MANILA, Philippines – Senator Cynthia Villar confronted an oppositor in a Commission on Appointments (CA) confirmation hearing who brought up alleged violations of Villar family-owned Vista Land & Lifescapes Incorporated, one of the largest property developers in the country.
Elvie Baladad, an advocate of the proposed National Land Use Act, attended the hearing on Tuesday, May 29, to oppose the confirmation of Agrarian Reform Secretary John Castriciones. She said Castriciones is not qualified to lead the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR).
Baladad also slammed Castriciones for supposedly allowing the conversion of agricultural lands to residential, citing the flattened mountain in Boracay allegedly due to Vista Land’s excavation. The company and the government earlier denied it.
“Ang tanong ko sa kanya eh ‘yun po bang andun sa lupa sa Boracay na pinatag na bundok na hindi na puwedeng ibalik na bundok ay nabigyan ng conversion order o clearance ng DAR?” Baladad said.
(My question to him is, did DAR give a conversion order or clearance for the land in Boracay, which was part of the flattened mountain?)
“At kung sakali hindi po nabigyan, ihahabla ba niya ang Vista Land dahil illegal conversion ang nangyari? Ang lupa ‘pag nilagyan mo ng bahayan, hindi na puwedeng taniman ng palay ‘yan,” she added.
(And if there was none, will he file a case against Vista Land for illegal conversion? When you put houses on an agricultural land, you can no longer plant crops.)
Villar, a member of the CA, did not take the issue sitting down and questioned Baladad for singling out her family’s company.
“Bakit ba lahat ng projects ng Vista Land? Ang dami-daming nagtayo ng bahay sa Pilipinas, dami-daming nagtayo ng industries sa Pilipinas, dami-daming nagtayo ng commercial buildings sa Pilipinas, bakit ba binabanggit mo puro Vista Land? Galit ka ba sa akin? Is this a political issue or a legitimate issue?” Villar said.
(Why are you singling out Vista Land? There are other developers which have built houses in the Philippines, set up industries in the Philippines, and constructed commercial buildings in the Philippines, why are you citing just Vista Land? Are you mad at me? Is this a political issue or a legitimate issue?)
National land use bill long pending
In response, Baladad said she is raising a legitimate issue, pointing out that the proposed National Land Use Act has not been moving in the Senate under Villar’s committee.
The bill would classify, once and for all, which lands should belong to whom and should be used for what. It would provide a framework for the allocation, use, and management of the country’s land resources.
The bill has been referred to the committee led by Villar both in the 16th Congress and the 17th Congress, but it did not prosper.
“Ito po ay legit issue, kasi po ‘yung land use bill napakatagal na po ito. ‘Di po nagalaw sa inyong committee. Ngayon, bakit Vista Land? Eh meron po kayo pagmamay-ari sa San Juan del Monte [in Bulacan], malapit po kami doon,” Baladad said.
(This is a legitimate issue because the land use bill has been pending for a long time now. It has not moved under your committee. Now, why Vista Land? Because you have a property in San Juan del Monte, we are near there.)
Villar said they no longer own the Bulacan property, as it was sold to the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP), which in turn sold it to Ayala.
“Make sure that your data are correct kasi hindi naman maganda na andami-daming developer, mall operator, puro Vista Land ang sinasabi ‘nyo (because it’s not good that you’re singling out Vista Land when there are other developers),“ the senator said.
Baladad said her group does not oppose the construction of structures per se, but only wants to protect the lands that provide food for the public.
Castriciones, for his part, said the area in Boracay had been issued a conversion order.
“Wala pang kaso ‘yun. Alangan namang extensively i-discuss, eh wala pang kaso ‘yang issue na ‘yan tungkol sa isang part ng Boracay na Sarabia Estate na na-grant ng conversion order ng DAR. Nung nire-review namin nanggaling ang lupa na dine-develop ng Vista Land doon sa Sarabia, wala pong problema doon,” he said.
(That has no case yet so we cannot discuss it extensively. That issue involving a part of Boracay owned by Sarabia Estate was granted a conversion order by DAR. When we reviewed it, we found out the land being developed by Vista Land came from Sarabia, so there’s no problem with that.)
The CA committee on agrarian reform has yet to decide on the confirmation of Castriciones, who faced numerous oppositors. The committee went into an executive session and its decision is expected to be announced on Wednesday, May 30, during the CA plenary session. – Rappler.com