POSTSCRIPT / November 22, 2007 / Thursday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Case against Joe de V is clear even to laymen

CLARK FIELD — Members of the Old Boys club in the House normally protect one another, or at least maintain a hands-off no-comment attitude when one of them gets into trouble.

That the House committee on ethics ruled that the complaint filed by lawyer Roel Pulido against Speaker Jose de Venecia was valid in “form and content” and gave it due course is by itself already a serious indictment.

This means that in the eyes of his peers, “talagang may kaso” (there is aprima facie case) against this consummate wheeler-dealer who presumes to lead a moral revolution kuno to save the nation.

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CLEAR CASE: It is easy even for laymen to understand the ethics complaint filed against the long-sitting Speaker.

The charge simply says that — in violation of internal rules and of the law– De Venecia presided over the House while the chamber approved, not only once but twice, the applications of his son Joey for congressional franchises for his businesses.

For those interested in the letter of the law, RA 3019 (Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act) says: “Section 5. Prohibition on certain relatives. – It shall be unlawful for the spouse or for any relative, by consanguinity or affinity, within the third civil degree, of the xxx Speaker of the House of Representatives, to intervene, directly or indirectly, in any business, transaction, contract or application, with the Government xxx.

That reads clear enough even for non-lawyers.

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IT POURS: Pulido’s complaint filed with the House committee is apart and different from the criminal complaint he had filed with the Office of the Ombudsman.

The complaint in the House, which De Venecia has to answer within 10 days upon formal notice, is also in addition to his being invited to appear before a Senate inquiry into controversial China-funded projects where he had played an active role.

Unfortunately for De Venecia and his son Joey, Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile — who refuses to ease on his bombardment of the Speaker’s alleged use of his office for influence-peddling — not only barks but also bites.

In Venice , it seems, when it rains it pours.

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OBEY THE LAW: A group of farmers from Sumilao, Bukidnon, is walking all the way from Mindanao to Malacañang. Their cry is for the government to hand over to them in the name of land reform a 144-hectare property in that town.

The march is an emotionally-charged spectacle. But the closer I look into the case, the more I get the impression that the facts and the agrarian reform law that they invoke may not be entirely on their side.

I recall a statement of Ramos-era executive secretary Ruben Torres in a recent TV interview. In law, he said in gist, what is material is that you abide by the law, and not whether you are rich or poor.

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LANDED LEADERS: Their cause is not helped any by reports that the farmer’s leaders are already beneficiaries of a 65-hectare property owned by the Carlos family adjacent to the disputed 144-hectare tract of the Quisumbings.

Records show that some Certificates of Land Ownership Awards have been issued to the leaders of the MAPALAD (Mapadayonong Panaghiusa sa mga Lumad Alang sa Damlag) and the SALFA (San Vicente Landless Farmers Association) representing the Sumilao marchers.

Records of the Department of Agrarian Reform showing that these “leaders” are not that dispossessed raise the question of whether or not the farmers are just being used.

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BACKGROUND: The 144-hectare Sumilao property was once owned by N.Q. Sr. Management and Development Corp. (NQSRMDC), controlled by the Quisumbing family of Cebu.

In the 1970s, the Quisumbings secured ownership of the land, which is adjacent to a property titled to Salvador Carlos and his family. The Quisumbings leased the land to Philippine Packing Corp. (Del Monte).

When the lease lapsed on March 29, 1996, the Quisumbings secured from the Office of the President an approval for the conversion of the land to agro-industrial/institutional use. That overturned the DAR’s earlier disapproval of the conversion.

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S.C. RULINGS: The Sumilao property was the subject of two cases decided by the Supreme Court on April 24, 1998, and on Nov. 17, 1998.

In the decisions, the SC upheld the approval by the Office of the President of the conversion of the Sumilao property.

The tribunal denied the motion for intervention filed by the farmers claiming the land. It said the claimants were “merely recommendee farmer beneficiaries” and “not real parties in interest.”

On April 19, 1999, the SC denied with finality the motions for reconsideration filed by the farmers.

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NOT LANDLESS: The High Court said that only agricultural lands are covered by agrarian reform. The Sumilao property does not fall within the definition of the “agricultural lands” under the law.

Another element is that agrarian reform beneficiaries must be tenants, farmers or regular farm workers who are “landless.”

The SC had determined that the individuals seeking the award of the Sumilao property to them “categorically” admitted that they were not tenants of petitioner NQSRMDC.

The claimants were found to be merely seasonal workers in a pineapple plantation on the land that was leased for 10 years to Del Monte.

Information from the DAR also confirmed that the MAPALAD farmers are agrarian reform beneficiaries of at least 66 hectares of the Carlos estate adjacent to the Sumilao property.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of November 22, 2007)

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