HERMOSA, Bataan – After a nearly heated argument between local lawmakers, the Sangguniang Bayan (SB or municipal council) of Hermosa voted unanimously last Monday to “reverse” the classification of a disputed lands in Barangay Sumalo into agricultural.
Municipal Councilor Luzviminda “Luz” Samaniego, chairperson for the SB committee on housing and land utilization, was the proponent of this ‘historic’ move of the council. This action was taken upon the request of a group of farmers, the Samahan ng Nagkakaisang Mamamayan ng Barangay Sumalo (SANAMABASU) for an ordinance reclassifying the lands of Riverforest Development Corporation (RDC) from industrial to agricultural.
“Napag alaman po namin na sa nakalipas na limang taon nagbabayad po ng RPT ang Riverforest sa rate ng agricultural at hindi industrial at wala po kaming nakitang development sa lugar for the past five years,” Coun. Samaniego told newsmen from print and broadcast media who covered the SB regular session.
Councilor Reghie Santos inhibited during the division of the house proposed by ABC President and ex-officio Coun. Jayson Enriquez citing reasons that he (Santos) “wasn’t fully read and understand the committee report.”
But Councilor Paquito “Pyke” Datu as a reply to Santos insisted that the said “report” was given them three weeks in advance.
Councilor Gerry Singian was absent during the said session. All councilors raised their hands in favor of Samaniego’s committee report.
Santos later explained his side in favor of the Sumalo farmers and also insisted he “was not in favor of Riverforest’s interest.”
Sumalo Punong Barangay Rolly Martinez personally thanked the SB members for a positive reply to their request.
The said more than 200 hectares of land was reportedly bought by the Littons in 1979 for a meager P11,000. In the 1990s, the Littons applied for the conversion of the property for agricultural to commercial, industrial and residential uses based on Republic Act or the Bases Conversion and Development Act of 1992.
The application for conversion was initially denied by Department of Agrarian Reform Sec. Ernesto Garilao but ultimately approved by the Office of the President (Torres Resolution). In 1996, the Hermosa SB issued Ordinance No. 96004 reclassifying the area from agricultural to industrial.
Meanwhile, the farmers led by PB Martinez have exerted all their efforts to fight for their rights insisting their ancestors were the first tillers of these disputed lands but admits they failed to take actions to make their lands titled.
“1950s pa lang deklaradong barangay na ang Sumalo bago pa man dumating ang mga Littons na yan,” Martinez said during the interview with the press.
Diocese of Balanga Bishop Ruperto Santos in an exclusive interview with CLTV 36 said: “Andiyan na sila noon pa. Kinikilala na yung Barangay noon pa, may nagmimisa na diyan may kapilya na diyan.”
Municipal Administrator, Atty. Ariel Inton told the press that the Hermosa LGU led by Mayor Jopet Inton will do all legal means to help the Sumalo farmers win back their rights to the disputed lands.
At present, Hermosa Parish Church legal counsel, Atty. Coeli Fiel, said the lawyers from the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) lawyers are helping the farmers in their fight for the ejectment case filed by RDC.
Local reporters also tried to get the side of the Littons through their RDC office in Barangay Sumalo but a representative declined to comment saying they are not authorized to speak with the press.