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Atienza meets Batangas officials, tillers on land row

[ Manila Bulletin Online ] July 25, 2008

Any decision to resolve the lingering conflict between land tillers and a mining and development company in Calatagan, Batangas, "must be legal, should contribute to economic development and respectful of human rights," Secretary Lito Atienza of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) said at a multi-sectoral meeting held Wednesday in Barangay Baha in Calatagan, Batangas.

The meeting had been called to explore ways in settling the land row involving Asturias Mining Corp. and some 90 Calatagan farmers who want to continue tilling the land awarded to them under land reform program.

Among the government officials who attended the meeting were Batangas Gov. Vilma Santos Recto, Batangas Vice Gov. Mark Leviste, Calatagan Mayor Sophia Palacios, and Agrarian Reform Undersecretary Renato Herrera.

Also in attendance were Lipa Archbishop Ramon Arguelles and farmers opposing the development plans of Asturias in the area.

The multisectoral meeting was convened on orders of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo following a courtesy call made by the Calatagan farmers on the President in Malacanang recently seeking a resolution to the issue.

The land utilization conflict in Barangays. Baha and Talibayog arose from the opposition of some farmers to the decision of the Supreme Court which upheld the validity of the sale of a 807-hectare area in the two barangays to Asturias Chemical Industries (ACI) by heirs of Ceferino Ascue, the original owner of the property.

Prior to the sale, however, in 1989 and 1990, emancipation patents covering the disputed lands had been issued to 323 agrarian reform beneficiaries under the government’s Operation Land Transfer (OLT) program. The coverage of the land under the OLT was later invalidated by the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) on the ground that the "landholding is not primarily devoted to rice/corn production, the existence of tenancy relations has not been clearly established, and the property had long ceased to be agricultural; it has become mineral land."

Majority of the farmer beneficiaries who had already sold the land awarded to them but are still residing in the area favor the entry of investors. They argue that the entry of investors would vastly improve the lives of the people in the community, improve deplorable road conditions, and provide social services.

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