HERMOSA, Bataan – After decades of court battles to acquire and convert the controversial lands in Barangay Sumalo, in this first class municipality, the village residents can only jump in joy reaping the fruits of their effort.
The office of the President recently denied the petition of Riverforest Development Corp. (RDC) represented by the Littons (James Litton, Emma L. Laperal, Gloria L. del Rio, George Litton Jr., Grace L. Gallego and Edward Litton, (deceased) to acquire the more than 200-hectare lands and have them converted from agricultural to industrial.
In its 17-page decision penned by Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea released last January 15, it said that the Supreme Court has emphasized that RA 6657 (Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law) “is a bastion of social justice of poor landless farmers, the mechanism designed to redistribute to the underprivileged the natural right to toil the earth.”
The decision also said: “This office cannot subscribe to appellant RDC’s stance that its compliance with the conversion of the subject properties depends solely on its whims, especially in this case when the properties converted have not been declared unsuitable for agricultural purposes and have exhibited evidence of agricultural viability.”
“To do so would run afoul of the Constitution’s mandate to justly distribute all agricultural lands to qualified farmers and farmworkers to free them from the bondage of the soil,” it added.
The RDC had initially offered the lands for a voluntary offer to sell (VOS) to the government but it was withdrawn by the Littons and instead applied for conversion of the property from agricultural to industrial based on RA7227 (Bases Conversion and Development Act of 1992.)
The application for conversion was initially denied by former Department of Agrarian Reform Secretary Ernesto Garilao but was approved by the Office of the President. In 1996, the Sangguniang Bayan of Hermosa reclassified the area from agricultural to industrial but records showed the RDC did not bother to amend the tax declaration of the lands. This gave reason for Hermosa government to revoke the conversion of the lands for real property taxation purposes.
The Hermosa municipal council declared that the Department of Agrarian Reform revoked the land conversion and had it reverted to agricultural in
spite of the previous certifications issued by DAR Region 3 and the municipal agrarian reform office that the lands are untenanted and it is suitable for uses other than agricultural.
The “Samahan ng Nagkakaisang Mamamayan ng Barangay Sumalo” insisted that the Sangguniang Bayan of Hermosa pass an ordinance reclassifying lands of RDC from industrial to agricultural.
The Hermosa municipal government in its finding said the claim that the lands “are not suitable for agricultural use is belied by the fact that the farmers of Barangay Sumalo are actually tilling the land and have continuously been able to harvest from it.”
In its January 11, 2017 report, the Hermosa SB committee on housing and land utilization further opined that the power to revoke also implies that in reclassifying land into agricultural is based on attendant circumstances “especially if it found that the applicant is unable to develop the land as promised.”