CBCP, Hermosa officials back reclassification of industrial lands back to agriculture
The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) and the municipal government here welcomed the resolution passed by the Sangguniang Bayan (SB) on Monday revoking the industrial classification of lands that had for years been contested by farmers and a corporation.
With a vote of eight in favor and one abstain, the Hermosa SB, presided by Vice Mayor Christopher Vitug, approved on third reading the reclassification of more than 200 hectares of land in Barangay Sumalo from “industrial” back to its original classification of “agricultural”.
Lawyer Beulah Coelic Fiel, legal consultant of the Diocese of Balanga and the Parish of Hermosa, said the CBCP had been very supportive of the plight of Sumalo farmers.
“Lawyers of CBCP are now defending the farmers in an ejectment case. This means, the case passed rigid study of the lawyers and they saw the merit in favor of the farmers,” Fiel said.
The farmers faced an eviction case filed by Riverforest Development Corp. (RDC), through which the Littons, owners of the land, seek to develop the property, the SB said.
Bataan Bishop Ruperto Santos, in a text message to the Philippine News Agency (PNA), said the municipal council had to vote to reclassify the land from industrial to agricultural “to correct past mistakes”.
“It is just and fair that the land as before should be agricultural. We support the Sumalo farmers and stand with Hermosa Mayor Jopet Inton. Return to our roots,” the prelate said.
Hermosa parish priest, Fr. Tony Quintos, and Monsignor Tony Dumaual were present during the SB deliberations to show support for the Sumalo farmers.
Municipal legal counsel of Hermosa, Ariel Inton, said the SB resolution had nothing to do with land ownership but whether it was classified as industrial or agricultural.
“The owner of the land has no power to dictate on what classification their property should have. It is the municipal council that has the power to decide. This is not a battle for ownership of the property but for its classification,” the lawyer said.
He said the municipal government under Mayor Inton fully supported the farmers, especially on the land dispute.
“We are thankful to the SB that the classification of the land was reverted to agricultural. For so long, the property was declared industrial. No development was seen and the owner continued paying taxes for agricultural,” Inton said.
He said that the SB decision showed that small farmers had someone to lean on and that the town councilors showed political will.
“In the five years that the property was classified as industrial, there was no development made. Real property tax paid was still on agricultural classification and not on its being industrial,” said Councilor Luzviminda Samaniego, chair of the SB Committee on Housing and Land Utilization.
Samaniego, sponsor of the resolution, said another reason she fought for its passage was to respect the decision of the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR).
Over the years, DAR stood its ground revoking the conversion of the land from agricultural to industrial despite previous certifications and decisions rendered by other agencies.
Sumalo Barangay chairman Rolando Martinez thanked the SB for its decision.
“Ang hiling namin sa DAR ay mag-order na ng valuation at pondohan na ang property ng Land Bank (Our request to DAR is to order a valuation and for Land Bank to fund the property),” the village chief said.
Martinez said their grandfathers had been tilling the land long before Sumalo was declared a barangay in 1957, while the Littons got their land title only in 1979.
He said RDC had fenced the property and they could no longer harvest fruits and other produce they had planted.
Rolly Petines, a resident, pointed to combat wires that he said were used as a fence more than 10 years ago to bar residents from the property.
No RDC official was available Monday to comment on the issue.
A woman employee said she would inform her superiors about the request of local reporters for an interview. (PNA)