moment of clarity

warning: this contains truth and fiction. the lines are meant to be extremely blurred.

Monday, December 10, 2007

On Sumilao

This case is simple and ought to have been resolved a long time ago. The law is clear and the facts have been determined—and put into Memorandum- by none other than the DAR officials mandated to do so. Indeed, this is very much a case about due process and social justice as it is a case of application of the black letter of the law. And, on all counts, the law, its precepts, and rationale tilt in favor of the farmers of Sumilao, Bukidnon.

Regard for due process would have been manifested best by the early resolution of the Petition for Revocation of the highly contentious Conversion Order, not by an extended time for resolution which is both a surplusage and injustice. The said Petition was filed in November of 2004, more than three years ago and the responsibility to decide the case has been passed back and forth. The parties to this case have been heard and heard well. The only thing lacking is a decision on whose side the law is on, a duty which this Department has long absconded from performing. After three years of pendency, the case has been further prolonged by the three days for the submission of what have already been of cognizance to this Office, with or without the remand.

Due process is violated when the parties are not given an opportunity to be heard and, equally, when there is a prolonged, unjustified delay of the determination of the case. Because time does not pass without consequences. Because decades of unjust deprivation of, and exclusion from their land puts to death the livelihood of a whole farming community. Because years of continuous and unpunished violation of the temporary and conditional permits for change use emboldens the grantees to disregard the law. Because weeks of an exhausting and frustrating campaign for justice crushes the dignity of the farmer as he is ignored by the very authority he has respected and sought protection from. Because days of inaction and indecision translates both to hunger and anger. Because due process is respect for the rights of the parties and not a convenient excuse for buying time when the authorities are grappling with political will to set the crooked straight.

The strict implementation of the rules on conversion is based on the policy of preserving and utilizing agricultural land for its optimum use. The rules have been written with clarity precisely to avoid situations where landowners are granted conversion orders and continue to so escape coverage from CARP even if they do not have the intention nor ability to abide by the conditions and mandatory timeframes attached. This Office cannot encourage circumvention of its own rules—crafted out of expertise- by allowing parties to bypass rules and evade coverage from CARP with impunity. Otherwise, landowners will continue to resort to wasteful and illegal conversions and to pass the buck on to others who will conveniently and unlawfully violate the law with impunity as well. The simplistic assertion of lack of knowledge on the encumbrances of the title falls flat on its face when juxtaposed with the fact that the related previous case was of public knowledge and that the transferee has always had at its disposal resources, and connections at that, to investigate the background and status of the subject land. A status that is undeniably intricately intertwined with the Higaonon farmers and the prime, agricultural nature of the irrigated land located in Sumilao, Bukidnon.

At the expense of seeming to lecture the implementer, it is but imperative to reiterate that the subject land should have been, in the first place, non-negotiable for conversion. But final as the grant of the conversion order has become, the only material question thereafter was whether or not the conversion order was complied with and in case it was not, what remains is not a question but an imposition, a legal command—immediate revocation of the conversion order and coverage of the subject land. Absent such authority—temporary and conditional- to convert, or the proper and timely actual conversion of use, there no longer exists any reason for DAR not to cover it under CARP.

And, what of social justice? This Office is, or ought to be, highly acquainted with the concept because it is this very precept which resulted in the establishment of this Office and which justifies its continued existence. The 1997 Philippine Constitution, cognizant of the historical inequities and of the role the government plays in addressing the latter, mandates implementation of a genuine agrarian reform program. And so, said mandate has been fleshed out by law and rules. It is but ironic how the farmer is forced, after engaging all avenues of justice, to walk through predominantly similarly situated lands of the country to be able to rectify the wrong done them and reclaim their rights.

This case is rather simple. It is about applying the consequences of non-compliance with conversion rules. It is about not allowing an entity to convert the use of the land if it was not granted, and did not even apply, for the authority to do so. It is about executing the mandate of the Department—cover agricultural lands in excess of the allowed area if there is no reason to otherwise exempt it. The case is easy and is only complicated by hesitation, hesitation which will inevitably crumble before the legal and moral impetus it stubbornly struggle against.