As I See It

Why are the land-grabbers still out of jail?

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12:50 AM September 12th, 2011

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By: Neal H. Cruz, September 12th, 2011 12:50 AM

The wonder is why government, with all the power and facilities and people at its command, has not, until now, put the land-grabbing and squatting syndicates out of business. There is a task force created precisely to do that, but all it has done so far is to identify eight land-grabbing syndicates, with Wilfredo Torres and his group at the top of the list.

All right, they have been identified and what they are doing is illegal and is a crime, so why are they still out of jail? Such groups, even if identified as land-grabbing and squatting syndicates, will continue victimizing legitimate landowners and throwing our Torrens title system in turmoil for as long as they are out of jail, because there is so much money in it. Many of the members of these syndicates have no legal means of livelihood except land-grabbing, which is, of course, illegal. The only way to stop them is to clamp them in jail. So why are they still free thumbing their noses at the government and at legitimate and taxpaying homeowners? Why are they not even being prosecuted?

At least President Ferdinand Marcos knew what to do. He had Torres caught red-handed and put him in prison. But one of his successors granted Torres a conditional pardon so he is again free to sow turmoil among homeowners.

If he was given conditional pardon, one of the conditions must have been that he would not do any land-grabbing again. But now that he is back at it, is that not a violation of his conditional pardon, which is reason enough for government to put him back where he belongs—in prison? Come on, Department of Justice, do your thing.

One reason Torres and others like him can do their illegal activities is that there are so many fake titles circulating. Why? Because corrupt government employees having to do with land titling—including, alas, some judges—cooperate with the syndicates for a bribe.

I think it is wrong to allow judges to settle disputes over land titles. What do these judges know about the authenticity of land titles? They have to depend on evidence presented in court, and the syndicates have the means to falsify authentic-looking documents to support their claims on land.

In land disputes, the courts depend on the evidence presented by government agencies like the Bureau of Lands (BL) and the Land Registration Authority (LRA) which have the records on all lands in the Philippines. But it is easy for syndicates to bribe representatives of these two agencies not to appear in court, or to bribe clerks of court not to send them subpoenas. So there will be no evidence against the claimant presented in court. And the judge (who can also be bribed) will have the excuse to decide the case in favor of the claimant because there is no evidence contrary to his claim.

So I think disputes over land titles should be resolved not by the regional trial courts but by the LRA which is already a semi-judicial body—provided, of course, it is first cleansed of scalawags.

Remember that not so long ago, the head of the LRA was behind a scam that involved the expansion of land areas delineated by TCTs. The plan was simple: titles are subdivided and combined many times. Each time there was a change of title, the area encompassed by the title was expanded.

Usually this was done on land adjoining public land such as land alongside rivers and mountains so that there would be no person who will expose the scam. The law mandates the BL and the LRA to represent the government in land cases, but as I said earlier, employees of these two government agencies can be bribed or, just out of plain laziness, opt not to show up and present contrary evidence. And if the scam is being perpetrated by the LRA chief himself, who would be the LRA employee who would present opposing evidence? But anyway, the shenanigans of that chief were eventually discovered and he was dismissed.

But the reason I am proposing that the LRA be the judge in land disputes is that it already has the mother titles of lands in the Philippines. All it has to do is look into its records and it would be able to determine if the mother title of transfer certificate titles (TCTs) is genuine or not. But I repeat, the LRA must first be cleansed of scalawags.

One of the fake mother titles being used to support land claims is the Spanish title called the Don Mariano San Pedro Estate. It encompasses huge tracts of land in Luzon.

The modus operandi is to lay claim to a public land. Since the government is too lazy to protect its land, the syndicate is able to sell small parcels of land to ignorant squatters, using the Titulo Propriedad de Don Mariano San Pedro as proof of ownership. Many poor squatters, glad that they now have pieces of land they can call their own, have become victims of a syndicate; but since the squatters cannot afford to pay for the services of lawyers, the syndicate is able to run away with its victims’ money.

President Marcos recognized the evil that fake Spanish titles are doing to the country, so he issued a presidential decree nullifying Spanish titles, starting with the Don Mariano San Pedro title. But still many people are fooled, and the syndicates are still pocketing the money of their victims.

The bill filed by Sen. Koko Pimentel will not, I am sorry to say, solve the problem. The land-grabbing syndicates will continue to victimize ignorant squatters because they are so desperate for land. There should be a law that would make it easier for the government to put land-grabbers and squatters (because some squatters are being used by the syndicates as fronts) behind bars.

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