Wednesday, 07 June 2000

'Divide and rule' strategy
splits Sapang Palay farmers

By Gina Mission
(First of two parts)


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Bulletin Board
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Division in Sapang Palay: A hired laborer
(trabahante) stands by his handiwork-barbed wire
strung on posts of bamboo and twigs.

SAN JOSE DEL MONTE, BULACAN-A divide-and rule strategy, allegedly by a real estate developer, has split farmer-tenants in Hacienda Sapang Palay here into two opposing groups.

.....On May 20, 2000, Quirino Herrera woke up to learn that four other farmers were starting to build a fence around his two-hectare farmland. Later, he learned that Moldex Realty, Inc. had obtained titles to his land in September 1998 and given them to the four farmers, three of them his relatives.

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Fenced out: A farmer woke up one morning to find
himself separated by barbed wire from the land his
family had been tilling for generations.

.....Herrera tried to stop the four, saying the court had granted him the right to redeem the land from Moldex, but they told him they were just following orders from the firm's representatives to build the fence. They asserted that they now own the land, and they had the titles to prove it.

.....Herrera couldn't understand, and was, in fact, dismayed by all this. He believed he had won the right to redeem the land after filing a court case against Moldex, to whom the hacienda was sold by its owners. Moldex, however, appealed the court decision, and the appeal is now pending with the Bulacan Regional Trial Court. How could Moldex have acquired titles to his farm while the case was pending?

Security of tenure

.....And even if his relatives now have the titles, courtesy of Moldex, Herrera believes the agrarian reform law protects his security of tenure as a tenant. How could they possibly fence it? His house stands outside the farm, and the fence his relatives built, reinforced by Moldex guards, prevents him from entering the land that he, and his ancestors before him, had been tilling for almost a century. How could his own relatives do this to him?

.....As of May 30, by Herrera's reckoning, some four hectares of the 108-hectare Hacienda Sapang Palay had been fenced by nine farmer-residents claiming to have the titles, all coming from Moldex. The fenced area includes the farm of Herrera. Moldex reportedly tried to distribute 15 titles to as many farmers, but Herrera said six of the intended recipients refused to accept them. They reportedly told Moldex it wasn't "right" for them to receive titles to lands being farmed by other people. The fence consists mostly of bamboo and small tree trunks or twigs connected by barbed wire. There's talk that it will later be made of a more sturdy material like concrete.

.....Members of the Samahang Magbubukid ng Sapang Palay (Samasa), the organization of farmers in the hacienda who opposed its conversion into a commercial and residential area, charge that fencing the four-hectare portion of the hacienda is part of Moldex's divide-and-rule strategy to get the farmers fighting each other.

....."If we are divided, we won't be very strong anymore," said Ruben Cruz, Samasa president. And, he added, if the farmers are divided, it won't be difficult for the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) to rule against them. After all, their numbers are dwindling. From 43 families, Samasa's membership has gone down to 33.

Land reform

.....On July 12, 1990, the Department of Agrarian Reform under then-Secretary Florencio "Butch" Abad placed Hacienda Sapang Palay under land reform through Operation Land Transfer. The hacienda owners opposed the order, but the DAR overruled them and proceeded to issue certificates of leasehold to the tenants, the first step toward the transfer of ownership.

.....Perhaps to get around the law, the owners sold the land to Moldex for P25 per square meter on Jan. 20, 1995. It would be discovered later that four days before the sale, Moldex had already applied for its conversion from agricultural to commercial and residential land.

.....Both the sale and the application for conversion were illegal on at least two counts, Cruz said. First, the farmer-tenants, who had the first option to buy, were not informed that the hacienda was going to be sold. Second, he said, the application for conversion was made before the hacienda was reclassified by the municipal council as non-agricultural land in June 1995.

.....To the farmers' relief, then Agrarian Reform Secretary Ernesto Garilao denied Moldex's application for conversion, ruling that the hacienda was agricultural land, contrary to the municipal council's decision reclassifying it. Moldex filed a motion for reconsideration, but again it got a denial.

.....The developer appealed the decision to the Office of the President on Jan. 30, 1997, reportedly without giving Samasa a copy. On May 15, 1998, then Executive Secretary Alexander Aguirre reversed Garilao's decision. Subsequent motions for reconsideration filed by Samasa and DAR were denied by Aguirre's successor, current Executive Secretary Ronaldo Zamora.

.....Samasa appealed Zamora's decision to the Supreme Court, which referred the case back to the DAR. At the moment, Samasa members are awaiting DAR's decision on whether the hacienda is agricultural land covered by agrarian reform. That decision will hopefully finally settle the ownership issue between Moldex and the farmer tenants.

Shrinking membership

.....The events from1995 to 1999 led to the breakup, or at least the shrinking, of Samasa. Ten of the 43 original members had sold to Moldex their rights to the lands they tenanted, on a one-third/ two-thirds sharing arrangement. The farmers were to get one-third of their land, while Moldex was to get two-thirds after paying them for their tenancy rights. The one-third share would serve as the farmers' "relocation site."

.....The breakup was evident during a dialogue between the two groups at the San Jose del Monte police station on May 20. Estelita de Mesa, one of the nine holders of titles from Moldex, said the realty firm had assured them that there was no longer any problem with the land.

.....But Teodora Dimasutil, a Samasa member, asked: How could de Mesa and company not know that there still was a problem when they are all neighbors and all of them know about the case pending with the Bulacan Regional Trial Court?

.....De Mesa replied that she and her group were not in a position to say anything, and that Dimasutil should direct the question to Moldex. Dimasutil pressed on: If the title each of them got from Moldex represented their one-third share, why didn't that share come from the lands they sold to the realty firm? "Why did you choose lands you know are tenanted by others?" Dimasutil asked.

.....De Mesa said it was Moldex that chose the areas given to them from the lands it had acquired. In any case, she said the land had been given to them and if Samasa had any problem with that, they should ask Moldex.

'A complete stranger in the case'

.....But peasant leader and Samasa sympathizer Jaime Tadeo asserted that Moldex has neither the right to have the farmlands titled nor the authority to order that they be fenced. He cited a December 1999 order from the DAR Adjudication Board which he said ruled that, "as far as tenancy is concerned, Moldex is a complete stranger in the case." The case was filed by Sapang Palay farmers against Moldex to seek recognition as tenants of the land sold by the hacienda owners.

.....Besides, Tadeo added, there are farmers tilling the titled portions other than those to whom the titles were given. He said these farmers could not be removed by Moldex or by any titleholder without a court order. According to him, an existing order, issued by the Supreme Court last December 1999, upheld the status quo, which is that the farmers can continue tilling their farms, while Moldex is prohibited to enter into any development activity, not even building fences, in the area.

.....And until the DAR issues a decision on the case, that status quo order stays, Tadeo pointed out.

(Next: Are the titles given by Moldex to nine former tenants genuine?)

-Photos by Emil Mijares Jr.