526 Bukidnon lumads await DAR help to take over 1,023 hectares of their ancestral land

In Photo: LUMAD families show their determination and unity in awaiting the national government’s help to finally reinstate them in their ancestral lands 20 years after the Department of Agrarian Reforms Adjudication Board sided with the 526 lumads from Butong, Quezon, Bukidnon, in a case they filed against the two sugar-milling companies that made their 1,023.97-hectare ancestral land into sugar plantations.

IT was a milestone win, but previous administrations could not enforce their final takeover of the lands their ancestors owned.

For over 20 years, 526 lumads in Butong, Quezon, Bukidnon, have been camping at the gate of their 1,023.97-hectare ancestral land that two milling corporations made into sugar plantations.

And in those two long decades, dust along the road had hardened as plaques on the faces of the Butong lumads following all the many dilatory legal tactics of two milling corporations—Escaño Hermanos Inc. and Busco Sugar Milling Corp. Inc.

But it was only during the Duterte administration when they hope to be able to recover their ancestral land.

In 1991 the 526 lumads—known as the petitioner group of Evencio Balag a.k.a. Datu Labugdang—started petitioning for their ancestral land via the government’s land-reform program. On July 13, 1998, they won their case, only to wait for another two decades for the full implementation of the writ of execution that would lead to their installation to the land of their forefathers.

That 1998 decision of the Department of Agrarian Reform Adjudication Board (Darab) Case 109, with Datu Labugdang as petitioner-appellant and Escano Hermanos Inc. and Jose Escano as respondents-appellees, and the Busco Sugar Milling Co. as respondent-intervener, was signed and approved by all of the seven-member National Adjudication Board, except former Agrarian Reform  Secretary Ernesto Garilao, who did not take part.

The case was a typical story of a lumad occupant being suddenly called as trespasser, a squatter, and being evicted from his ancestral land by one suddenly waiving a title under the Torrens System of the country. But the threatened lumad occupant, crying land grabbing, chose to fight in court and one day won over the titleholder who occupied the land.

But the lumad occupant had no power to force himself to occupy the land that was rightfully his due to the unwillingness of local agrarian officials and law enforcers of implementing the decision against the land usurper.

It was only on November 20, 2017, when Darab 10 Regional Adjudicator Noel Carreon directed Bukidnon Provincial Darab Sheriff Efren Paypa, with upport assistance of the Philippine National Police, “to enforce and execute the decision of this case dated July 13, 1998,” to fully enforce the order. But still Carreon’s order could not yet be enforced as of press time.

“We are thankful to President Duterte for finally hearing us,” said Jeffrey Batag Adajar, the eldest son of now deceased Datu Labugdang, and chairman of the Kaligtungan Balag Community Workers Association, the agrarian-reform beneficiary (ARB) group of the Butong lumads.

ARB association consultant Arnold Gomez, who helped the group communicate with national DAR officials, said he was optimistic of the “fast actions favoring the poor ARBs” by President Duterte’s appointees at the national level.

In his team’s consultation-assessment with the lumads’ group on  February 27 and 28 at Butong in Quezon town, Bukidnon, the ARB lumads expressed optimism that Duterte’s tough stance will favor the dispossessed over the influential sugar millers.

He said that after being informed of the lumads’ plight, DAR national officials are gearing up for the final implementation of the writ of execution of the old 1998 DAR decision favoring the ARB lumads.

Gomez said they informed DAR national and regional officials through letters of the lumads’ plight and Carreon’s unenforced order. The letter was addressed to Agrarian Reform Secretary John Castriciones, copied to Paolo Quazon, head executive assistant secretary; Karlo Bello, undersecretary for operations; and Junjun Malsi, assistant secretary for field operaitons.

The ARB lumads are asking national DAR officials to step in and come to the area to finally install them.

Gomez said “it would finally happen” given the track record of Castriciones and his officials.

The Darab national decision on July 13, 1998, placed the 1,023.9779 hectares under the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program, through the compulsory scheme of RA 6657, in favor to the petitioners—Datu Labugdang and his group. The decision further resolved that another 62 hectares subject to the Supreme Court decision of May 16, 1983, be immediately surveyed by the DAR and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and awarded to the actual occupants headed by Datu Balag.

With the Escaños and the Busco company losing in the decision, they delayed the decision from being implemented when they resorted to making motions for reconsideration in the Darab national sala and a petition for review at the Court of Appeals (CA).

The legal maneuvers were later junked by Darab and the CA for lack of merit and basis.

The  ARB lumads then filed a writ of execution at the provincial Darab on January 12, 2017, and the Board on October 19, 2017, found it meritorious.

At least two writs of executions were made pursuant to the 1998 national  Darab decision. The first writ was made by then-Regional Adjudicator Jimmy Tapangan, directing Bukidnon Darab Sheriff III, who made a partial return report that Quezon Maro Earl Declaro, “did not honor the writ” and “was the one who placed” new landowners in the Butong area, to the detriment of Datu Labugdang’s group.

On November 20, 2017, Carreon penned his order to implement the writ of execution pursuant to the 1998 national decision and addressed to Paypa.

Image Credits: Cha Monforte

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