QUEZON CITY, Philippines — Around 100 farmers from Barangay Sumalo, Hermosa, Bataan converged in front of the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) headquarters on Monday, June 6. 

Organized under the Samahan ng mga Nagkakaisang Mamamayan ng Barangay Sumalo (SANAMABASU), the farmers expressed their support for the action taken by the department led by Acting Secretary Bernie Cruz to facilitate the distribution of agrarian lands in Sumalo. 

They also conveyed their demand to expedite and complete the distribution process as mandated by the agrarian reform law. SANAMABASU asked DAR to move the process further by: 

  • Providing a plan for the distribution of land to agrarian reform beneficiaries in Sumalo that clearly lays down the strategies and timeline for all processes necessary for land distribution
  • Ensure transparency and respect the people’s democratic participation in these proceedings

The land occupied by members of SANAMABASU was covered under the agrarian reform program in 2017. Two years later, this was affirmed by the Office of the President (OP) by issuing a decision—which became final and executory—to distribute lands in the area. This year, DAR Secretary Cruz issued a memorandum dated May 6, 2022, directing its Field Operations Office (FOO) to resume land acquisition and distribution activities in Sumalo, including but not limited to land survey and ultimately distribution to qualified beneficiaries.

Members of SANAMABASU assert that these orders and decisions are evidence that their demands have just and legal grounds.

But the road to realizing the community’s right to land has been long and grueling. 

Struggle for land

Since the 1970s, Sumalo farmers have been mired in a protracted land struggle against the wealthy and resourceful Litton family. 

The Littons have been claiming ownership over 214 hectares of land in Sumalo that they allegedly bought in 1979 through a Sales Patent Scheme for a measly ₱11,285.54. However, shortly after the enactment of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program in 1988, the farmer-occupants in Sumalo contested the property claims of Litton.

The Litton family then filed for exemption from agrarian reform coverage as well as a petition for land-use conversion. The conditions for such a petition were favorable, as the government had then just announced plans to establish a Special Economic Zone (SEZ) in Bataan that would facilitate the conversion of land use in several parts of the province from agricultural to industrial. 

In 2007, the Supreme Court decided in favor of Litton’s claim for land use conversion. 

In the five years that followed the issuance of the SC decision, the Littons—now operating under the Riverforest Development Corporation (RDC)—started to enclose several parcels of farmland and install private armed security groups in the area. This resulted in the loss of livelihoods among small-scale farmers as well as widespread poverty and hunger in the area.

However, Riverforest failed to introduce any developments in the area. Under the rules for land conversion, such failure may enable the landholding to be subjected to Compulsory Acquisition under CARP. As such, in 2013, the Sumalo farmers—now organized as SANAMABASU—filed for a petition for agrarian reform coverage. 

Following DAR’s coverage of the area in 2017 and the Office of the President’s (OP) 2019 affirmation of land acquisition and distribution in Sumalo, Riverforest increased its pressure against the community. 

Rights violations, disinformation, and impunity

In the hands of Riverforest’s armed guards, Sumalo farmers have faced various forms of harassment, intimidation, criminalization, and even the killing of their fellow residents. To this day, none of the perpetrators have been held to account. 

In 2020, the Litton-run company managed to churn out a favorable decision from local courts to eject farming families from their residential lots in the area on the grounds that they are squatters. The Littons claimed that the OP Decision cannot protect them from ejectment as it covers only the agricultural lands, while the residential areas are part of Litton’s retention rights under CARP. 

Last May 2021, Riverforest, through a court order, demolished several houses in the area, one of which belonged to a key movement leader.

Armed with media connections and social media teams, Riverforest launched a counteroffensive during the pandemic to reclaim the narrative of their right over the land, and to distort the factual-legal basis of the farmer’s claims.

Long way ahead

The journey of Sumalo farmers in asserting their rights to land has indeed been difficult. While SANAMABASU welcomes DAR Secretary Cruz’s order to resume all land acquisition and distribution activities in Sumalo, they also recognize that the process is at a crucial stage requiring the full support of the Department and the continued vigilance of the community. Ultimately, the goal is to push the process all the way to actual distribution. 


For inquiries, please contact:

Rolando Martinez – 0908 264 6214

Danny Carranza – 0920 904 4301