This is a story about a farmer named John. No, this is not about the famous farmer John Peterson who introduced organic farming in the US and whose life was featured in the documentary film “The Real Dirt on Farmer John.”
This is about a farmer in Sariaya, Quezon who tilled a parcel of land he obtained through the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program when RA 6657, otherwise known as the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law, took effect in 1988.
Farmer John is one of the 255 beneficiaries of the 259.9–hectare Gala Estate in Concepcion I, Pinagbakuran and Manggalang Kiling. Since he obtained the land in the early 2000, farmer John has been tilling the land, making it productive to feed his family and earn some more to support the schooling of his youngest daughter who is now in third year college in one of the universities in Manila.
“Magpapyesta ako sa graduation ni bunso. Sa wakas ay makapagpatapos na din kahit isa man laang sa aking anak. Ay dean’s lister yaang aking bunso,” farmer John would proudly tell everyone in the accent residents are famous for.
Farmer John wakes up at 4 a.m. every day. After drinking his coffee made out of roasted rice by his wife, he would get his bolo, tie its case around his waist and leave the house to work the entire day in his farm. But he doesn’t complain. He is happy that he is able to meet the needs of his family and is able to deliver fruits at the Sariaya Central Market and Divisoria once in a while. He says his life has improved since he finished paying the amortization on the land. His only prayer is that they be spared from pests and strong typhoons for better harvest.
Indeed, Farmer John is proud that his perseverance has been paying off. Soon, when his daughter graduates, he plans to save so he can put up a house made of concrete.
Unfortunately, there is a setback on Farmer John’s life. He, together with 254 other farmer beneficiaries of the Gala estate, is in danger of losing his land. This after the Court of Appeals granted the petition of landowners to exempt their estate from CARP.
Farmer John, besides his struggle to make the land productive, has been in long legal battle to keep his land. In 1998, the heirs of Emiliano Gala filed a petition to reclaim the estate which by then, had been distributed to Farmer John and his co-beneficiaries. In 2009, then DAR Secretary Nasser Pangandaman rejected the claim of the Gala heirs and upheld the right of Farmer John and other beneficiaries. This decision was likewise affirmed on appeal at the Office of the President in 2014.
The Gala heirs elevated the case to the CA and in March this year, the appellate court through 9th Division Justice Isaias Dicdican rejected the Gala family’s appeal for CARP exemption, saying “factual findings of administrative agencies are generally accorded respect and even finality by this Secretary of DAR, who, by reason of his official position, has acquired expertise in specific matters within his jurisdiction, deserve full respect and, without justifiable reason, ought not to be altered, modified and reversed.”
However, barely three months after, on May 29 this year, Dicdican surprisingly reversed his earlier decision when the Gala family filed a motion for reconsideration. Dicdican said “there was a prima facie merit in the appeal citing a 1982 zoning ordinance of the municipal government of Sariaya which classified the land as non-agricultural.”
With this decision, Farmer John and his co-beneficiaries are bound to return the land they now till unless they elevate the case to the Supreme Court and obtain a reversal of the CA ruling.
Meanwhile, in Ormoc City, 23 farmers are also in battle with Sumanga landlords. The 23 farmers have been waiting for 18 years to finally till the 35.5 hectares of sugarcane that was awarded to them by DAR in 1998. Still, there is no sign that the waiting will soon end despite service of a writ of installation by the DAR.
Here’s the catch: the award was made 18 years ago but PALEC only filed the exclusion case with the regional DAR office earlier this year. Isn’t it weird?
These are only two groups of agrarian reform beneficiaries who do not only battle with strong typhoons but also have to face long and expensive legal battles for a small piece of land.
What is highly suspicious in the case of Farmer John’s group, besides the sudden reversal of the CA decision, is the fact that the ordinance only came out recently after several appeals. How did the zoning ordinance come into being? Why was the land reclassified when in fact its use has not been changed since time immemorial? And why was the ordinance invoked only after years of legal battle?
You might have heard of zoning ordinances reclassifying land use manufactured in connivance with some local government officials. I have heard of several instances, too. I hope this is not one of them.
Now, here’s the question: what will happen to Farmer John and other farmers similarly situated? Will their sweat and blood, their sacrifices be put to waste and their dreams remain dreams?
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