The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) has officially transferred ownership of the Busuanga Pasture Reserve, an area of the controversial Yulo King Ranch (YKR), to the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR).

This transfer includes 4,600 hectares of land located in Coron and Busuanga towns in northern Palawan, according to lawyer Marvin Bernal, Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) Mimaropa Regional Director, during a PIA Bagong Pilipinas press briefing on Tuesday.

“Isinasalin na nila lahat ng karapatan sa nasabing lupain—4,600 hectares ito para mapamahagi na sa kwalipikadong magsasaka. Tapos na ang pagsusukat doon sa unang lupa,” stated Bernal, indicating that the land distribution process is progressing as planned.

Four lots from the reserve have already been included in the agrarian reform program under the collective Certificate of Land Ownership Award (CLOA).

He said these lots are currently being subdivided to facilitate various activities.

“Sa ngayon, hinihintay lang natin ang approval ng subdivision ng plan para magamit na ito at maisyu na ang kanilang individual electronic titles or CLOAs,” Bernal explained.

For the remaining lots surrendered by the DENR, preliminary activities have commenced. Potential beneficiaries have been identified, and the DAR in Palawan is conducting interviews to finalize the list of agrarian reform beneficiaries (ARBs).

Bernal said the Busuanga Pasture Reserve, falls under Executive Order 75, Series of 2019, which allows idle government lands to be included in the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP).

He noted that technical descriptions of the land created controversy, given the proclamation establishing the Busuanga Pasture Reserve initially declared an area of 40,000 hectares.

“Napatunayan natin na ang mga lupain na sakop ng Coron ay walang mga kadastro kaya nahihirapan tayo na gawaan ng tinatawag na land acquisition process dahil wala tayong pagbabasehan ng myths and bounds ng mga lote,” Bernal said, explaining the challenges faced due to the lack of cadastral surveys.

Consequently, efforts concentrated on the Busuanga lands, which had technical descriptions or cadastral surveys. However, identifying timberland areas within Busuanga delayed the process.

In 2021 and 2022, DAR was able to acquire approximately 2,700 hectares and distributed them to around 1,000 ARBs under collective CLOA.

“Alam niyo napaka sensitibo nitong Busuanga Pasture Reserve kung kaya’t si DAR Sec. Conrado Estrella III ay minabuting makipag-ugnayan na mismo sa pamunuan ng DENR upang lutasin na itong tinatawag na technical description issues, at ise-segragate na itong timberland,” Bernal explained.

He said they currently have teams in Busuanga facilitating the conduct of Farmer Beneficiary Identification (FBID) to screen potential ARBs, such as agriculture graduates and rebel returnees.

The Yulo King Ranch was sequestered by the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG) in 1986, as it was allegedly part of the ill-gotten wealth amassed during the Marcos regime. Initially established in the 1970s, the ranch was designed for cattle and goat importation and grazing.

Its management was entrusted to the Yulo Corporation, founded by Luis Yulo and other associates who were closely linked to then-President Ferdinand Marcos.

The ranch has been embroiled in controversies throughout the years, with allegations of encroachment on land and conflicts regarding its ownership and administration.

Claims of peasant harassment and land grabs have been leveled against the Yulo family. Their security personnel have allegedly threatened farmers and burned down their homes. These are claimed to be part of larger attempts to develop the property for financial gain, frequently displacing indigenous populations.

Environment Secretary Maria Antonia Yulo-Loyzaga said that, contrary to assertions, the Busuanga Pasture Reserve, which is a portion of the Yulo King Ranch, has consistently been under government ownership and has never been privately owned by their family.