MANILA — Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) Undersecretary Peter Irving Corvera assured farmers from a disputed property in Bulacan on Monday that Secretary Manuel “Mar” Roxas II does not own a square inch of the so-called “Araneta Estate” in Barangay Tungkong Mangga, San Jose del Monte City.
Corvera issued the statement in response to the demand of at least 50 members of the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) who trooped to the DILG main office in Quezon City to set up a protest camp and demand that the DILG chief stop his relatives “from grabbing land” in the area, including 300 hectares of agricultural land that would be used as an intermodal depot for a public-private partnership project of the government.
The DILG official said the property in question is apparently owned by the family of Gregorio “Greggy” Araneta III and Araneta Properties and not by Secretary Roxas’ mother or any member of the Roxas family.
“I suggest that the KMP and the leaders of the farmers in the Araneta Estate in Bulacan talk with Mr. Greggy Araneta III since they are the ones who have a stake in the property and not Secretary Roxas,” Corvera told the farmers.
The farmers have accused Greggy Araneta and his relatives of land grabbing, arguing that around 300 hectares of the controversial property will be used by the planned PhP63-billion Metro Rail Transit-7 (MRT-7) project as an intermodal depot that would displace them.
“From the time Mr. Roxas was the Secretary of the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC), he purposely did not tackle the issue of MRT-7 since there was a big chance that he would be accused of pushing a project for the benefit of his relatives,” Corvera explained.
The MRT-7 project would also include residential buildings and other structures for mixed use development, KMP claimed.
Hundreds of families have been cultivating the land for decades, KMP stressed, and it was strange why the Aranetas would transform the area for purposes that are beyond the coverage of the agrarian reform law.
KMP chairperson and former Anakpawis Rep. Rafael Mariano said the takeover of the property would be a travesty of the same law.
MRT-7 is a a public-private partnership (PPP) project between the Aquino government and the Universal LRT Corporation (ULC), which is controlled by San Miguel Corporation (SMC), whose chairman is President Aquino’s uncle, Eduardo “Danding” Cojuangco Jr.
“This land dispute should be addressed by the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) and not by the DILG since questions about land use or the coverage of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) and its extensions are exclusively within the jurisdiction of the DAR Secretary,” Corvera clarified.
Real estate giants like SM Land Inc. and Ayala Land Inc. have reportedly expressed interest in the real estate and commercial components of MRT-7 as well.
“Officially, the concern of Secretary Roxas on the issue of the Araneta Properties is the maintenance of peace and order. The DILG is duty-bound to provide law enforcers to ensure that there will be no violence until the matter is resolved peacefully and to the mutual benefit of the contending parties,” Corvera stressed.
“If it turns out that the farmers have a legitimate right to the land according to DAR, then the farmers must be installed in the area. If not, then there should be a corresponding settlement with them, or perhaps a transfer to agricultural areas they can transform into productive zones,” he maintained.
“I assure the Bulacan farmers that Secretary Roxas has no proprietary interest in the disputed area of Tungkong Mangga,” Corvera said.