09/23/2008 [ tribune.net.ph ]
The alleged complicity between Land Bank of the Philippines (LandBank) and the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) in the conversion of so-called haciendas is seen as the reason behind the delay in the distribution of agricultural properties covered by the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP), particularly those owned supposedly by political heavyweights.
Minority Leader Aqui-lino Pimentel Jr. yesterday took the floor to question the move of DAR Secretary Nasser Pangandaman on the virtual suspension of the govern-ment’s Land Acquisition and Distribution program (LAD) to the detriment of intended farmer-beneficiaries.
At least two properties men-tioned by the opposition leader in his privilege speech happen to involve the families of First Gentleman Jose Miguel “Mike” Arroyo in Isabela, Negros Occi-dental and Finance Secretary Margarito Teves in Negros Oriental.
Although the CARP expired last June 10, Republic Act 8532 provides funding for the implementation of the program for the entire year 2008, yet, based on the information gathered by Pimentel, the DAR seems immobilized and also timorous despite the fact that the law is on its side, he noted.
The senator said the processing of landowners’ claim folder for lands that are ready for distribution is at a standstill and field officials of DAR have reportedly stopped processing all LAD cases because landowners have threatened them with lawsuits.
“There is, however, nothing illegal about completing the CARP
process until the end of year. Still local DAR officials who should do their work are immobilized,” Pimentel said in his speech.
With the LAD program at a stand still, he asked Pangandaman how his department is spending around P1.2 billion that is intended for land acquisition and distribution this year.
Apparently, Pangandaman issued a memorandum last June 19 to all DAR officials enjoining them to continue the implementation of Carp.
“The last time I asked Pangandaman how DAR has spent the money for Carp, he came up with unsatisfactory answers. Until now, for example, there is no coherent explanation of how DAR spent the P30-billion fund from the Marcos wealth in just two years or why DAR money was funneled to the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao when Carp does not embrace the ARMM in its provisions,” he said.
The memorandum was issued to correct the misapprehension of DAR officials that the expiration of Carp on June 10 meant that it could no longer continue with the land acquisition and distribution aspect of Carp.
The DAR secretary assured his subordinates that under RA 8532, the funds for said implementation are made available.
“Still no official in DAR, to our knowledge, responded positively to his memorandum. Even more unfortunate is that the secretary left it at that,” Pimentel stressed.
The opposition leader said the state of inertia in which Carp is now in can be partly attributed by the apparent efforts of influential landowners to resist the coverage of their lands under Carp.
“Now, one reason the land acquisition and distribution phase of the Carp is in limbo, I suggest is that political heavyweights are leaning on the DAR to go in the direction they point to,” he added.
Pimentel cited the inordinate delay in the government’s acquisition of Hacienda Bacan in Isabela, Negros Occidental, which is owned by the family of the First Gentleman.
He said the property was voluntarily offered for sale to Carp as early as June 11, 2001.
After seven years, the claim folder of the hacienda was finally prepared. The claim folder is the file of documents that would justify the voluntary sale of the hacienda to the government and for its subsequent distribution to qualified agrarian reform beneficiaries.
“The First Dude (to borrow US Gov. Sarah Palin’s term in reference to her husband), however, had issued a statement saying Rivulet Agro-Industrial Corp., was the owner of the hacienda, not (Mr.) Mike Arroyo or in effect, his family. He, however, clarified that he had agreed to sell the property under the provisions of the Carp,” he said, adding presidential brother-in-law Rep. Ignacio “Iggy” Arroyo, manager of the corporation, issued an authorization to make the voluntary offer.
Pimentel, however, said while Hacienda Bacan was undergoing initial process of valuation, Ruy Alberto Rondain the lawyer of Rivulet Agro-Industrial Corp. which holds title to the property, wrote the Land Bank of the Philippines to stop the valuation.
Rondain cited as reason an alleged pending application for conversion of the hacienda into an agro-industrial use, mainly to produce ethanol.
Pimentel said a check with at least three offices of DAR – the Bureau of Legal Assistance, the Center for Land Use Policy Planning and Implementation and DAR Region 6 – revealed that there was no pending application for conversion of the property.
The minority leader also mentioned the delay in the turnover of the landholding of former Rep. Herminio Reves in Negros Oriental to legitimate agrarian reform beneficiaries despite a Supreme Court ruling affirming coverage of the property under DAR.
Pimentel said while this is not just a case of the DAR people not wanting to do their job, it seems that “the fear of facing reprisals from powerful individuals has entered into their appraisal of what they should do under the circumstances.” Angie M. Rosales