Residents of Sumalo, Bataan ask DAR to stop land conversion

Published March 20, 2021, 7:56 AM

by Madelaine B. Miraflor

Residents of Sumalo, Bataan are again facing eviction after their municipal government sought to put a 200-hectare privately-owned property there under the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP).

This is despite a Supreme Court (SC) ruling that says the property, owned by Riverforest Development Corporation of the Litton family, is not suitable for agricultural use.

In an open letter sent on March 15, the residents sought a dialogue with Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) Secretary John Castriciones to ask him to stop the implementation of CARP in the aforementioned property.

To be specific, the residents fear that with CARP implementation on the Litton-owned property, they may face another eviction as well as a loss of livelihood, which is currently being provided by Riverforest.

Sumalo is a barangay in the municipality of Hermosa, province of Bataan.

For more than two decades, Riverforest has been seeking government approval to develop its 200-hectare property and tap it for industrial use, which was highly contested by some Sumalo residents in fear of eviction.

In 2019, these Sumalo residents finally avoided eviction after Riverforest’s petition was junked by the Office of the President.

At the time, Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea cited Republic Act No. 6657, or the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law, for his decision, saying that the law “is a bastion of social justice of poor landless farmers” and that some lands must be redistributed “to the underprivileged”.

But then, some Sumalo residents argued that that the land owned by the Litton property is actually not suitable for agricultural use due to its poor soil quality, citing a 2009 SC ruling which was affirmed by the 1997 recommendation of DAR for land conversion to industrial, commercial, and residential.

Court documents enclosed in the letter showed that in 2007, DAR had granted the petition of the Litton patriarch to the conversion of the land from agricultural to multi-use due to the discovery that the soil in the land is not fit for any crops, even the most versatile cassava plant.

Sumalo residents said that it was their Barangay Chair Rolando Martinez who had derailed the implementation of the SC ruling through public protests and even managed to convince then DAR Secretary Virgilio Reyes to put the Litton property under CARP.

The residents also accused Martinez of economic sabotage that delayed the development of the land into commercial and residential zones, which would have benefited their community. 

Martinez is currently suspended for violation of ethical practices as a government official.