The supposed beneficiaries of a hacienda owned by the Arroyos are now worried that they may end up landless. They argue that President Arroyo’s credibility is not just being eroded because of the allegedly wiretapped conversations and the jueteng (illegal numbers game) controversy. More important, she has failed to stand up to the interest of millions of poor tillers.
Are the Arroyos involved in another scandal?
Farmer-beneficiaries of a hacienda (vast tract of land) owned by the family of Jose Miguel Arroyo, husband of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, could end up landless after they learned from the Department of Land Reform (DLR) that the said hacienda has been exempted from the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP).
The farm workers learned from the DLR that the bulk of the 197-ha Hacienda Grande in Negros Occidental was divided into 40 titles and the ownership transferred to 27 corporations, seven individuals, a foundation and a homeowner’s association.
Owned by Antonio Arroyo, an uncle of the president’s husband, Grande consists of four lots in Barangay Robles, La Castellana town, Negros Occidental.
“Since President Arroyo promised that the First Family would give up their inherited lands to agrarian reform, we expected to become owners of Hacienda Grande through the awarding of certificates of land ownership award (CLOAs). Little did we know that it has already been parceled out to companies and individuals who also own these companies and are relatives of the First Gentleman,” said 55-year old Jose Rodito Angeles.
Angeles is a farmer-beneficiary (FB) of the hacienda and president of the national peasant federation Task Force Mapalad (TFM) and a member of the Alyansa Sang Mangunguma sa Dutang Arroyo (ASM-DA, Alliance of Farmers in the Land of Arroyo), a local people’s organization of the TFM composed of farm workers of Arroyo lands in Negros Occidental.
The beneficiaries also found that while the hacienda was already subdivided into several owners, the whole property remains a sugar farm, which has been leased to Antonio Trebol since 1994. Section 6 of Republic Act No. 6657 or the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law (CARL) prohibits the lease of agricultural lands beginning June 15, 1988, the date of CARL’s effectivity.
“GMA’s failure to distribute the Arroyo lands to farmers and her lack of political will to acquire contentious private agricultural landholdings and install beneficiaries in these haciendas are the source of the farmers’ frustration over her leadership. To the farmers’ perception, President Arroyo’s credibility isn’t crumbling because of the Garci tapes and the jueteng (illegal numbers game) controversy but because she does not stand up to the interest of millions of poor tillers,” said Angeles.
Five-hectare retention limit
According to Angeles, they found at the DLR provincial office that only 19.4 hectares of the hacienda could be covered under CARP that would benefit 53 beneficiaries. More than 177 hectares (90 percent) were transferred to 36 owners and 40 titles in 1987, 1988 and 1992.
Angeles said the landowner plans to have the 19.4-hectare portion converted into non-agricultural use. In this situation, he stressed that 53 beneficiaries would only end up with 3,600 square meters each. Worse, they could become landless if the plan to convert the agricultural land pushes through.
“The land would be very small for us. How could we make the land productive and how could we improve our source of livelihood if we would just be given a very small parcel of the hacienda. The ideal farm-size for each beneficiary is three hectares,” explained Angeles.
The landholding was subdivided mostly into five hectares and below for the companies and the individual owners. “If you subdivide the hacienda into five hectares and below, it could not anymore be subjected to CARP because under the law, five hectares is the retention limit for every landowner. We suspect that the subdivision was done this way apparently to evade CARP,” said Angeles.
Subdivided into 17 titles
The first subdivision for the 84.42-hectare portion of Hacienda Grande happened on July 3, 1987. This portion was subdivided into 13 owners under one title, namely Handumanan Home Industries (7 hectares), Anmeco Realty and Development Corporation, (6 hectares), Carmela Arroyo (6.4 hectares), Mercedes A. Reyes (6.4 hectares), Ma. Rosa A. Suatengco (6.4 hectares), Remigio A. Suatengco (6.4 hectares), Anthony A. Suatengco (6.4 hectares), Anna A. Suatengco (6.4 hectares), Teresita L. Javellana (6.4 hectares), Mara Foundation (6.4 hectares), Pepita Livelihood Enterprises (6.4 hectares), Pax Homeowners’ Association (6.4 hectares) and Maia Management Corporation (6.4 hectares).
On October 15, 1992, the 84.42-hectare portion was further subdivided into 17 new titles with the same owners, except for a certain Remigio Reyes.
“It is evident that the lot previously under 13 owners who had more than five hectares each was further subdivided into 17 titles so that the landholding could be exempted from CARP coverage,” said Angeles.
Subdivided into 16 titles
Meanwhile, the 76.91-hectare portion of the hacienda was subdivided into 16 new owners under one title registered with the Registry of Deeds (ROD) on June 24, 1988. The 16 owners are Calla Harvest Enterprises, Karmel Kitchen Products, Oriana Business Ventures Inc., Merpi’s Childcraft and Things Association, Inc., Raimundo Ventures Inc., St. Vincent Agri-Business Ventures, Inc., St. Michael’s Toys and Crafts Livelihood Association, Inc., Marguerite Marketing Ventures, Inc., Rosette Home and Artcrafts Livelihood Association, Inc., Nina Enterprises, Edouard Farm and Poultry Co., Inc., Meara Marketing Enterprises, Inc., Areta Ventures Inc., St. Gerard Enterprises, St. Joseph Agri Products, Inc. and Hesper Development Corp. The latter owns 1.91 hectares while the others have five hectares each.
Subdivided into seven titles
The 30.3-hectare portion, on the other hand, was subdivided into seven owners under one title registered with the ROD on June 22, 1988. This title was subsequently subdivided into seven titles on January 6, 1993 with the same owners.
The first six owners have five hectares each, namely Maja Grande Ventures, Inc., Eir Enterprises, Inc., Maisie Ventures, Inc., Parnella Plants & Products, Inc., Arnette Services Ventures, Inc. and Fides Agri-Business, Inc. The seventh owner, Hesper Dev’t. Corporation, has 3.1 hectares.
Subdivided into two titles
Finally, the 5.0319-ha. portion of the hacienda was subdivided into two owners under one title registered with the ROD on June 24, 1988. These are Rasia Agro-Development Inc. (five hectares) and Hesper Development Corp. (319 square meters).
Based on the documents gathered by the TFM, Atty. Modesto I. Cañonero was involved in the several subdivision agreements of Hacienda Grande. Last March, Cañonero, who handles agrarian reform cases, was accused of falsification of public documents before the Prosecutor’s Office in Bacolod City by a certain Carmelina Paulite of Hacienda Binaliwan, Brgy. Efigenio F. Lizares, Talisay City, Negros Occidental.
“Something really stinks with these subdivisions. It is apt to be called a Grand(e) Scam because the beneficiaries were robbed of their rightful claim to the land that they tilled for decades,” said TFM spokesperson Edna Sobrecaray.
“We hope that President Arroyo would immediately act on this matter. She could now be facing a serious leadership crisis. But with or without this crisis, the president is duty-bound to fulfill her promise of giving up the Arroyo lands to agrarian reform and defend the poor tillers,” added Sobrecaray. Bulatlat