[Press Release] Identified CARP Beneficiaries’ homes demolished amid pandemic | SANAMABASU

#HumanRights #LandRights

Identified CARP Beneficiaries’ homes demolished amid pandemic

Hermosa Bataan – Members of the the Samahang Nagkakaisang Magsasaka ng Barangay Sumalo (SANAMABASU) urgently calls the national government through the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) to intervene to suspend the ejectment/demolition orders issued by the Dinalupihan Regional Trial Court, for humanitarian reasons amid the threats posed by the Covid-19 pandemic. This was after several houses were demolished by property developer Riverforest Development Corporation (RDC) last Wednesday, May 5, 2021.

The said decision will also affect more than 50 prospective Comprehensive Agrarian Reform (CARP) beneficiaries, 18 of whom are slated for ejectment in the coming weeks. This ejectment order proceeded despite an appeal already filed by SANAMABASU in the Court of Appeals.

After decades of legal struggles to defend farmlands in Barangay Sumalo against land conversion, SAMANABASU farmers sighed in disbelief as they witnessed Riverforest Development Corporation destroy several houses, one of which belonged to Rolando Martinez, a farmer leader and Sumalo’s former Barangay Captain.

“Seeing Kap’s [Martinez’] house reduced to rubble dealt a demoralizing blow in our struggle for agrarian reform, and I know my home is next,” said Belinda Petinez, another leader from SANAMABASU.

Mayor Antonio Inton, Hermosa’s Local Chief Executive, explained that the local government’s “hands are tied” and that they “have to respect the decision of the courts.” Nevertheless, Inton echoed the call to defer ejectment/demolitions: “We greatly implore that these demolitions be postponed in light of the challenges presented by the pandemic.”

Also witnessing the demolition was Rep. Geraldine Roman of Bataan’s First District, who was “saddened with the incident, given that the houses belonged to legitimate agrarian reform beneficiaries duly identified by the Department of Agrarian Reform.” Rep. Roman also urged the DAR to expedite the process of agrarian reform coverage in the area.

Agrarian justice?

The SANAMABASU also calls on DAR “to finally end their decades-long struggle for land” which started as early as the 1970s when James Litton—chairman of the Riverforest Development Corporation—reportedly bought the 200 hectare farmland for PhP 11,000. Since then, the farmers in Sumalo have been engaged in a legal struggle which was capped by a Supreme Court decision in 2006 that favored the conversion of farmlands by the Riverforest Development Corporation.

However, the rules governing land conversion set a five-year grace period for introducing developments. The River Forest Development Corporation failed to comply with this rule, thereby giving the farmers—who have then started to organize under SANAMABASU—an opportunity to engage anew in a series of legal actions to contest the corporations’ claims and reassert their land rights.

In 2019, the Office of the President (OP) decided to junk the Riverforest Development Corporation’s petition to develop the land.

The 17-page decision signed by Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea, emphasized the “Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law (R.A. 6657) as a bastion for social justice.” This decision prompted agrarian reform coverage in the 200-hectare property, a process resisted heavily by the Riverforest Development Corporation which continued “installing armed security personnel, enclosures, and checkpoints to coerce and restrict movement” according to members of SANAMABASU. A few months after the OP Decision was released, a young farmer was gunned down by private security in one of Riverforests’ checkpoints.

“The decision of the OP is already final and executory. In my opinion, this should have rendered the ejectment case filed by Riverforest as moot, as this is already an agrarian case,” says Rolando Martinez. He adds, “Though we still challenge the Dinalupihan RTC’s ruling on this matter, we humbly pray for kindness and consideration for the other families that will be affected by the ejectment order, and hope that malasakit [empathy] especially to the poor can take precedence in the enforcement of decisions.”

Under the R.A. 6657, qualified CARP beneficiaries are entitled to Home Lots or a parcel of land used as the site of permanent dwelling.n

For interviews and information:
Rolando Martinez – 09989692273 | 09063522905
Belinda Petinez – 09285627851
Samahang Nagkakaisang Magsasaka ng Barangay Sumalo
Save Agrarian Reform Alliance

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