A special report from GMANews.TV caught my attention. "Arroyo brother-in-law to use biofuels law to evade CARP?," is one interesting read. And I kid you not! Read on, friends!
One of those engaged in this move is presidential brother-in-law Ignacio “Iggy" Arroyo who hurdled last month most of the government requirements needed to convert his family’s 157-hectare Hacienda Bacan in Isabela, Negros Occidental into agro-industrial uses, mainly for the production of ethanol.
If the conversion pushes through, farmers charge that Arroyo will succeed in evading the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program, which covers rice, corn and sugar lands. It will nullify the claims of 67 farmer-beneficiaries who have been waiting for more than a decade for the Department of Agrarian Reform to award them Hacienda Bacan. Local DAR officials fear the Hacienda Bacan farmers will generate a big storm of protests.
A-Kid: I can’t blame the farmers if they do decide to push through with their protests. Why so?
The impending conversion of Hacienda Bacan not only contradicts supposed policy statements by President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo last week that she favored a moratorium on land conversions to preserve the country’s agricultural economy. It also shows how the country’s lawmakers—including a member of the President’s own family—are making a windfall from crafting laws designed to promote their own business interests.
Arroyo’s office also said the congressman, currently the chair of the House Committee on Natural Resources, is committed to “environmental protection" and has even begun working on a climate change bill after attending the climate change summit in Bali, Indonesia last December.
A-Kid: I’d rather be committed to the welfare of the people first. We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.
In the 13th Congress, Arroyo co-authored Republic Act 9367, also known as the Biofuels Act of 2006, along with then Negros Oriental representative Herminio Teves and Bukidnon representative now senator Juan Miguel Zubiri. They and eight other co-authors in the House and Senate and their families own agricultural lands that can or will provide feedstock for biofuel production.
A-Kid: Conflict of interest? Wait! Let me read more to get a clearer picture.
Teves, whose term in Congress ended last year, is already planting jatropha for biodiesel on 10,000 hectares of land in Negros Oriental and has even constructed a jatropha plant that will be operational by 2009.
Meanwhile, Zuburi’s father, former Bukidnon congressman now governor Jose Zubiri, has been the president of the Confederation of Sugar Producers Association since Sept. 1, 2006. The elder Zubiri was also once executive vice president of the Bukidnon Sugar Milling Co. which, Senator Zubiri said in a May 2006 news report, will tie up with the Bronzeoak Philippines to build an ethanol plant in Bukidnon. Senator Zubiri himself still owns at least eight hectares of sugar land in Maramag, Bukidnon.
When he was first elected to the House of Representatives, Arroyo filed the Fuel Ethanol Act of 2004 that was consolidated along with other bills to become the Biofuels Act. He is also the chairperson of Rivulet Agro Industrial Corp., which owns Hacienda Bacan. Arroyo, however, lists neither Rivulet nor Hacienda Bacan in his 2004 to 2006 statements of assets of liabilities.
The Arroyos own about 500 hectares of land in Negros Occidental. These include Haciendas Bacan, Grande, Fallacon, and Manolita, according to a DAR report. Bacan and Grande, in particular, are sugar plantations whose ownership has been hotly contested by various farmers’ groups.
A-Kid: You have gotta be shitting me!
Documents show Hacienda Bacan, which has belonged to the Arroyo family for decades, as being registered to Rivulet now chaired by Representative Arroyo. Task Force Mapalad, a nationwide alliance of about 25,000 farmers seeking land reform, said, however, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s husband, Jose Miguel “Mike" Arroyo, actually owns Hacienda Bacan.
“Alam naman natin na kay Gloria Macapagal Arroyo yung lupa (We know that the land is owned by Gloria Macapagal Arroyo)," said Ricky Celis, one of the 67 farmers claiming the land under CARP. “Talagang ayaw nilang bitiwan 'to (They certainly won’t let go of the land)."
Mortgaged several times, Hacienda Bacan ran up millions of pesos in unpaid taxes to the municipal government and became a delinquent property that was auctioned off in April 1994 for P176.7 million. A certification of sale of the property issued by the office of the Isabela treasurer states it was sold to Jose Miguel Arroyo married to Gloria M. Arroyo. The First Gentleman’s ownership of the property, however, was not annotated at the back of the land title.
Amid calls to put the hacienda under the agrarian reform program when Gloria Arroyo became president in 2001, Ignacio Arroyo that same year offered the property under the voluntary offer to sell scheme of CARP to get a higher valuation.
A-Kid: I’ve got to hand it to you guys at GMANews.TV! You’re good!
The path toward converting the Arroyo sugar plantation began in October 2005 when the Isabela municipal council reclassified Hacienda Bacan from agricultural to agro-industrial land under a six-year comprehensive land use plan it approved through a resolution.
The land use plan, which spans from 2005 to 2010, was upheld by the provincial council in December that year.
Despite Hacienda Bacan’s reclassification, DAR provincial officer Teresita Depeñoso said Arroyo still has to apply for land use conversion with the DAR before he can put up an ethanol plant. Representative Arroyo has lost no time in doing so.
A-Kid: Ain't we in a bit of a hurry now, my friend?
Reclassifying and converting Hacienda Bacan to agro-industrial land will exempt it from CARP distribution because R.A. 6657 or the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law only provides for the distribution of agricultural land not classified as mineral, forest, residential, commercial or industrial land to farmers.
A-Kid: The timing is perfect! I believe that the 20-year-old CARP will expire on June 10, 2008.
A-Kid: Now, that’s a ton of money in my book! Or in anyone’s book, mind you!
If it pushes through, the ethanol plant will bring a windfall of benefits for the Arroyos. A 100,000 liter-capacity ethanol plant can make at least P3.2 million if ethanol sells at a profitable benchmark of P32 to P35 a liter based on estimates of the Sugar Regulatory Administration. Even without an ethanol plant, Arroyo stands to gain more than P10 million annually if sugarcane planted in Hacienda Bacan is sold for ethanol production. The SRA estimates that sugar landowners can expect P65,000 annually for every hectare.