By INA ALLECO R. SILVERIO
Last May 30, President Benigno Aquino III appointed his former running mate and defeated vice-presidential candidate in the May 2010 elections Manuel “Mar Roxas” as new secretary of the Department of Transportation and Communication (DOTC). Immediately after, a progressive lawmaker and an activist farmers groups decried the appointment as bearing a “conflict of interest.”
Anakpawis Representative Rafael Mariano and the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) said that Roxas’ appointment to the DOTC was “payback” from President Aquino and that with Roxas at the helm of the DOTC, the plans for the construction of the billion-dollar Metro Rail Transit Line 7 project will inevitably benefit Roxas and his family financially.
Mariano said that Roxas, a scion of the Araneta clan, will make sure that the MRT-7 railways will be built on Araneta property. Mariano was referring to the DOTC’s $1.235 billion MRT-7 that will run from Tungkong Mangga in San Jose del Monte City, Bulacan; to SM City North EDSA, linking with the Light Rail Transit (LRT) Line 1 and Metro Rail Transit (MRT) 3.
“It appears that the billion-dollar MRT-7 train project is the ultimate concession behind Roxas’ acceptance of the DOTC portfolio,” Mariano said. He said that formal investigations should be made into the feasibility of the MRT 7 project and the extent of the damage it will wreak on the communities of farmers that will be demolished during the project construction.
For his part, KMP secretary general Danilo Ramos expressed fears that with Roxas heading the DOTC and the MRT 7 project, there will be massive land-grabbing of farmers’ lands in Tungkong Mangga.
Acocording to Ramos, the MRT 7 project will displace more than 300 farmer-families in the 311 hectares of lands owned by the Aranetas in Tungkong Mangga. From Tungkong Mangga, the MRT 7 will pass through Tala and Pangarap Village in Caloocan City, were another 40,000 residents in dispute with Gregorio “Greggy” Araneta’s Carmel Development are in danger of losing their homes.
Ramos said MRT 7 project construction plans bear similarities with the Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway where the Cojuangcos were paid P83 million (US$356,900) by the government for the construction of the highway inside Hacienda Luisita.
This explains the real meaning of Roxas’ acceptance song titled ‘Trains, Boats, and Planes,’” Ramos said.
“Trains & Boats & Planes” is a song written by Burt Bacharach in 1965 and sung by Dionne Warwick. Roxas sang a few lines form the song after the Malacañang press conference where Aquino formally announced his appointment to the DOTC. According to reports, the president is giving Roxas a a free hand in running the department and its multi-billion-peso contracts mainly involving public-private partnerships. Among the projects are the those that have been mired in anomaly such as the Philippine International Air Terminals Co (Piatco) , the NBN broadband deal, the RoRo project (Roll on Roll off vessels or the Nautical Highway) , and the Light Rail Transit (LRT) and MRT projects.
“Roxas and the pro-Araneta MRT 7 project will face stiff opposition from farmers and the urban poor. We will strongly oppose his appointment as DOTC chief at the Commission on Appointments,” Ramos said. “In any case, we demand a stop to the MRT 7 project because it will open the floodgates to demolition operations, landgrabbing and eviction of farmers and urban poor.”
According to reports, the MRT 7’s depot and intermodal bus-train station coupled with a commercial-residential project will be built at the center of the 311-hectare contested agricultural land in Tungkong Mangga in Bulacan.
“Our worst nightmare is slowly turning into a reality because a member of the Araneta clan is now in charge of the anti-peasant MRT 7 project,” said Esclamado, peasant leader of the Tungkong Mangga Upland Farmers Association, Inc. (TMUFAI). “Only the Aranetas and big businesses will profit from the MRT-7 project at the expense of farmers,” he insisted.
Aranetas have no legal claim to Tungkong Mangga
According to the KMP, the Aranetas have no legal claim to the Tungkong Mangga lands. The farmers group said that during martial law in the 1970s, the Aranetas sold the land to the Manila Banking Corporation (MBC) owned by cronies of the former dictator Ferdinand Marcos.
In the 1980s, it was revealed that the MBC was deeply in debt to the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP). When Corazon Aquino became president, bank owner and ex-crony Jose Fernandez sold the MBC and by 1987, the bank was under the BSP.
“It’s clear then that the Aranetas’ claim to the land is illegal and tainted. They’ve been using the land they sold to the MBC and by extension to Marcos cronies. When the MBC was taken over by the BSP, it became government-owned, and so has the Tungkong Manggan land that was equivalent to the MBC’s funds. Tungkong Mangga is government land and there’s no argument that it’s land that should be covered by agrarian reform and given to the farmers,” said Ramos.
Covered in the land reform program
Ramos went on to explain that in 1998, the Department of Agrarian Reform ordered the coverage of 311 hectares of land under the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP). The Aranetas opposed the decision, filed a petition for exemption from CARP coverage, and deployed private security guards. Since then, the Aranetas has been claiming ownership of the 311 hectares. In the meantime, the resident-farmers and their groups Sandigang Samahan ng Magsasaka (SASAMAG), TMUFAI and the Samahan ng Magsasaka sa Sitio Dalandanan (SAMAGDA) have long been exposed to a continuing harassment campaign from goons and other armed forces allegedly sent by the Aranetas.
“The dispute is now pending before the Presidential Agrarian Reform Council (PARC),” he said.
According to the KMP, for the last year elements of the military have been seen patrolling from one house to another, conducting a supposed “census” and taking pictures of farmers and their houses. A few leaders of the peasant groups have also been accused of protecting members of the New People’s Army (NPA).
In January last year, Rolando Javier, a leader of SAMAGDA and a respondent in the land dispute case the Aranetas filed, said that security guards and armed goons have occupied the houses and lots of those evicted in Sitio Dalandanan. The soldiers reportedly carried high-powered firearms, sowing fear and spreading malicious gossip in the communities. Javier said that guards and goons continue to increase in number after they have picketed the Aranetas’ office in Makati in January 20, 2010.
In November 2009, the Gregorio Araneta Inc. (GAInc.) and Araneta Properties Inc. filed unlawful detainer cases against about 30 farming families. Some of them have been farming in the area for three to four decades.
“The Araneta land conflict and the MRT-7 project is another testament of the sham CARP’s failure to defend farmers’ rights to the lands,” Ramos said. “The haciendero tandem of President Aquino as chairman of the PARC and Roxas as DOTC chief will without doubt lead to much grief for the urban poor and Tungkong Mangga famers. This is another so-called development project that’s being imposed on the people at the expense of their welfare, livelihood and very survival.”