For Melchor Deinla, a 64 year-old farmer, the dream of owning the land they have been tilling was already within their reach when it was placed under CARP. But that was more than 13 years ago.
BY DABET CASTAÑEDA
Vol. VII, No. 49, January 20-26, 2008
Malacanang may have decided in favor of the Sumilao farmers but since it did not issue a cease-and-order for San Miguel Corporation to stop constructing a so-called world class airconditioned piggery in the contested land, the case may drag on for years with the farmers at the losing end.
And if hogs are about to supplant the farmers in Bukidnon, the farm workers in Masbate province are losing their land to cattle.
TICAO ISLAND, Masbate – A shanty made of interwoven coconut fronds for its roof and walls is home to 64-year-old widower Melchor Deinla, a farm worker in Hacienda Espinosa in Ticao Island, Masbate. He is one of 137 farmers identified by the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) as “pre-qualified agrarian reform beneficiaries” in the 325-hectare coconut plantation owned by an heir of the Espinosa family, one of Masbate’s most affluent and powerful political clans.
Deinla should have received his own parcel of the hacienda as early as 1994. But the landowner has filed for exemption from CARP coverage before the DAR. The basis cited by the landowner was a Supreme Court decision that defined land devoted to livestock as non-agricultural, and therefore, excluded from agrarian reform coverage.
Deinla may soon find himself without home and farm as what happened to thousands of farm workers elsewhere in Masbate and the rest of the country because of a court decision and the intervention of the local government in favor of landowners.
“Kami na ang nagtanim ng mga puno ng niyog dito,” Deinla says. He and his family have lived and worked in the estate for more than 32 years on a hand-to-mouth existence. The old man said all earnings from copra go to the land owner. His family and other coconut farmers live off the corn and vegetables they plant in their backyard.
Notice of coverage
On May 27, 1994 Municipal Agrarian Reform Officer (MARO) Carlos C. Grande issued a notice of coverage to owner Nilda Espinosa-Martinez putting the estate under compulsory acquisition and land distribution.
Hacienda Espinosa is located in Sitio Tacdugan, Barangay Bagahanglad in the town of San Jacinto in the eastern coast of Ticao Island, Masbate province. The hacienda is part of some 10,000 hectares owned by the family in the province. The Espinosas, along with four other families control around 26,000 hectares in Masbate.
Nilda Espinosa-Martinez is a sister of former Masbate congressman Emilio Espinosa Jr. and the mother of Cebu congressman Celestino Martinez.
Before the notice of coverage was issued, local DAR officials conducted investigations on the Espinosa property. In its report dated April 14, 1994, the MARO said “the issue whether said property is used for agricultural purposes or pasture (is) moot and academic. The said property is utilized for agricultural purposes beyond reasonable doubt.”
A separate investigation report signed by three municipal agrarian reform officers and seven other DAR personnel and Barangay Agrarian Reform Committee representatives stated that “the entire (325.2916 ha.) area is recommended for acquisition. The main crop is coconut…multi-cropping with rice, corn and pasture.” The report noted that the land is “fully planted to coconut” and that there were “40 cows and 30 carabaos” grazing in the plantation.
Deinla said that it is common during that time for landowners in Ticao to have livestock in the plantations as a source of additional income but the hacienda was never considered a ranch or a pasture land, even by the government.
But on May 4, 1994, barely three weeks after the notice of coverage was issued, Espinosa-Martinez filed a petition for the exclusion of the Espinosa property from CARP coverage. Her basis for filing the petition for exclusion was the 1990 Supreme Court decision in Luz Farms vs. The Secretary of Agrarian Reform (192 SCRA 51) which ruled that lands devoted to livestock production are not agricultural and, thus, are excluded from CARP coverage.
The Luz decision set a precedent in CARP implementation and landowners like Espinosa-Martinez rushed to have their land holdings excluded from coverage by claiming that it is used for livestock production instead of agriculture.
The case sat at the DAR Adjudication Board for almost seven years until July 26, 2001 when DAR region V director Dominador Andres denied the landowner’s appeal for exclusion on the grounds that Espinosa-Martinez failed to prove that the said property is devoted to livestock raising prior to June 15, 1988, the affectivity of RA 6657 or the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law (CARL).
On October 1, 2001, Andres issued an order of finality and directed the DAR provincial office of Masbate to proceed with the acquisition and distribution of Hacienda Espinosa to its 137 farmer-beneficiaries. But further appeals by the land owner to the DAR national offices blocked land distribution in the hacienda for four more years.
On December 7, 2004 then DAR Secretary Rene C. Villa ordered a reinvestigation of Hacienda Espinosa. The results of the reinvestigation were made the basis of an order by DAR Secretary Nasser Pangandaman dated May 18, 2006 granting the application for exclusion from CARP of some 138 hectares of the estate.
The order cited the reinvestigation team’s report dated January 20, 2005 that a certification from San Jacinto town mayor Ares Espinosa was submitted purportedly claiming that the landowner “has been engaging in cattle-raising since 1986 up to present.”