SLIM CHANCE OF RECOVERY
FINALLY, the truth is out.
Amid the persistent denial of Mayor Benjain S. Lim that the city has lost ownership of the 30-hectare land in Barangay Awai in San Jacinto, an official of the Department of Agrarian Reform confirmed the city’s loss of effective ownership in 2003 and there is only a slim chance that the city can recover it.
Atty. Raul Laluan, Provincial Agrarian Reform Officer (PARO) of Pangasinan, pointed this out to the city council last Monday when he appeared at the regular session upon the invitation of Vice Mayor Belen Fernandez.
Laluan said there appears to be only little hope that Dagupan will be able to lay ownership to the farmland bought under the administration of Mayor Benjamin Lim in 2002 in Barangay Awai, San Jacinto for P16 million and purportedly to be made site for an engineered sanitary landfill.
He said the appeal for reconsideration filed only in 2007 by then City Legal Officer George Mejia on order of then Mayor Alipio Fernandez Jr. in a bid to recover the property is still pending before the office of the Secretary of the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR).
Laluan told the council that had not Mejia filed the appeal, the land would have already been titled in favor of the nine tenants of the area, some of whom have already died and are now represented by their heirs.
Then Mayor Fernandez ordered Mejia to inquire on the status of the land to determine whether the city will still be able to recover the property or the money paid to the seller, Jose Mariano Cuña.
“We are still waiting for the decision of the Secretary (of the DAR) whether or not he will grant the appeal,” said Laluan.
The DAR Adjudication Board (DARAB) had earlier decided in favour of the tenants, placing the entire property under the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program.
The DARAB decision became final and executory on September 22, 2003 after the Lim administration failed to file a motion for reconsideration.
Laluan said that based on records, no motion for reconsideration was filed by the Lim administration or Dagupan City government, Cuña nor Sangalang, making the DARAB decision final and executory on September 22, 2003.
Mejia earlier opined that it would be difficult to reverse the decision of DARAB since the appeal was made long after it became final and executory.
Appealed before the DAR Secretary was the decision on DARAB Case No. 01-03-2182 EP-02 entitled “Domingo de Vera, Narcisa Araos, Inocensio Cayabyab, Juan Zembrano, Ricardo Nicha, Santiago Ferrer, Froctuoso Padaoan vs. Jose Mariano Cuña, Estrella Sanggalang, Land Bank of the Philippines and the City of Dagupan represented by the City Mayor”.
The 30-hectare property was bought by Dagupan City from Jose Mariano Cuña on April 11,2002 for P11.7 million, less than four months after he bought the land from Estrella Sangalang of San Jacinto on December 18, 2001 for P7 million.
The sale was consummated during the first term of Lim who served for two terms as mayor of Dagupan prior to his current term.
Lim was again elected mayor of Dagupan in 2010, beating Fernandez.
UNDER CARP COVERAGE
The 30-hectare property was part of the 91-hectare estate of the late Juan Fernandez, which was covered by CARP.
Since Fernandez left six heirs, each one was entitled to five hectares as retention area or 30 hectares. That 30 hectares was tilled by nine tenant leaseholders who paid rents to the heirs.
When the tenants learned that the land was sold to Cuña without their knowledge, they filed a case before the DARAB against Sangalang and Cuña.
When they learned that Cuña sold the land to the city of Dagupan, the tenants included the city of Dagupan in the case they filed before DARAB.
Laluan explained that there were two cases filed by the tenants, one for redemption of the property in favor of the tenants and second, for the coverage under CARP.
The first case was dismissed but the second case was retained and subsequently decided on July 23, 2003.
The decision ordered the PARO to place the property under the coverage of CARP for distribution to the tenants.
The issue of ownership of the Awai land was raised in The PUNCH in the past weeks but Mayor Lim maintained the city continued to have ownership but failed to show the title as proof.
The planned sanitary landfill at the Barangay Awai was invoked by Lim when confronted with the worsening garbage crisis in Dagupan.
Lim said he is keen on reviving the sanitary landfill project and blamed the delay owing to the issue being “politicized” and never admitted to the decided case by the DARAB.