Press Release
December 4, 2008

LRA official chastised for blocking Transfer of FG's hacienda to farmers

Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Q. Pimentel, Jr. (PDP-Laban) today castigated a field official of the Land Registration Authority for blocking the transfer of a 98-hectare sugar plantation owned by the family of First Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo to the legitimate agrarian reform beneficiaries in defiance of a final order from the Department of Agrarian Reform and the approval of cash payment by the Land Bank of the Philippines.

Pimentel accused Negros Occidental Register of Deeds Rodolfo Gonzaga of reneging on his duties by refusing to sign the transfer of Hacienda Bacan in Isabela, Negros Occidental from the Rivulet Agro-Industrial Corporation, owned by the Arroyos, to the government under the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) to pave the way for their distribution to 68 qualified farmer-beneficiaries.

First Gentleman Arroyo agreed to have the property covered under CARP through a voluntary offer to sell (VOS) in 2001. But it was only this year that all requirements were completed, with Land Bank depositing the P42.3 million payment and DAR Secretary Nasser Pangandaman approving the parceling of the property among the beneficiaries.

"Mr. Gonzaga has put up a legal stumbling block to full implementation of the agrarian reform program. The transfer of Hacienda Bacan to the farmers has already been endorsed by the DAR and the just compensation is ready for release by Land Bank. But here is a lawyer-bureaucrat who does not believe it," Pimentel said.

At a hearing of the Senate committee on agrarian reforms, Jose Rodito Angeles, one of the farmer-beneficiaries, lamented that the government and the Arroyos have not fulfilled their repeated promise to allow the awarding of Hacienda Bacan to them seven years after the owners agreed to put the property under CARP coverage.

Gonzaga refused to cancel Rivulet's title to the hacienda and to transfer it to the government on the ground that the Land Bank payee should be First Gentleman Arroyo supposedly because of a notation at the back the land title that Mr. Arroyo had a lien on the property.

Pimentel said Gonzaga has disregarded the declaration of trust executed by Mr. Arroyo that he has no more interest in the hacienda and leaving it up to Rivulet to decide on the disposition of the property.

Gonzaga's intransigence compelled the distraught farmers to come to Metro Manila and to stage a hunger strike in front of the LRA building in Quezon City.

Saying that the farmers "are actually involved in a life and death struggle" over the disputed property, Pimentel stressed the state has the obligation to uphold and protect the rights of the legitimate agrarian reform beneficiaries.

He warned Gonzaga that he could be held liable for sanctions under the law for refusing to discharge his ministerial duty despite a lawful order from the DAR.

Pimentel noted that the Arroyos are not being shortchanged in the land deal because they are being compensated to the tune of P42.3 million or P267,500 per hectare. He said that similar other properties in Negros island were given a much lower compensation on a per hectare basis.

Pimentel said Gonzaga's obstructionist acts are outrageous, citing an observation of a leader of a non-government organization that this is the first time in the 20-year history of CARP that a register of deeds has questioned the regularity of a decision and order of the DAR and Land Bank.

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