Cabanatuan folks urge DAR to include Fr. Crisostomo Este under Urban Land Reform

CABANATUAN CITY — Some 2,000 residents of this city now earnestly urge the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) to place under Urban Land Reform the Fr, Crisostomo Estate in Cabanatuan which they occupy.

The Fr. Crisostomo Estate in Cabanatuan City covers 55 hectares of originally muddy lands in seven barangays of the city which are now well developed and viable housing communities. The residents themselves developed their occupied lots.  

The late Fr. Gregorio Crisostomo, a Katipunero himself, owned the estate which he entrusted to the government in 1918 before he died for the latter to manage for the public benefit.

The current clamor by its resident-occupabts stems from the Summons and Notice of Preliminary Conference, equivalent to a court subpoena, served them by 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.

The hiked rentals sought reportedly resulted from government’s frantic search for revenues to fund its expenditures. The Summons caused many poor residents of the Crisostomo in Cabanatuan under extreme pressure which has allegedly affected their mental health.

The DARAB Summons require the resident to answer within 10 days and failure to do so will be construed as agreement and acceptance of the new rental rates. 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.

Admittedly, 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 Rxtension, Cabanatuan City, to pursue and promote peaceful collaboration with DAR and other sectors.

The Samahan members have vested their officers with a Special Power of Attorney to represent them in their dealings with DAR. They have also filed with DARAB their Collective Answer to the Summons with Motion to Dismiss for lack of jurisdiction based on established jurisprudence. They have also collectively hired a lawyer to properly guide and assist them in their cases.

Samahan president Juatco said they are not opposed to paying rentals but they find the increased rates sought “atrociously high and overly exploitative” prompting them to request DAR Secretary John R. Castriciones to include the Crisostomo Estate under Urban Land Reform and adopt a Rent-to-Own scheme for them.

Juatco said their ultimate goal is to gain legitimate titles to the lots they and their forebears have occupied for decades, and have sought the endorsement by their local officials of their request to DAR. They have likewise asked their lawmaker friends to initiate legislative action, if necessary, to facilitate the inclusion of the Crisostomo Estate under the government’s Urban Land Reform program.