• House urged to probe solar energy project

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    A militant peasant group on Sunday called on the House of Representatives Committee on Agrarian Reform to probe Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa’s order exempting 435 hectares (ha) of land from the government’s agrarian reform program that is being targeted as the site of a solar energy project by the Department of Energy (DOE) and a private renewable energy firm in Rodriguez town in the province of Rizal.

    The Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) said that the 30-megawatt (MW) solar energy project entered into by the DOE and ATN Philippines Solar Energy Group Inc. (ATN Solar) would lead to the “land-grabbing” of more than 435-ha of agricultural land and eviction of more than 4,000 farmer-families in Barangay Macabud, Rodriguez, Rizal.

    “Under the guise of a so-called renewable energy, thousands of tillers and their families are being denied of their right to the land and livelihood,” said KMP deputy secretary general Willy Marbella.

    He said that the so-called landowner, the Palladian Land Development Inc., has signed an agreement with ATN Solar for the use of the land for the 30 MW project by the DOE and ATN Solar.

    However, Marbella said that “the landholding is contested and a subject of an agrarian dispute.”

    Records show that in 2002, from a total of 435 ha of land being claimed by spouses Jose and Abundia Garcia in Macabud, the Department of Agrarian Reform ordered the exemption of more than 268 ha from the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) on the basis that a large portion of the land exhibited an “18 percent slope and not agriculturally developed” while 167 hectares were covered for distribution.

    Under the CARP, lands with 18 percent slope are exempted from distribution.

    However, on April 11, 2003, after allegedly conducting another survey, the DAR ordered the exemption of 229 ha and the alleged distribution of more than 206 ha.

    But on February 19, 2004, citing the same grounds, the DAR exempted the 206 ha that was ordered for distribution in April 2003 and lifted the notice of coverage thereby exempting the whole 435 ha of lands in Macabud from CARP coverage.

    The farmers filed an appeal and a petition for revocation of the exemption order before the DAR, which was denied in April 2007. They went up to the Office of the President but on March 1, 2013, Ochoa upheld the DAR order and dismissed the farmers’ appeal.

    Marbella said: “Ochoa’s order only justified and legitimized the corruption and manipulation done by DAR officials in Macabud.”

    “Malacañang did not even conduct an investigation on the ground and merely relied and upheld the DAR’s manipulated findings,” Marbella said.

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