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LGUs bowing to ‘hacendero’ ploy to foil land reform

02:49 AM August 29, 2015

This is about issues hounding land reform and how local governments, specifically in Negros, are responding to demands of sugar plantation owners to have vital city-financed institutions located in their property.

This ploy thwarts efforts to transfer the ownership of agricultural lands to their tillers while allowing plantation owners, who are members of the local government councils, to allot government funds (without benefit of public hearing) for the purchase of land on which to build city-owned institutions, though their location does not befit their purpose.

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Recently I filed a complaint in the Ombudsman in connection with a decision of the government of San Carlos City, Negros Occidental, to buy a piece of property (part of a sugarcane plantation) owned by the family of a senior member of the Sangguniang Panglungsod.

The land is so far off the city center that one begins to suspect the purchase was done to allow the landowner to eventually convert the adjacent agricultural area into a nonagricultural one and escape land reform coverage.

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But sadly the purchase was defended by a lawyer from the Department of Interior and Local Government because, according to the council, the member who owns the land did not participate in its deliberations on the matter. This declaration was made three years after my request for a DILG investigation was made in 2012.

Thus, I specifically asked the Ombudsman to investigate the purchase on the following issues:

  1. Whether local government officials are immediately investigated if they cause government to purchase items (such as supplies/construction contracts) without the benefit of public bidding. For huge purchases (millions of pesos) such as that of a lot to locate its city hospital, can the council just decide and negotiate with the owner without a public hearing and the benefit of bidding?
  2. Can city councils just decide where to locate its city hospitals without clearances from the Department of Health or government institutions that can do studies to determine whether the proposed site is the best relative to the sector it is meant to serve—the poor and marginalized?

—GERARD E. REONISTO, [email protected]

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TAGS: agricultural lands, land reform, Local Government Units, Negros, Sugar
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