MANILA - The Department of Agrarian Reform on Monday said it has started investigating a 350-hectare estate being linked to Vice President Jejomar Binay amid a call by Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago that the land should be distributed to farmers.
In an interview with ABS-CBN's Umagang Kay Ganda, Agrarian Reform Secretary Virgilio delos Reyes said it is possible for government to seize the land if the original owners violated the agrarian reform law.
He said the department is investigating a one-page agreement presented by businessman Antonio Tiu, owner of Sunchamp Real Estate Development Corp., alleging that he bought 145 hectares from Laureano Gregorio.
There are also reports that portions of the 145-hectare estate in six barangays are lands distributed to farmer-beneficiaries through certificates of land ownership award (CLOA).
Delos Reyes said that under the land reform law, farmer-beneficiaries can only sell the land after 10 years and after the original owner has been compensated.
Any sale of land originally under the government's land reform program should be cleared by the DAR.
Even then, the DAR chief said the buyer cannot get more than 5 hectares of land.
"Kung ang makakabili ay lalampas ng 5 ektarya, hindi rin po ito pwedeng payagan. Kung lalampas ng 5 ektarya, hindi dapat bigyan ng clearance," he said.
For his part, Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas chairman Rafael Mariano said the estate is a classic example of the failure of the agrarian reform law.
He said the conversion of land from agricultural to industrial, residential or commercial use defeats the purpose of the law to give assets to landless farmers.
The agrarian reform chief, meanwhile, said Sunchamp has already filed an application to convert the land for agro-tourism use.
Delos Reyes said Sunchamp has to defend the conversion of the land and its exclusion from land reform.
"Hindi basta-basta nag-file ito ay automatic," he said.
Senator Santiago, a former agrarian reform secretary, earlier questioned how Tiu could be allowed to own 350 hectares of land in Rosario, Batangas.
She said that even if Gregorio is a landowner or farmer-beneficiary, there is no way he could not have sold the property within ten years from registration without the approval of the DAR. The land also cannot be leased unless cleared by the Presidential Agrarian Reform Council (PARC).
Santiago said agricultural land can only be sold if it has been classified as commercial or residential land. There was no such conversion application, she added.
"The rule is that haciendas are outlawed. The only exception is that the agricultural land was converted, with DAR approval, into commercial land, presumably under the claim of the agri-tourism business. But the DAR central office reportedly has no file on the conversion of the property," she added.
DAR records showed it only approved the conversion of 87 hectares in Rosario, Batangas, she said.
"How can an hacienda of 145 or 350 hectares be consolidated in Rosario, when only 87 hectares have been approved for conversion? Originally, land in Rosario was agricultural. How could it have been converted for an alleged agri-tourism business? Under the agrarian reform program, this mess stinks," Santiago said.
She said the illegal conversion of land was already rampant during her time as agrarian reform secretary during the Cory Aquino administration.
"When I was agrarian reform secretary, the most scandalous source of corruption in the DAR was the rampant illegal conversion of agricultural land to residential or commercial land. Hence, after reading about the humongous size of the land, my eyebrows rose up to my hairline," the senator said.