Sicogon natives storm DILG Iloilo to claim right to land

Farmers and fisherfolk from a village in Sicogon Island, Carles, Iloilo have been camping outside the Department of Interior and Local Government in Fort San Pedro, Iloilo for three days now in order to seek assistance in their clamor for a land they call theirs as well as protection from alleged harassment from armed men.
“We, the natives of Sicogon as well as the farmer-beneficiaries of the CARP (Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program) are being driven away by SIDECO from our homes,” said Amelia dela Cruz, vice president of the Federation of Sicogon Island Farmers and Fishers Association and president of the same sector’s barangay association in Fernando, Sicogon.
Dela Cruz is referring to the 50-hectare public land in Brgy. Fernando, their relocation site. Previously, they stayed in a 22-hectare land but they were relocated in the 1970’s when SIDECO (Sicogon Development Corporation) started its resort development operations, she said.
She said that since 2008, they have been asking the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) to give them free patent to the said public land. In 2011, they found out that the department has given the free patent instead to a certain Ian Sarrosa and 15 others despite their continued dialogue with DENR.
“We were the first ones who applied in 2008. They are not even natives of the place. We have not seen them there. They are dummies of SIDECO,” dela Cruz said.
Lerio Cordova, team leader of a non-government organization named Progreso or Panay Rural Organizing for Reform and Social Order,  said that the natives have the right to the land because according to the law, they could apply for free patent if they have been directly using or connected to the island for 30 years.
“DENR did not tell them that other people were asking for the patent. The DENR released it to people who are not from the island. So, the people felt betrayed,” she said.
Dela Cruz said their community lies on the beach-side so she wondered why DENR gave the alleged dummies the title.
She also lamented that SIDECO has filed a case of unlawful detainer and recovery of position against the leaders of her association. Then, in 2013, the same case was filed against them, this time, by the Sarrosas, she said.
The case is ongoing and the DENR said that things will be on status quo while it is not yet resolved.

Meanwhile, Dela Cruz added that SIDECO’s armed men have been harassing the residents.
“They would come inside our homes anytime and ask us to leave and throw away our things. Now that we are here in Iloilo City, they are threatening us that they will not allow us to come back to our homes,” she said.
“That is why we are here in front of the DILG. We want them to provide us assistance to secure our safety,” she said.
Cordova said, “We asked helped from the PNP but they said they cannot get involved because it’s a land dispute and it’s on private property. However, there is an issue of peace and order here. Where can we ask for help then? They are aiming armalites on the people. The people are not even allowed to arm and protect themselves.”

Referred to PNP
Meanwhile, Atty. Cedric Jaranilla, regional legal officer of the DILG said they have referred the matter to the police as the regional DILG has no jurisdiction on it, unless secretary (Mar Roxas) will make a decision.
“We reported this and we are waiting for the decision. The police also said that they will investigate the matter,” he said.* (Kathy Villalon)


DENR moves to address Sicogon residents’ grievances

DENR Region VI Regional Executive Director Adeluisa G. Siapno has issued a Status Quo Order directing the local residents and patent holders to refrain from initiating further development in the contested lots in Sicogon Island, while the case is under litigation.
The Federation of Sicogon Island Farmers Fisherfolk Association (FESIFFA) alleged that the patentees represent Sicogon Development Corporation (SIDECO). FESIFFA questioned the veracity of the free patents titles issued by the DENR to 16 claimants.
They claimed that the individuals who were issued free patents were not residents of the island.
FESSIFA filed a complaint to the DENR Region VI early this year.
The DENR Region VI Legal Division has started hearing the administrative complaint, thus, the issuance of said Order. The case shall determine if the free patents title, in question, have deficiencies prior its approval. If proven, the DENR Region VI shall recommend for the cancellation of said titles.
Raul Ramos, FESIFFA President, admitted that they have received the copy of the Order, however, it appeared that it was not implemented because the guards deployed by SIDECO in the area refused to recognize it.
RED Siapno told Ramos, in a phone conversation, to seek assistance from the PNP. She also advised Ramos that they should respect the established procedures in the conduct of administrative proceedings since the case is already ongoing.
Atty. Elizur Militar, the hearing officer handling the case, told the group that he will be sending a Notice to the contending parties the soonest time possible to have the pre-trial conference held on the last week of November 2013.
Moreover, RED Siapno explained that on the proposed tripartite meeting initiated by the DENR, SIDECO informed the DENR Regional Office that they will not attend in any further meeting or discussion that they may be called for.
In an instance the group can file a legal action in court against SIDECO, and only then that the latter will face them.
The group was likewise informed that the relocation survey which was supposed to be conducted by a survey team from the DENR Central Office - Land Management Bureau was not pursued considering that the patentees would not allow them to enter the area in question.

On Monday, Oct. 14, 2013, the DENR Region VI led by Office-in-Charge and RTD for Lands Maximo F. Soriano Jr. together with other key officials in the regional office, held a dialogue with Ramos, Jether Regodoz, Lirio Cordova and Susan Navarro.* (DENR)

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