VILLAR: THE REAL STORY OF SAVANNAH SUBDIVISION
Savannah Subdivision is Villar’s flagship in Pavia and Oton, Iloilo. This is the stage where the story unfolds, and provides damning evidence against Villar as a shrewd businessman who employs devious and illegal methods to accomplish his objectives, a politician who doesn’t hesitate to use his clout to compel government regulators to close their eyes and allow him to willfully violate the law.
It began in 1994 when Villar started scouting for an area where to put up the project. Villar saw the lands in Barangays Jibao-an in Pavia, Abilay Norte and Pulo Maestra Vita in Oton, as an ideal location. The wide land area sat close to the national highway leading to Iloilo City. The cost of the lands was dirt-cheap compared to potential locations within the city. From the real estate developers’ point of view, it was the dream place for a housing development.
There was just one catch: the lands were covered by agrarian reform, and these were classified as first-class irrigated rice lands. This fact alone will trigger alarm bells in the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR), which has the mandate to regulate the conversion of agricultural lands to other purposes. As then DAR regional director Elmo Banares said, such lands are categorized as “non-negotiable”. These lands are ineligible for conversion.
Moreover, the agrarian reform statutes --- PD 27 and Republic Act No. 6657 --- prohibits the transfer of ownership over lands given to farmer beneficiaries except to “qualified” individuals or the government. By qualified individuals, the law means other landless farmers who deserve to till their own lands. The purpose is obvious: the law wants keep its productive rice lands intact, and the farm lands awarded to farmer beneficiaries form the nucleus of this rice production program.
But Villar was undaunted. Nothing must stop him from achieving his goal of reaping huge profits from his real estate business. Each peso he puts into a project comes back to him a thousand- or two thousand-fold. For Villar, the law is a minor obstacle. He had the clout and influence to bend the law, and the money to make regulators bow to his will. What happened in the Savannah subdivision project shows that massive corruption paved the way for Villar to obtain favorable decisions and recommendations from various agencies. In the end, Villar got what the law forbade.
What are the laws and regulations that Villar broke?
- Sec. 27, RA 6657 (Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law) – Transferability of Awarded Lands : Lands acquired by beneficiaries under Act may not be sold, transferred or conveyed except through hereditary succession or to the government or to the LBP or to other qualified beneficiaries for a period of ten (10) years. The same section provides that in the event the land is transferred to any other beneficiary, that new owner “shall cultivate the land himself.”
- Presidential Decree No. 27: “Title to land acquired pursuant to this Decree or the Land Reform Program of the Government shall not be transferable except by hereditary succession or to the Government xxx.”
- Section 1, Sub-section B (Governing Policies), Paragraph 1 of Administrative Order No. 363 issued by President Fidel V. Ramos issued on October 9, 1997:
The following areas shall not be subject to or non-negotiable for conversion:
b. All irrigated lands, as delineated by the Department of Agriculture (DA and/or the National Irrigation Authority (NIA) and approved by the President, where water is available to support rice and other crop production xxx.
In all cases, applications for conversion involving lands protected from and non-negotiable for conversion shall not be given due course by the DAR.
- The law also sanctions “Misrepresentation or concealment of material fact in the application for land use conversion, and other other violation of the rules and regulations which are material to the grant of the conversion”. (Penalties and sanctions, Administrative Order No. 363)
CRIME NO. 1
Villar knowingly purchased an initial 112 hectares of prime irrigated ricelands covered by Operation Land Transfer (OLT) during the period 1994-1995 and utilizing the properties for development into the Savannah subdivision. Two offenses are involved: the act of buying lands covered by agrarian reform, and the act of converting the same for non-agricultural use.
To get around the prohibition on the sale or conveyance of these lands, Villar deceitfully concealed the fact about the acquisition and ordered a full stop to all agricultural activities for a period of five (5) years. The ploy was aimed at establishing the half-truth that “no food production activities are being undertaken on the lands.” After keeping the lands “barren” for five years, Villar then filed applications for conversion with the DAR, with the former owners themselves as applicants. As documented by Philippine Daily Inquirer reporter Jerry Esplanada in the July 24, 1998 edition of the paper, then DAR officials rejected the application for conversion because the lands fell under the “non-negotiable” category.
Despite this knowledge that the land conversion application was illegal, Villar went ahead to push for the DAR conversion. We can only surmise what happened next, because DAR’s position on the matter suddenly turned around, and the applications for conversion were approved on a piece-meal basis. The conversion in smaller sizes of land was apparently done to camouflage the true nature of the transactions --- the large-scale development of a subdivision in the rice granary.
