Hacienda Looc farmers fight for right to land, call for halt to conversion

“Our land is not for sale. It is not a commodity that real estate developers can peddle to their rich clients.” – Ugnayan ng Mamamayan Laban sa Pangwawasak ng Lupa sa Hacienda Looc

By RONALYN V. OLEA
Bulatlat.com

MANILA – Armando Lemita, 46, was born in Calayo village inside the Hacienda Looc in Nasugbu, Batangas. Lemita���s ancestors had cultivated the land since the 1940s.

The same is true for Noel del Mundo, a resident and town chief of Bulihan village inside the hacienda.

Farming is their source of livelihood. Without land to grow palay, sugarcane, corn,banana, mango, vegetables and root crops, they would not be able to sustain their families.

Lemita and del Mundo, like the other 10,000 peasant families inside the more than 8,650 hectare estate are being threatened of eviction from their land.

The two led fellow farmers and fishermen from Hacienda Looc in a protest in front of the Supreme Court, Sept. 13 to protest the continuing land-use conversion into the Hamilo Coast project by SM Land owned by business tycoon Henry Sy.

“Our land is not for sale. It is not a commodity that real estate developers can peddle to their rich clients,” Lemita, spokesman of Ugnayan ng Mamamayan Laban sa Pangwawasak ng Lupa sa Hacienda Looc (Umalpas-Ka), said.

Lemita cited the extravagant advertisement of SM Land on its website that offers Hacienda Looc as the perfect get-away from Metro Manila.

Portions of the hacienda have been placed under the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) of the Corazon Aquino administration. Others were issued emancipation patents (EP) during the time of the Marcos administration. Lemita said they have been paying amortization to the Land Bank of the Philippines (LBP) and taxes to the local government.

The group asserted that SM Land can neither develop nor sell Hacienda Looc while a pending case before the Supreme Court remains to be resolved. Farmers are appealing a 2009 Court of Appeals decision exempting over 1,270 hectares of prime agricultural lands from land reform.

“The website of SM Land is a total sham. No one in his right mind should buy this cheap gimmick of SM Land. Hacienda Looc is still a very productive agricultural land,” Lemita added.

Del Mundo, a holder of certificate of land ownership agreement (CLOA), said he has been prohibited by SM Land’s security guards to work on his own farm.

“They told us that the land is theirs already, that they bought it from the government,” Del Mundo said.

Lemita said they obtained reports that the SM Land is buying up land from individual farmers, saying that the farmers are not entitled to own the land in the first place. “Such a great deception. We have the right to the land,” he said.

Lemita also criticized the “collusion of Department of Agrarian Reform and Sy” for the project. “They just told us that a memorandum of agreement has been signed and that SM already owns the land,” he said.

Jobert Pahilga, executive director of Sentro para sa Tunay na Agraryo (Sentra), said there was no conversion order, no environmental compliance certificate and environmental impact assessment issued by DAR and Department of Environment and Natural Resources for the Hamilo Coast project.

“We are preparing to file criminal complaints against SM Land for premature conversion of land and other violations,” Pahilga said.

Lemita said despite the harassment they are being subjected to, they will stay in Hacienda Looc. “We will die here. We have no other place to go as other agricultural lands are being converted too,” he said.

The peasant leader said soldiers have stationed inside the hacienda.

According to Katipunan ng mga Samahang Magbubukid sa Timog Katagalugan (Kasama-Tk), the Southern Tagalog region has been the laboratory of land-use conversions.

“The DAR should look into this and should also be held liable if conversion orders were found anomalous,” Nestor Villanueva of Kasama-TK said.

“Hundreds of thousands hectares of farmlands have been transformed into industrial enclaves, commercial centers and so-called ecotourism projects such as golf courses, courtesy of the provisions of the government’s bogus agrarian reform,” Villanueva said.

Ramos said the decision of the Supreme Court on the Hacienda Lusita case that ordered for another referendum instead of distributing the lands to the farm workers will set a bad precedent on other agrarian cases.

“The farmers all-over the country are now dead-worried, isinusubasta ng Supreme Court ang mga lupaing agrikultural sa bansa (The Supreme Court is auctioning the agricultural land in the country),” Ramos added. ()

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