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CA stops seizure of Aboitiz property

By Edu Punay (The Philippine Star) | Updated November 6, 2014 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - The Court of Appeals (CA) has stopped the government from seizing a 59-hectare land of the Aboitiz family in Davao by placing it under coverage of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP).

In a 14-page decision, the special 11th division of appellate court granted the petition of Jaime Jose Aboitiz, executive vice president and chief operating officer of Aboitiz Power Corp.

 It declared the subject property as not covered by CARP and reversed a 2012 decision of the office of the President.

In a nutshell, the CA held that the land is not being used for agricultural business and therefore could not be covered by CARP.

 “Petitioners have sufficiently shown that the subject lot had been devoted to livestock raising even before the passage of the CARL (Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law), and that one of the main consideration for the lease of Lapanday, way back in 1965, was to gain access to bananas which replaced the cumbersome method of milling rice and corn to produce bran mixed with molasses and pasture grass, and then used as feed for its cattle herd,” read the ruling penned by Associate Justice Victoria Isabel Paredes.

 The CA cited as proof the presence of banana trees in the property.

 “The presence of banana trees on the subject lot at the time it was leased to Lapanday must be placed within the context of how it figured on the totality of the running of the cattle ranching business which, in the case at bar, was an integral and necessary component in the cattle and livestock-raising business of petitioners,” it explained.

“In the instant case, we find that, contrary to the findings of the OP and its subalterns, the subject lot had always been actually devoted exclusively to livestock farming, with an interim agricultural activity for livestock feeds, even before the enactment of the CARP and thus, exempt from its coverage,” the CA said in reversing the OP’s decision.

 The appellate court also gave weight to the claim of petitioner that while the subject lot was leased to Lapanday to address the need of their cattle for bananas, it was abandoned by Lapanday on Oct. 31, 2011 due to fortuitous events.

 “As a necessary consequence of Lapanday’s abandonment of the subject lot, the same reverted back to a grazing land,” it stressed.

 “It could not have been the intention of the framers of the Constitution that lands exclusively devoted to livestock which, in the interim, were planted to bananas, to address a cattle raisers’ need for food for their cattle and which finally became new grazing land for their cattle would be covered by CARP,” the CA added.

 Associate Justices Vicente Veloso and Pedro Corales concurred in this ruling.

 Records showed that the Aboitiz family bought the cattle ranch from Enrique Zobel back in 1970.

 To avoid the trouble of planting, cutting and hauling home-grown supplement or grass for its feedlots, leased a portion of the land to Lapanday Agricultural and Development Corp. (Lapanday), to ensure for its cattle herd a steady and dependable cattle food in the form of non-exportable bananas.

 On April 20, 1998, the Aboitiz family filed an application with the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) for the exclusion of property from CARP on the ground that the land holding is devoted to the raising of livestock.

 On May 2, 2000, the DAR granted in part the application with respect to Lot 467-A-2 but increasing the coverage over the subject lot from 51 hectares to 59.09 hectares.

It denied the motion for reconsideration filed by the Aboitiz family, prompting it to appeal the matter before the OP, but the latter denied the same in a decision on September 7, 2012.

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