Cabanatuan folks appeal to DAR to include their Crisostomo Estate lots under Urban land Reform

Resident-occupants of the Fr. Crisostomo Estate in Cabanatuan City have appealed to and urge the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) to include the lots they occupy under Urban Land Reform.

The Crisostomo Estate consists of landholdings in Bulacan and Nueva Ecija of the late Fr. Gregorio Crisostomo, a Filipino priest who joined the Katipunan revolt against the Spanish colonial rulers. In his 1918 Last Will and Testament before he died, he entrusted his assets to the government for it to manage to serve the public welfare, particularly the poor.

The Crisostomo Estate in Nueva Ecija consists of 110 hectares of rice lands in Sta. Rosa town and 55 hectares of then muddy lands in seven barangays in Cabanatuan City which are now housing areas.

Lot occupants of the Estate in Cabanatuan recently received Summons and Notice of Preliminary Conference from the DAR Adjudication Board (DARAB), relative to the Petition by the DAR Task Force on Crisostomo Estate, seeking to raise the monthly rental rates for residential lots from the original ₱0.07 per square meter (sqm) to ₱10.00/sqm (14,850% increase), and for commercial lots from ₱1.00 to ₱25/sqm (2,500% hike), retroactive to 2006.

Admittedly, the Summons has caused them undue apprehension and anxiety, coming as it did at the height of the obtaining Covid-19 pandemic crisis. Under the rental hike sought, families occupying 300-sqm home lots need to pay ₱3,000 monthly or ₱36,000 per year, and commercial lots of the same size to pay ₱7,500 monthly or ₱90,000 annually.

Their apprehension stems from the fact many of them have neglected to pay rentals, even as the neglect resulted largely from the failure of DAR to communicate with them for decades. This even led some them to think that the real estate taxes they pay to the city government already include the rental component.

In response to their fear, the Estate’s lot occupants in Barangay Mabini Extension in Cabanatuan, led by Teofilo dR. Juatco, banded together and organized their Samahan ng Nagkakaisang mga Residente at Kapit-bahayan ng Crisostomo Estate, Mabini Extension, Cabanatuan City,  to pursue and promote peaceful collaboration with DAR and other sectors.

The Samahan members also vested their officers with a Special Power of Attorney to represent them in their dealings with DAR. Juatco stressed that they are not opposed to paying rentals but they find the increased rates sought “highly and overly atrocious and exploitative.”

Juatco said they have written DAR Secretary John R. Castriciones and requested the following:

1.    Clarification on the legitimate basis of the increased lot rentals sought – 14,850% on residential lots and 2,500% on commercial lots;

2.    Reduction of the rental rates sought – ₱1.00 from ₱10.00/sqm for residential, and ₱5.00 from ₱25.000/sqm for commercial lots;

3.    Deferment of rental collection or voluntary payment only for those who can afford, while the pandemic crisis remains, since the Bayanihan Act discourages forcible collection of dues and obligations, and even the DTI has ordered a freeze of hikes in prices of basic commodities; and

4.    Disregard the penalties and surcharges sought by the DAR Task Force on unpaid rentals because the problem itself was due to the failure of DAR to communicate with them for decades.

Aside from the foregoing, Juatco said they also appeal to the DAR Secretary to consider the inclusion of the Fr. Crisostomo Estate in Cabanatuan City under Urban Land Reform and adopt the “Rent-to-Own” scheme for us, under which the rentals paid will be credited as installment payments for the lots, the titles for which must eventually be awarded to them once full payment is completed.

Under the option, he added, DAR may raise the rental rate to a reasonable and affordable level to expedite the legitimate disposition of the lots.