DARAB says Bukidnon sugar mill, not tribe, is owner of 230-hectare land

BUTONG, Quezon, Bukidnon (MindaNews/13 December) — The Department of Agrarian Reform Adjudication Board (DARAB) has reversed a decision it made in 1998 that favored a tribe’s claim that the 230-hectare property of the Bukidnon Sugar Milling Company (Busco) was part of their ancestral domain.

In a resolution dated November 2, the DARAB now said it erred in its July 13, 1998 decision when it assumed that the Busco-claimed property was part of the tribe’s ancestral domain. The property, it said, was Busco’s and that it was exempt from coverage under Republic Act 6657 or the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program.

Datu Evencio Balag and 256 other members of the Manobo tribe filed a case before the DARAB against Busco and Escano Hermanos, Inc. and Jose Escano.

According to a copy of the resolution obtained from Arturo Belcena, Busco’s planter relations officer, the DARAB ruled that the 230-hectare property is not part of the tribe’s ancestral domain and thus exempt from agrarian reform coverage based on an exemption order issued November 1994 by then Agrarian Reform Secretary Ernesto Garilao.

Belcena said Balag’s group has appealed the DARAB resolution. But lawyer Billy Emphasis, one of the Balag group’s co-counsels, told MindaNews via telephone Monday the group did not appeal the decision anymore. He said the case has been dormant for a while after the death of their lead counsel.

Emphasis explained that the Balags earlier claimed the area to be their ancestral domain and then later for CARP coverage.

The November 2010 ruling was in response to the motion filed by Busco and another respondent on August 12, 1998 and Balag’s motion for execution of the July 1998 decision, filed 12 years later, on August 25, 2010

The DARAB denied the motion for execution.

In the 1998 decision, the DARAB subjected the contested property under CARP coverage following the Supreme Court’s order that 62 hectares in the northern part of the property be awarded to Datu Balag and his group. The 62 hectares, Emphasis said, was untitled so it was distributed to the group.

“…The landholding in controversy, consisting of 1013.9779 hectares, should be placed under CARP through the compulsory scheme of RA 6657 and in coordination with the DENR award the same to the petitioners/appellants (Datu Balag, et.al.). With respect to the 62 hectares subject of the Supreme Court decision of May 16, 1983, the same should be immediately surveyed by DAR and DENR and awarded and distributed to the actual occupants headed by Datu Balag,” the DAR court said in the decision’s dispositive portion.

The DARAB in its recent decision said Busco has transfer certificate of title (TCT) for the 230-hectare property after it acquired it in an open bidding through the Assets Privatization Trust in 1988.

“Thus the argument of petitioner/appellants that the landholding is an ancestral domain cannot hold,” the DARAB said in its November 2010 resolution.

Balag’s group had claimed the 1,000-hectare land (apart from the 62 hectares) is part of their ancestral domain and that the Busco-claimed 230 hectares is within the thousand hectare ancestral domain.

Based on Busco’s present land use, the biggest part of the 230 hectares (about 104.7 hectares) is for agricultural use, specifically for “experimental farm,” 41 hectares for residential and employee housing, about 32 hectares for roads, 22 hectares for a tree farm project, and 15 hectares for industrial use.

The DARAB decision said the TCT came from the Original Certificate of Title No. P-41, issued under the Torrens System. In Section 9 of the agrarian reform law, the DARAB ruling said, the Torrens System “shall be respected.”

It also said that the Bureau of Agrarian Legal Assistance on April 25, 2000 had issued a Certificate/Order of Finality on the Busco property’s exemption from coverage.

The DARAB resolution was signed by only four of seven board member-signatories. Those who signed are Gerundio Maduenio, Patricia Rualo-Bello, Jium Coleto, and Arnold Arrieta. Board chair Virgilio R. delos Reyes and two other members – Anthony Parungao and Mary Frances Pesayco-Aquino – did not sign. A marginal note on the certified true copy seal said they “did not take part. (Walter I. Balane / MindaNews)