Wake Up, Philippines!

More equitable

Posted in CARP, DAR, Laws, LBP, Supreme Court Decisions by Erineus on February 12, 2009

This is another case of agricultural lands subjected to land reform. The issue arising here is the time of determination of just compensation: is it at the time of taking or at the time of payment?

The case involved 8 parcels of lands containing an aggregate area of 34.95 hectares all duly titled in the name of an agricultural cooperative (AAC). Sometime in 1972 the DAR acquired the said property under its Operation Land Transfer Program pursuant to PD 27. The properties were thereafter distributed to farmer beneficiaries who were subsequently issued certificates of land transfer and emancipation patent between the years 1978 to 1990.

However, the Land Bank of the Philippines (LBP) paid AAC for only two parcel of land on February 10, 1986 and March 3, 1987 in the total sum of P35,778.70. The other 6 parcels of rice land with an area of 28.2514 hectares remained unpaid.

On May 28, 1987, AAC sold the said properties to another cooperative (PAMC). The latter thus inquired from the LBP about the balance of payment for the six other parcels of land. LBP then sent a letter to PAMC pegging the value of the 6 remaining parcels at P 148,172. 21. The latter however refused to accept their valuation.

In the meantime, R.A. 6657 or the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Act was signed into law on June 15, 1988. The said R.A. mandates that the LBP shall compensate the landowner in such amount as may be agreed upon by the landowner, the DAR and LBP or as may be determined by the court as just compensation taking into consideration the cost of the acquisition of the land, the current value of like properties, its nature, actual use, income, sworn valuation by the owner, the tax declarations and the assessments by government assessors.

On August 12, 1994 LBP reiterated its valuation of P148,172.21 and requested PAMC to submit some documents so that full payment could be effected. But PAMC again protested and requested for a revaluation. In October 1994 DAR issued A.O.13 imposing an increment of 6% yearly interest compounded from the date of coverage on the value of lands not yet paid. So LBP adjusted its proposed valuation by adding said increment thus increasing the amount to P537,538.34. PAMC still rejected the amount and instead subsequently filed a petition before the RTC acting as Special Agrarian Court (SAC) for the valuation and determination of just compensation pursuant to R.A. 6657.

LBP however contested the said petition contending that the said law should not be applied retroactively to this case as it did not provide for retroactive application. According to LBP, the taking of the lands in this case was deemed effected on October 21, 1972 when PD 27 took effect and when AAC was deprived of ownership over its lands in favor of farmer beneficiaries. Hence in computing the value of land for payment of just compensation, the valuation of the land at the time of the taking in 1972 pursuant to PD 27, should be made the basis. There is no injustice here since there would be an increment of 6% per annum, according to LBP. Was LBP correct?

No. Under the factual circumstances of this case, the agrarian reform process is still incomplete as the just compensation has yet to be settled. Considering the passage of R.A. 6657 before the completion of this process, the just compensation should be determined and the process concluded under said law. R.A. 6657 is the applicable law with PD 27 and its corresponding E.O. 228 having suppletory effect only. It would certainly be inequitable to determine just compensation based on the guideline provided by PD 27 and E.O. 228 considering the DAR’s failure to determine just compensation for a considerable length of time. More than 30 years have passed and the landowner is yet to benefit from it while the farmer-beneficiaries have already been harvesting its produce for the longest time. The seizure of the landholding did not take place on the date of effectivity of PD 27 but on date of payment of just compensation.

Hence it is more equitable for the SAC to determine just compensation for the reminder of the property using the values at the time of its payment and considering the full and fair equivalent of the property taken from its owner by the expropriator, equivalent being real, substantial, full and ample (LBP vs. Pacita Agricultural Multi Purpose Coop. etc. G.R. 177607, January 19, 2009).

Note: Books containing compilation of my articles on Labor Law and Criminal Law (Vols. I and II) are now available. Call tel. 7249445.

A LAW EACH DAY (Keeps Trouble Away) By Jose C. Sison
Updated February 12, 2009 12:00 AM

Commentary: The long road to social reform

Posted in Agrarian Reform, Justice and Peace, Social Issues/Concerns, Social Reform by Erineus on February 1, 2009

“[A] man whose father less than 60 years ago might not have been served at a local restaurant can now stand before you to take a most sacred oath.” With these words US President Barack Obama in his inaugural address invoked – oh so gently – the long and bitter struggle for racial justice in his country: 625,000 dead in the Civil War, the lynchings, the Montgomery Bus Boycott, violence at Selma, the murder of Martin Luther King, and all the rest.

