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Bacolod City, Philippines Wednesday, February 3, 2016
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with Rolly Espina

The ARBs of Arroyo

Rolly EspinaI've been following the developments of the 25 agrarian reform beneficiaries' plight in Hacienda Bacan, originally owned by the family of former First Gentleman Mike Arroyo, in Isabela.

Based on their claims, they've been harassed by the alleged presence of gun men and they “feel oppressed” by the family of slain Board Member Renato Malabor.

As to the presence of armed men in the area, that should be an issue of immediate concern since the fifth district has already been identified as an election area on the watch list for possible election-related violence.

As to the claims of oppression, that might be another story. As they themselves admitted, they've been supported by the Malabor family when they signed an agreement leasing off the agrarian-covered farm while they are awaiting the release of their CLOAs.

Since that agreement was signed in 2011, these ARBs have been getting P5,000 every two weeks plus rice and food, or P10,000 a month at least for leasing off their land to the Malabors since they had no resources to till lands awarded to them.

This practice is being done all over the province and in other parts were agrarian reform lands were distributed. This is one area of CARP that has already been over-dramatized to make the national government and DAR take notice that without the necessary support services and technical inputs, the CARP is a failure, but to no avail.

Just check with Land Bank and see their records of payment from ARBs and I am pretty sure it's dismal, or if not, I bet it is being paid by money from lessees.

In fact, if we dig more, there were even landholdings that were supposedly covered but which were confiscated by banks and sold off to new landowners.

CARP must be beyond land distribution but unfortunately, DAR officials through the years, have based their accomplishments on how many hectares have been distributed and not on the state of the beneficiaries.

As such, the ARBs have no recourse but to seek help from those with resources and in their case, it was Malabor, whom, if I'm not mistaken was the sitting mayor then of Isabela.

Now of course, with all due respect to the slain official, that act in itself is very questionable. Here you have an elected official who is supposed to oversee the welfare of his constituents. As mayor, Malabor has enough clout to represent the ARBs before DAR and lobby for support services or at least financing to empower these farmers.

But perhaps, as a planter himself, he saw the opportunity to both, help the ARBs with their day to day and at the same time, benefit economically from tilling their lands.

Now mind you, I think this is being practiced everywhere, both by politicians and those with the capital and if you do an honest survey, there are more ARBs land being leased and tilled by others than them.

That's the reality and for as long as DAR or the national government does not resolve this the ARBs will be holding CLOAs that are meaningless.

Now back to the Bacan case, I doubt if this issue is really oppression from Malabor's surviving family who took over management of the leased lands.

If we take the ARBs statements, up until the time they borrowed again and were not given consideration because of their outstanding debt, they never uttered anything. They capitalized too on the fact that their families survived from the bi-monthly subsistence from the Malabors all these years and on top of that, were even granted a loan of P150,000 per hectare.

With 25 ARBs, we are talking of millions in pesos since I presume each ARB has at least more than one hectare from DAR.

Of course, if I am Araceli Malabor, I will not also simply give in and would demand they pay me back what they owe. If their claims though of Araceli asking they double the amount to include interests, then that's a different question altogether but which mediation can resolve.

To us readers, it may just be another case of the powerful versus the unfortunate souls. But apparently, if you look at the context of the basis of their claims, they were not so unfortunate until they were denied additional loans.

With elections around the corner and with some Malabor family members vying for a seat in their town and district, this can also be just another propaganda. As to who will benefit from all these, I will leave that up to the readers to conclude.*

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