CRIME NO. 2
The acquisition and development of the Savannah Subdivision is an act of sabotage against the country’s 1987 Constitution and food security program. It falls under the category of treason. It undermines our nation’s efforts to ensure rice sufficiency and liberate poor tenant farmers from the bondage of the soil.
What Villar has done was dismantle the framework put into place to create a critical mass of motivated farmer-land owners and lay down the foundation for agro-industrial growth. From a few dozen hectares that Villar acquired, Savannah Subdivision quickly grew to 700 hectares. And the acquisition process is far from over. Another 600 hectares have recently been bought or in the process of being bought. The lands straddle the main irrigation canal in Barangays Abilay Norte, Abilay Sur, Pulo Maestra Vita in Oton and Jibao-an, Pavia. An entire rice granary is being systematically wiped out from the face of Iloilo Province.
The national government is even trying to expand the coverage of irrigation services. In the Savannah project, Villar constricted and strangulated the flow of water to force more land owners to cave in and sell to him. In the end, several secondary canals were “back-hoed” and closed down. The canals, or the footprints of what used to be canals, are now part of the beautiful landscape of Savannah Subdivision. Villar is turning back the tide, and aggressively contributes to the destruction of existing irrigation systems.
The unbridled pursuit of profit by Villar as manifested through the Savannah project is a major factor why the country is increasingly dependent on imported rice. Instead of helping expand our rice production areas, Villar has targeted prime agricultural lands because of their proximity to urban centers and the cheap price. Villar knew that farmer beneficiaries were vulnerable to the temptation of money. He dangled before them what appeared to be fantastic sums. Only he knew that for every peso he spent to buy the lands, the ROI would be thousand-fold.
The farmers became “one-day millionaires”. In 1994 and 1995, Villar started buying the lands at P165,000 per hectare. His recent acquisitions have fetched as much as P2.4 million per hectare. But as the farmers found out, the money didn’t last long. They had no alternative means of llvelihood. After the lapse of a few years, they became penniless, poorer than they were when agrarian reform was carried out. This experience of Iloilo farmers contradicts Villar’s campaign promise of uplifting the poor from their present misery. He even plunged these land owners into a deep morass of poverty.
CRIME NO. 3
In conspiracy with government officials in DAR, NIA and other agencies, Villar circumvented the law by misrepresenting the facts to obtain the required land conversion. The documents obtained from BIR, Register of Deeds, Provincial Assessor’s Office provide incontrovertible proof that Villar willfully lied to achieve his ends. For instance, he made it appear that the applicants for land conversion were the former farmer beneficiaries. This falsity is exposed by the conflicting information found in the BIR certificate authorizing registration (CAR) and the deed of absolute sale. In one sale, the BIR document states that the transaction was consummated on May 6, 2006. And yet, in the DAR application for conversion, Villar misrepresented former owners Doroteo Figura and Resurreccion Nochete as the applicants and landowners. The application was dated June 7, 2007.
As supporting documents to the DAR land conversion application, Villar submitted certifications from the Department of Agriculture, DAR municipal agrarian reform officer and NIA to the effect that:
• There was no more agricultural activity in the area;
• The lands were not covered by CARP nor PD 27; and
• The area was not serviced by an existing irrigation system.
The falsity of these statements is made apparent in the video documentary, both on actual conditions on the ground, testimonies from former land owners and documents.
Not all the landowners in the area willingly sold their lands to Villar. But what Villar failed to achieve through the use of the carrot, he ultimately succeeded in getting with a big stick. As several ex-farmers revealed, Villar’s agents employed threats and intimidation to force them to accede. Then those land owners whose properties were located downstream of the secondary canals found the flow of irrigation water constricted. After a brief period of resistance, they had no recourse but to yield. Villar’s siege tactics triumphed.
In sum, Manny Villar committed grave and high crimes against the Filipino nation and its people. What he did in Iloilo, he has also done in other provinces and cities where he built subdivisions like Savannah. Savannah is a template for his business, and it demonstrates how the immoral and illegal use of political clout yielded him billions and billions of pesos in profits.
This video documentary shows:
- how Manny Villar wantonly sabotaged the country’s laws and policies to advance his business interests.
- how Manny Villar, through his Crown Communities, Inc., violated the law, circumvented regulations, sabotaged the country’s food security program and undermined the agrarian reform program.
- that Manny Villar, contrary to his claim that he will lift the poor from poverty, displaced them from their only means of livelihood and caused them to drown in a sea of misery.