Land distribution which President Rodrigo Duterte promised to step up in the final half of his term may include Church or friar lands acquired during the Spanish era that are now being reviewed for emancipation.
The President told the Church “let’s reach an understanding about the land titles that you have now.”
“Just wait, I’m still having lands surveyed,” Mr. Duterte said in a recent speech given in the Visayan dialect in Sagay City Government Center, Negros Occidental.
When the Americans took over the Philippines from 300 years of Spanish rule in 1898, among the problems that arose was the disposition of the so-called friar lands.
The huge tracts of land are owned mostly by predominant Spanish religious orders — the Dominicans, Augustinians and Recoletos which make up about one-tenth of all improved lands.
In the Treaty of Paris signed in 1898 between the Spanish and American governments to settle the war between the two countries, the US government agreed to protect the friars’ rights over their properties.
The US government then purchased some 170,000 hectares of friar lands for $7 million.
The President cited Novaliches as having vast tracts of Church lands. “The friars, the priests.
That’s why it came to be called Novaliches. It belonged to the priests. Quezon City. Friar lands. There were priests then but at that time the population was small. But they have to survive, so they started to take in tenants, but the money goes to them only,” Duterte noted.
The President said “the Church needs to realize that there is a time where you live comfortably, but there is also a time (to sacrifice). The world is becoming more populated.”
He noted that some Filipino families still live in “like a simple nipa hut.”
All to be covered
The President said his remaining years in office will be devoted to giving “away all government-owned lands to the people.”
“They are of no use to the government anyway. The mountains are very vast.
Except for the military reservation. Their area is very large. But there’s nothing like that in the mountains,” he added.
“So I instructed (Agrarian Reform Secretary John) Castriciones to give the lands away to the people because that is one of our most pressing problems,” Mr. Duterte said.
“I feel sorry for the person. I feel sorry when I see a child walking around naked, or when I see a Filipino grow up without a house, without adequate food,” according to the President.
“When they get sick, they can’t afford to buy medicine,” he said.
Accuser should show proof
The Palace, meanwhile, said the allegations of clerics against the President should be backed up with proof.
It is not incumbent for the Executive branch to disprove allegations it is behind the alleged death threats received by Catholic priests who are known critics of President Rodrigo Duterte.
Presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo made the remark following the challenge issued by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) to probe the source of the supposed threats.
“Suffice it to state that it is elementary in law that the one who alleges must prove,” Panelo stressed in statement.
“Since the priests are the ones accusing the government or the President of being behind those death threats, it stands to reason that they have to prove their accusation. The burden of proof lies on them,” he added.
In a television interview last Tuesday, Fr. Jerome Secillano, executive secretary of the CBCP Permanent Committee on Public Affairs, dared the Palace to prove that it had nothing to do with the death threats hurled at the clerics.
Secillano said Malacañang should take the step in investigating the matter as it is connected to the verbal attacks made by the President against the clergy.
The supposed threats were sent to three priests — Father Albert Alejo, Father Flavie Villanueva and Lingayan-Dagupan Archbishop Soc Villegas — amid Mr. Duterte’s sharp rhetoric against the Catholic Church.
Caloocan Bishop Pablo David, another known critic of the Chief Executive, earlier had also received death threats.
The President and the clergy have been trading barbs over their differing views regarding the Duterte administration’s policies, particularly on the intensified campaign against illegal drugs.
Panelo had earlier claimed the death threats could probably be the handiwork of “pranksters” or “anti-Duterte trolls” out to put the President “in a bad light.”
He urged priests experiencing harassment and threats to seek protection from the authorities.
“Our position is that they bring their concern officially to any law enforcement agency so that the latter may conduct an investigation and at the same time secure their safety,” Panelo said.
With Chito Lozada