The wider meaning could be that social change does not come easily or cheaply when it runs up against powerful vested interests – a lesson that has been impressed upon us here in the Philippines time and again.

Take, for example, the recent failure of Congress to enact a reform or an extension of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law (CARL). Farmers’ organizations, committed lawyers, Church people and bishops had lobbied, marched, camped and fasted in the effort to move the nation’s lawmakers to do its duty as mandated by the Constitution, but all in vain. The landlords and their allies in Congress, including the family of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, were too powerful; thus what came out was a mere token six-month “extension” of the law, with its teeth – compulsory acquisition – removed. Here we have a classic example of elite democracy, in which political power is held by an economic elite and used to defend the interests of that elite – at the continuing expense of the non-elite.

The excuse of the congresspersons, that they need more time to consider the issues, inspires ridicule. As though the facts were not clear, for example, in the massive study of Arsenio Balisacan, which was discussed by Solita Collas-Monsod in her column more than a year ago. (“A look at CARP’s impact on poverty and growth,” Philippine Daily Inquirer, 12/1/07) While pointing out there and in other studies the many weakness and failures of CARP, Balisacan does show unequivocally that land ownership promotes both economic growth and poverty reduction.

Equally distressing for those concerned about social reform and social justice is the decision of the Court of Appeals in Cagayan de Oro City, declaring unconstitutional a Davao City ordinance prohibiting aerial spraying of fungicides on banana plantations in the city. For years, workers living on the plantations with their families, aided by non-government organizations, had lobbied against the spraying, which they say causes skin and eye irritations, tightness in the chest, and various other ailments. The lobbyists gathered impressive testimony both from the affected residents of the plantations and from medical and other experts, and eventually convinced the city council to pass an ordinance forbidding the spraying, with a three-month deadline for the companies to switch to other forms of spraying.

The powerful Philippine Banana Growers and Exporters Association (PBGEA) took the issue to the courts, claiming that the fungicides are not hazardous to health (contrary, it seems, to a warning on their labels), and moreover that three months was not sufficient time for a conversion to other forms of spraying. The Regional Trial Court examined the facts quite thoroughly and affirmed the validity of the ban. Thereafter the PBGEA went to the Court of Appeals in Cagayan de Oro City, claiming among other things that the three-month deadline was impossible to meet and that the Davao City ordinance was therefore unconstitutional.

The Court of Appeals took more than a year to act on the appeal. At the same time, the NGOs kept up a steady drumfire of support for the ban and of pressure on the Court to decide the case and give the workers some relief from the poisons descending regularly on their homes, their workstations, their children on the way to school. They marched, held prayer rallies, obtained support from other NGOs, and from the Social Action Center of the Archdiocese of Davao. They came in a caravan to Cagayan de Oro City and camped out by the Court of Appeals even over Christmas. There was full support from Archbishop Antonio Ledesma of Cagayan de Oro, Bishop Honesto Pacana of Malaybalay in Bukidnon province where aerial spraying is forbidden, from Xavier University in Cagayan de Oro and Rep. Risa Baraquel. The campers caroled before the Court of Appeals, fasted, shaved their heads and marched in a torchlight parade by night. The solicitor general, in response to a request from the appellate court, issued an opinion supporting the validity of the ordinance.

But all in vain, it seems. On Jan. 9, the Court of Appeals in Cagayan de Oro declared the ordinance unconstitutional, basically on the ground that the three-month deadline was impossible to meet. It could have, I am told, affirmed the validity of the ordinance while recommending that the Davao City council grant an extension if after sincere efforts by the banana producers to meet the deadline, this would turn out to be impossible.

The case will now probably go to the Supreme Court. In the meantime, it reminds social reformers of a significant fact. Having begun at the bottom, where many believe a campaign should begin, having organized, and lobbied local government successfully, having gained a victory at the legislative level, reformers may face another line of defense on the part of those clinging to their vested interests – the courts.

The courts also stood in the way of justice and equality for Obama’s father and American Negroes for two centuries before him. But in time, through dogged persistence and sacrifice, even this obstacle was overcome.

So let it be in the Philippines.