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Tillers want farms back

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HERMOSA, Bataan — Farmers in an upland village here on Monday rejoiced over the decision of the Office of the President to reject the petition of a landowner to convert more than 200 hectares of agricultural land to industrial.

With the decision, they were hoping that they will be able to enter again their lands in Barangay Sumalo and raise the fruits of their trees and crops that they were allegedly deprived of since 2011.

Agustin delos Reyes, Sumalo barangay secretary, said surveyors of the Department of Agrarian Reform a few days ago began surveying the residential area of 400 houses and soon the agricultural portion with combined area of 213 hectares.

He said that until now they were still barred from entering lands planted with pineapple and fruit trees. He showed portions of the village fenced with mesh wires to separate the houses from the agricultural lands.

“Lahat ng sakahan namin hindi namin mapasok. Lahat ng punongkahoy hindi namin maani. Sila ang umaani,” De los Reyes claimed. He was referring to Riverforest Development Corp. that he said fenced the area.

“Inaasahan namin na ma-install na kami sa aming lupang sakahan,” he answered when asked what they were expecting from the Malacanang decision.

The Office of the President recently denied the petition of Riverforest Development Corp. 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 the 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 court battle between the Sumalo farmers and the Littons have been going on for decades.

“Sa barangay road lang kami umiikot. Kapag pumasok kami sa nakabakod, kakasuhan kami. Napakaliit ng galawan namin. Maging kambing hindi namin kayang buhayin, daming nawala sa amin,” delos Reyes said.

Pedro Poblete, 82, said he has 12 hectares of land planted to coconuts, mango, langka, avocado and pineapple. “Hindi ko maanihan, siyam na taon na. Binawalan kaming pumasok doon,” he said.

The old man said the area was forested and only animals present that they cleaned and turned productive.

“Napakalaking bagay. Gusto naming mabuksan ulit yan at malagyan kami ng karapatang anihin para kami mabuhay,” Poblete said when asked what he can say about the Malacanang decision.

Another resident, Titanic Mistica, however has different views. He said the side of those who wanted industrialization for the place was not heard.

“May mga portion na pwedeng tamnan pero mas malawak ang hindi pwedeng tamnan. Kung mapupunta sa beneficiary ang portion na hindi tinutubuan ng halaman, paano nya ito mababayaran. Lalo lang silang malulugmok sa kahirapan,” he said.

Mistica said when Sumalo lands will be turned into industrial, many will benefi t. “Maraming taga-Sumalo ang magkakaron ng trabaho at makikinabang,” he said.

He said the Littons were ready to donate about 300 square meters of residential lot totaling 17 hectares to the residents. He said 289 residents have already copies of memorandum of agreement but other residents rejected the offer.

“Natutuwa nga kami at maido-donate sa amin ang lupa. Talagang mabait ang mga Litton,“ Mistica said.

Security guards of Riverforest Corp. said management will just contact media to air its side.

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