Paulo Bautista, 78, who came forward to a media briefing Thursday with the receipts showing his father has been paying taxes since 1937 for the parcel of land within the then-Bongabon stock farm, even called on the military to use its might in defending West Philippine Sea from Chinese intrusion instead of supposedly forcing them out of their ricefields.
He expressed belief that the military, led by Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang, is working against the rice sufficiency program of the Aquino administration by trying to convert the 200-hectare land, being tilled by about 200 farmers, into a housing area for military officials.
This, as a group of 14 farmers challenged before the Court of Appeals a supposedly erroneous decision of Regional Trial Court Branch 40 Presiding Judge Evelyn Atienza- Turla which ordered them to vacate the place in a class suit they filed against Catapang, Lt. Cols. Benito Doniego Jr. and Alfredo Patarata.
In the suit, the 14 farmers said the military under Catapang, with soldiers from Fort Magsaysay, “entered by means of stealth, strategy, force, threat and intimidation without any authority from the Department of Agrarian Reform and the courts of law” since March 2013.
The 14 are Julius Bautista, Carmelita Manayan, Rufino Flores, Garvacio Aregando and Arsenio Laranang of Barangay Caballero; Florentina Juan, Bienvenido Baldemor, Elizalde Estigoy, Julio Diaz and Wenceslao Bautista, all of Barangay Ganaderia; Carmelita Valmote of Barangay Caimito, Jose Ginnodela Merced of Barangay Manacnac, all of this city; Dalisay Gadian of Barangay Bangad and Gideon Acosta of Barangay Kapitan Pepe, both of Cabanatuan City.
They are among the 200 farmers tilling a 200-hectare farmland in Caballero and Ganaderia for at least 10 years, with other farmers claiming even a longer period.
The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) described the farmlands, a titled property owned by the city government, as a “patrimonial property” or a registered property in the name of the Republic.
Laranang, a retired sergeant, said he has been tilling his three-hectare land since 1984 when he was still a private first class. He took the place of original petitioner Florentina Juan who was already deceased.
“Bago sana mag-retire si General Catapang, huwag niya kaming kakalimutan ” he said. A member of the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) Class 1981, Catapang retires in July this year.
Catapang and the other respondents said the subject farmlands form part of the military reservation and that the AFP, through the Army, has long been in legal and physical possession de jure of the entire expanse.
He claimed the Army has been occupying and possessing the subject property as far back as 1955 when then-President Ramon Magsaysay issued Presidential Proclamation 237 reserving the area for military purposes and withdrawing them from sale or settlement.
The proclamation was amended on March 13, 2006 when then-President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo issued Presidential Proclamation 1033 including the 200 hectares among the areas reserved for the off-base housing site for Army soldiers.
The petitioners claimed that Doniego initially told them that they were putting up a detachment of the paramilitary group Civilian Armed Forces Geographical Unit (CAFGU) supposedly to guard the forests.
Later, however, Doniego told them they would be ejected “whether they liked it or not.” Afterwards, they claimed their farmlands were flattened with the use of bulldozers.
The petitioning farmers then filed a civil case for forcible entry before the municipal trial court in cities (MTCC) which ruled in their favor in a decision issued on October 8, 2013.
The case was elevated to the Palayan City Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 40 which reversed the MTCC decision in its ruling on December 9, 2014.
The farmers assailed the decision and filed a motion for reconsideration but their counsel, Feliciano Buenaventura, suffered an ailment and later withdrew for health reasons.
Later, they filed a petition for review with the Court of Appeals saying the RTC gravely erred in reversing and setting aside the MTCC decision and in ruling on the basis of issues relating to ownership, land registration and recovery of possession instead of forcible entry.
It said that the court also erred in ordering the petitioners to vacate the farmlands in spite of the fact that this relief was not prayed for by the respondents.
“Instead of limiting itself to determining who is entitled to the physical possession of the subject parcels of . . . land, the RTC delved into issues relating to acquisition and ownership in violation of prevailing rules and jurisprudence,” the review petition read.
It further added that the case of forcible entry they filed against respondents was different from possession in ejectment cases.
“…(P)ossession in ejectment cases means nothing more than actual possession, not legal possession in the sense contemplated in civil law. In a forcible entry case, prior physical possession is the primary consideration,” it further stated.
Assuming the Army may claim ownership of the farmlands, the respondents should have filed an accion publiciana or accion reivindicatoria against the petitioners instead of unlawfully forcibly evicting or dispossessing them, the review petition further stated.
The farmers also called the attention of Aquino on the existing multi-million peso housing project of the Army in Sitio Pinaltakan, Barangay Caballero which is a “a total waste of money.” “Bakit paaalisin kami sa sinasaka namin para sa housing ay may housing na sila doon na walang nangyayari,” Bautista said.
Seventeen Aeta families who were relocated in the place by the government after the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo are also at the receiving end of the military’s “intimidation.”