information that DAR is under pressure from the family of Mr. Arroyo to approve the application,” said Angeles.

He said the farmer-beneficiaries, led by Rogelio Salva, have filed before DAR a motion opposing the application for conversion.

In the opposition motion, Salva said that Rivulet Corporation had no more juridical personality to apply for conversion since Bacan had been acquired and paid for by the government, that the application for conversion was meant to evade CARP, and that it violated DAR rules on conversion under Administrative Order No. 1, Series of 2002.

Under AO No. 1 Series of 2002, irrigated agricultural lands such as Hacienda Bacan is non-negotiable for conversion (Section 4), and lands already under land valuation and acquisition are highly restricted from conversion (Section 5).

Angeles said Hacienda Bacan was placed under CARP coverage in 2001 through voluntary offer to sell, but was later acquired through compulsory acquisition after the Arroyos sought to convert the property for ethanol production following the passage of the Biofuels Act in 2006.

He said that in July 2008, the property was valued for P42.3 million and the Land Bank had issued the corresponding payment to Rivulet.

The payment covered 148 hectares of the hacienda’s total area of 157 hectares.

Consequently, DAR twice ordered the Register of Deeds of Negros Occidental to issue a new title for the hacienda in the name of the Republic of the Philippines, but so far nothing has been done.

Angeles said President Arroyo had promised to distribute the hacienda to the 67 farmer-beneficiaries, but she had not kept the promise.

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