By TERESA EVANGELISTA
MANILA – For more than three decades, 236 farmers have been waiting to be recognized as the rightful owners of the 200-hectare agricultural land in barangay Tinang, Concepcion, Tarlac. A political clan has managed to take control of the land through a cooperative.
How did this happen?
After the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law (CARL) was enacted in 1988, the Dominican Province of the Philippines Inc. (DPPI) voluntarily offered to sell the 200-hectare to the government through the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR). Consequently, the DAR included the land in CARP coverage and identified farmer-beneficiaries. In 1995, DAR issued a final list of the 236 agrarian reform beneficiaries (ARB).
Three years before the list came out, the Villanueva family established the Tinang SN. Multi-purpose Cooperative Inc.
Curiously, the ARBs were not informed about the collective Certificate of Land Ownership Award (CLOA) issued under their names on Sept. 26, 1995.
Abby Bucad, daughter of one of the ARBs, told Bulatlat,”We were not informed about this. The negotiation was only between DAR and our barangay captain during that time who happened to be Mr. Vernon Villanueva.”
The farmers have only found out the existence of the said CLOA in 2016 when one of them asked why she was not included in the cooperative. She went to the Registry of Deeds, and discovered the collective CLOA for 236 farmers.
The farmers then filed a formal petition with the DAR to segregate the land and issue individual CLOA to the ARBs. On April 2, 2018, DAR ordered the distribution of the subdivided lots to the ARBs.
In April 2021, the cooperative managed by the Villanuevas filed a petition seeking to nullify and stop the implementation of DAR’s order to distribute the land to individual ARBs.
“We told them [the Villanuevas] that the decision is final and the period to appeal is over. For the longest time they are managing the land and yet they did not attend to this,” Bucad said.
There were also allegations of ownership transfers through land sales and conversion activities from agricultural land to residential use. According to Bucad, other cooperative members who are not ARBs are selling their land to the Villanuevas at considerably cheaper prices.
Believing these acts are illegal, Bucad’s group sought DAR’s help and the agency issued a Cease and Desist Order (CDO) to stop the selling and conversion of the 200-hectare land. Unfortunately, the order has yet to be implemented.
“I cannot help but think that these delays may have something to do with the political power of the Villanuevas,” Bucad said.
Vernon Villanueva is a board member of the Third District and seeking for reelection for the same post. His son, Norman Villanueva, is the incumbent barangay captain of barangay Tinang. Vernon’s brother Noel is the incumbent representative of the Third District of Tarlac and is now running as mayor of Concepcion town.
On Feb. 1, Tinang farmers decided to set up a hut, occupy a portion of the land and planted beans. On Feb. 23, however, Bucad said the hut was burned down and the beans were destroyed by men suspected to be hired by Villanuevas.
On Feb. 24, Tinang farmers sought the help of Agrarian Reform Secretary Benjie Cruz.
“It must be stated that for more than twenty seven (27) years, the Tinang SN Multi-purpose Cooperative has been in the control and possession of the subject land, to the detriment of the ARBs. It has no authority to manage the land and has already earned a considerable income for using the lands of the ARBs,” their letter read.
They urged Cruz to certify their case urgent.
“Even if we only have salt to eat for our meals, we will continue to hold our line. This land should have been awarded to us a long time ago. We are the lawful and rightful owners of this land,” Bucad said. (RVO)