SC order snubbed? DAR stalls conversion of Johnny Litton’s Bataan estate into industrial zone

By Nancy Carvajal

Bilyonaryo learned that the conversion has been stalled due to an order from the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) to distribute the land to farmers despite a Supreme Court ruling deeming the property unsuitable for agriculture.

The Samahan Ng Nagkakaisang Mamamayan ng Barangay Sumalo (SANAMABASU) has also vehemently opposed the development.

Residents of Barangay Sumalo, who now live on the 213-hectare disputed estate, have asked President Rodrigo Duterte in a letter to reinstate the land’s conversion into an industrial zone for their collective benefit.

“Ang pagkakaroon po ng Hermosa Ecozone at ang industriyalisasyon sa buong lalawigan ng Bataan ay isang napakagandang kaganapan para po matiyak ang maunlad na ikabubuhay ng aming mga pamayanan. Lahat kami ay hindi na pagbubungkal ng lupa ng Sumalo ang ikinabubuhay, kinakailangan magtrabaho sa labas ng Sumalo para itaguyod ang kabuhayan ng aming pamilya,” the letter, a copy of which was obtained by Bilyonaryo, read.

Records showed that the Office of the President, through then-Executive Secretary Ruben Torres, approved the entire Litton land for conversion into an industrial zone in 1997 since it would pave the way for more business opportunities, given its proximity to the Bataan Special Economic and Freeport Zone.

In the same year, the Department of Agriculture’s office in Region Three endorsed the Litton petition for land conversion and certified its eligibility on various grounds, including the poor quality of the soil for agricultural use.

The DA noted that 60 percent of the Litton property is considered shrubland/ grassland while the remaining 40 percent is utilized for residential, institutional, roads. It also reinforced earlier certification of the Municipal Agrarian Reform Office (MARO) of Hermosa, Bataan that the property is untenanted.

On January 31, 2007, the Supreme Court ruled that the Litton property was unsuitable for agriculture.

Citing the DA’s report, the tribunal said the Litton property is not only “best suited for purposes other than agricultural production, it is also observed that the only notable developments on the property are residential houses, roads and recreational facilities.”

However, in 2013, then-DAR Secretary Virgilio Delos Reyes ordered the inclusion of the uninhabited portion of the land in the agrarian reform program because as it remained undeveloped.

Barangay Sumalo residents accused SANAMABASU and its leader, Rolando Martinez, of using various tactics to stop the land’s conversion.

“SANAMABASU is using underhanded legal and physical means to derail any move to develop the lands,’’ said Leopoldo Afable.

To fight the efforts of Martinez and other interested parties, the long- time residents of Sumalo had formed their own group to push for the land’s conversion.

“We pinned our hopes that the development of our barangay will greatly improve the standard of living of the residents, thus we appeal to President Duterte to listen to our pleas,” he said.

Afable said residents of Barangay Sumalo stand to benefit more if the land is converted into an industrial zone.

“We are all workers, not farmers. The land continues to be untillable, thus we have to work somewhere else to earn a living. But if the conversion order is implemented and development starts soon, we would be happy to know that the future of our young relatives promises to be better,” he said.

Bilyonaryo reached out to Bataan Representative Geraldine Roman to seek her comment on the issue, but she has yet to respond.

Martinez, however, insisted that the land conversion should not push through since Litton’s family did not develop the property within the five-year duration stated in the law.

RDC lawyer Alexander Flores maintained that the land owners started the development within the time frame indicated by law, but SANAMABASU has been slowing them down.

“How can the Litton’s start then, when in every turn of development, they are being harassed by Martinez and his men. Land surveyors and other workers were being harassed by Martinez,’’ Flores said.

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