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Sounding Board
Agrarian reform

By Fr. Joaquin G. Bernas, S.J.
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 09:27:00 12/31/2007

Filed Under: Laws, Agrarian Reform

MANILA, Philippines - As we enter into the year 2008 there will be more legal controversies. Among those which I hope will be settled are those involving agrarian reform. For one, the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law (CARL) is about to expire. Should it be extended in its present form or in an amended form? Or should it be extended at all?

Much will be said about this in the coming months. There are those who say that the law in its present form is a failure but is remediable; but there are also those who say that the government is incapable of making any land reform law a success.

Even under the present CARL, there are controversies which will still have to be settled. And the farmers of Sumilao will be very much in the thick of the fray.

One interesting and novel question which came up in a discussion I had with a number of lawyers is whether the law on builders in bad faith can have application in agrarian reform controversies. Article 449 of the Civil Code says: ?He who builds, plants or sows in bad faith on the land of another, loses what is built, planted or sown without right to indemnity.? And Article 450 says: ?The owner of the land on which anything has been built, planted or sown in bad faith may demand the demolition of the work, or that the planting or sowing be removed, in order to replace things in their former condition at the expense of the person who built, planted or sowed; or he may compel the builder or planter to pay the price of the land, and the sower the proper rent.?
Admittedly, the literal language of the law says that one is a builder in bad faith if he builds or sows on land that does not belong to him. But can the principle be extended to one who builds in violation of agrarian law, as in the case of one who builds on land that has been converted to agro-industrial use but who does not follow the conditions imposed by the conversion order? Just asking.

And if it is the registered owner of the land who builds in violation of the terms of the conversion order, what should the government do about the construction already completed? What would the much vaunted rule of law dictate? Again, just asking.

Obviously I am referring to the President?s order of Dec. 18, 2007 which says that ?the unilateral development of subject landholdings into a hog farm by SMFI is not one of the purposes for which the conversion order has been issued. This clearly deviates from and constitutes a violation of the conversion order issued to the respondent NQSRMDC.?

I have heard it said that ubi injuria, ibi jus.

Another question is about the meaning of landlessness. What is the legal meaning of ?landless?? Under Republic Act 6657 ?One is considered landless if he/she owns less than 3 hectares of agricultural land.?

Incidentally, much has been said about the 66-hectare Carlos Estate adjoining the controverted Sumilao property. The 66 hectares were distributed among 78 farmers belonging to the Mapalad Multi-Purpose Cooperative who received between .4 and .9 hectares per family. Under the law, they are by no means landed farmers.

The point of the agrarian reform program is to distribute lands to provide landless farmers with sustainable livelihood. This is why the law provides that a family size farm which is around three hectares is necessary to fulfill the program?s objective of improving the lives of farmer-beneficiaries. To say that the Sumilao farmers who own lands whose sizes are far less than what is provided by law are no longer qualified beneficiaries is to push aside the very spirit of the agrarian reform law.

Another misconception that has been spread is that one must be a tenant in order to be a beneficiary under the Agrarian Reform Law. Again RA 6657 corrects that misconception or that deliberate attempt at obfuscation. Section 22 says:

Qualified Beneficiaries. The lands covered by the CARP [Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program] shall be distributed as much as possible to landless residents of the same barangay, or in the absence thereof, landless residents of the same municipality in the following order of priority:

(a) agricultural lessees and share tenants;

(b) regular farm workers;

(c) seasonal farm workers;

(d) other farm workers;

(e) actual tillers or occupants of public lands;

(f) collective or cooperatives of the above beneficiaries; and

(g) others directly working on the land.

Do the Sumilao farmers qualify under this law? Definitely they do. As a matter of fact, most of them were the same farmers who, before the issuance of the conversion order by then Executive Secretary Ruben Torres, had been screened and awarded the Certificate of Land Ownership (CLOA).

It is now more than 10 years since they won and lost their CLOA to an abandoned conversion order. Now they are back to square one, but still hopeful. They are back in the pre-coverage stage and must go through the inclusion/exclusion process after DAR issues the notice of coverage.

Already the contest is unbalanced, David against Goliath. The least that the powerful can do, if they must fight the farmers, is to fight fair. For instance, let the powerful forego the claim that there is a Sanggunian resolution supporting the piggery project. Where is that resolution? What I have seen is an amateurish production of a bogus resolution!

A Blessed New Year!

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