By Aurea Calica Updated December 14, 2008 12:00 AM
[ philstar.com ]
Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel Jr. castigated yesterday a field official of the Land Registration Authority (LRA) for blocking the transfer to the legitimate agrarian reform beneficiaries of the 98-hectare sugarcane plantation owned by the family of First Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo.
In a statement, Pimentel said the LRA was defying the final order of the Department of Agrarian Reform and the approval of cash payment by the Land Bank of the Philippines.
Pimentel accused Negros Occidental Register of Deeds Rodolfo Gonzaga of reneging on his duties by refusing to sign the transfer of Hacienda Bacan in Isabela, Negros Occidental from the Rivulet Agro-Industrial Corp., which is owned by the Arroyos, to the government under the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) to pave the way for distribution of the disputed land to 68 qualified farmer-beneficiaries.
The First Gentleman agreed to have the property covered by CARP through a voluntary offer to sell (VOS) in 2001.
But it was only this year that all requirements were completed, after Land Bank deposited the P42.3-million payment for the land and Agrarian Reform Secretary Nasser Pangandaman approved the parceling of the property among the beneficiaries.
“Mr. Gonzaga has put up a legal stumbling block to the full implementation of the agrarian reform program. The Department of Agrarian Reform had endorsed the transfer of Hacienda Bacan to the farmers and the just compensation for the landowner is now ready for release by Land Bank. But here is a lawyer-bureaucrat who does not believe it,” Pimentel said.
At a hearing of the Senate committee on agrarian reform, Jose Rodito Angeles, one of the farmer-beneficiaries, lamented that the government and the Arroyos had not fulfilled their repeated promises to allow the awarding of Hacienda Bacan to them seven years after the owners agreed to put the property under CARP coverage.
Gonzaga refused to cancel Rivulet’s title to the hacienda and to transfer it to the government on the ground that the Land Bank should pay the First Gentleman supposedly because of a notation at the back the land title that Mr. Arroyo had a lien on the property.
Pimentel said Gonzaga disregarded the declaration of trust executed by Mr. Arroyo that he had no more interest in the hacienda and leaving it up to Rivulet to decide on the disposition of the property.
Gonzaga’s intransigence compelled the distraught farmers to come to Metro Manila and to stage a hunger strike in front of the LRA building in Quezon City.
Saying that the farmers “are actually involved in a life and death struggle” over the disputed property, Pimentel stressed the state has the obligation to uphold and protect the rights of legitimate agrarian reform beneficiaries.
Pimentel warned Gonzaga that he could be held liable for sanctions under the law for refusing to discharge his ministerial duty despite a lawful order from the DAR.
He noted the Arroyos were not being shortchanged in the land deal because they were being compensated to the tune of P42.3 million or P267,500 per hectare.
He said similar properties in Negros were given much lower compensation on a per hectare basis.