Editorial: Evil beyond belief

Editorial Cartoon by John Gilbert Manantan

IMAGINE 33 years of crushed hopes. But we’ll get to that.

First, a cursory look at what the Department of Agrarian Reform in Central Visayas (DAR 7) had done over the past few months.

Late last year, at least 12 agrarian reform beneficiary organizations (ARBOs) in Central Visayas got a good deal with the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP) 7 as food supplier for the latter’s prison facilities. The memorandum of understanding (MOU) ensures a steady market for the ARBOs’ produce, which include vegetables, fruits and other farm products. It’s the DAR’s matching program while it initiated likewise the distribution of supplemental food and non-food items to some 9,212 agrarian reform beneficiaries in Central Visayas, 1,307 of which are from Bohol, 2,760 from Cebu, 4,943 from Negros Oriental, and 615 from Siquijor.

Last month, DAR 7 and the National Nutrition Council (NNC) in Central Visayas also signed an MOU under the Enhanced Partnership Against Hunger and Poverty (EPAHP) program, which will benefit three ARBOs. The deal also matches the ARBOs to the beneficiaries of the NNC’s Early Childhood Care and Development in the First 1,000 Days Program (F1L Program) as they will be supplying its food requirements.

We believe the DAR has a long list of activities under its multitude of programs, and yes, most likely, well documented and widely published in media or on multiple platforms. Well and good. Congratulations.

Except that the agency, or at least a conventicle of sinister officials, has for over three decades now kept a dark and evil secret—2,007 land titles or Certificates of Land Ownership Awards (Cloas) languishing in a sack in a stock room in its provincial office. The documents’ registration dates span between 1987 and 2020, the width and breadth of which make all accomplishments pale in comparison.

“This is a very saddening discovery in Cebu. I immediately ordered an inventory of these undistributed land titles,” said DAR Secretary John Castriciones in an online press conference on May 3, 2021.

Discovered in the DAR 7’s Land Transfer and Implementation Division are heaps of sacks containing 387 emancipation patents and 1,620 Cloas. These documents would have at once entitled over 2,000 farmers land ownership and would have turned their poverty into mere history.

The DAR central office sent lawyers to look into why, despite years of cleared land titles, implementation had been stunted for so long. A series of investigation finally led to the discovery of these sacks of documents.

The secretary said the provincial office “has no right to withhold the distribution of titles the moment that it is released to the DAR by the Registry of Deeds, which means that it is all set and ready for distribution to ARBs anytime.”

Thirteen agrarian reform officials and personnel will be facing criminal and administrative cases. As the concealment of these documents had been going on for decades now, some of these officials may have already retired.

It may also be important to establish the original owners of the lands that have been subjected to the distribution, and see if they have been in cahoots with the identified DAR officials and personnel. The farmer beneficiaries must also be heard and allowed to tell their stories on a wider platform.

Decades of hiding Cloas hint of a collective effort not only by one institution. It reveals something structural, a pattern of stifling the whole program of land distribution for farmers. With reports of harassments against farmers and orgnizations crying for a failed genuine land reform, well, the DAR has just unveiled what went wrong all these years. Evil, evil beyond belief.


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