FAST BACKWARD: Burdett A. Crumb’s estate

Fast Backward by Antonio V. Figueroa

Much of the property that’s known as Crumb Estate has long been transferred to the municipality (now city) of Digos after its fifty-year lease expired.

American Burdett A. Crumb first applied for the lease of a tract of land in Digos, then a barrio of Santa Cruz, Davao del Sur, on November 7, 1922, with the Bureau of Lands in the name of Mindanao Plantation Company, a firm he owned, and Albert N. Boen.

Before the application could be approved, Crumb died on June 29, 1924. It was only on January 12, 1925, that Lease Application No. 2122 was approved and awarded to his heirs. However, on August 12, 1925, the director of lands, with the approval of the secretary of Agriculture and Commerce, cancelled the lease on the issue of sublease. The heirs promptly filed a case to reconsider cancellation, but this was not archived when war broke out.

On July 30, 1948, after conducting a probe and ocular inspection, the Bureau of Land ruled there was “no sufficient evidence adduced to prove the subleasing of the land to aliens to justify the definite cancellation of the said Lease Application No. 2122 of the B.A. Crumb and the disposition of the land covered thereby in favor of other persons.”

It said that it was not legal or just and equitable for the bureau to cancel the application given that certain portions of the land were “more suitable for commercial and residential purposes rather than for agricultural purposes,” stating those lots actually occupied for the above-cited reasons be reinstated and the lease amended to exclude those occupied lots. However, “squatters occupying portions outside the [occupied lots]” were “ordered to vacate the premises.”

In reinstating the lease to the Crumb heirs, the director of lands, upon investigation and ocular inspection, discovered that the estate administrator, contrary to the claims of the intervenors, did not sublease the property but simply hired Japanese subjects under the pakyaw system ‘to clear and cultivate the land and plant abaca trees and strip them; and that the evidence was not indubitable that their contract was a sublease.”

This was supported by the secretary of Agriculture and Natural Resources who stated the late “B.A. Crumb during his lifetime had really introduced important improvements on the land, has been established in several investigations” which confirmed the decisions of the Department of Agriculture and Natural Resources and the Office of the President, adding it “would be guilty of abuse of discretion if the lease… would not be renewed. “

The government probers also found out that the appellees were “illegally occupying parts of the [heirs’] leasehold right, [and that] they should be ordered to vacate the respective premises they occupy and restore possession thereof to the appellants.” 

In contesting the bureau’s findings, the affected parties appealed to the secretary of Agriculture and Natural Resources, but were turned down on March 3, 1939. Their motion for reconsideration was also denied on June 21, 1949. They elevated their appeal to the President, but this was similarly rejected on December 2, 1950.

Fortuitously, the heirs, while appeal of the squatters was still heard, applied for a renewal of the lease on January 12, 1950, before it expired. On June 5, 1951, the Agriculture and Natural Resources secretary, through the recommendation of the director of lands, extended the lease by twenty-five years to the frustration of the opposition, who were the appellees.

The renewal was anchored on Section 38 of Commonwealth Act No. 141, which states that leases can cover twenty-five years “but may be renewed once for another period of not to exceed twenty-five years, in case the lessee shall have made important improvement” at the discretion of the secretary of Agriculture and Commerce.

As a last recourse, the affected parties filed a case in court, docketed as G.R. No. L-7954, making them the appellees in the charge, which was later the high court on March 31, 1959. The Crumb heirs were defended by four lawyers, two of them were Leo Medialdea, future Supreme Court justice and father of President Rodrigo Duterte’s executive secretary, and Pedro Quitain, father of the special assistant to the President.

In resolving the issue, the high court ruled to reverse the appeal of the appellees to cancel the lease and ordered them “to vacate the premises they respectively occupy and restore possession thereof to the [heirs], without special pronouncement as to costs.”

On February 9, 1979, President Ferdinand E. Marcos issued Letter of Instruction (LOI) No. 807 mandating the ministers of Natural Resources and Human Settlements, the director of Bureau of Lands, and the town of Digos, through the mayor, to set aside 800 hectares of the Crumb Estate, as reservation for the expansion of the townsite and for other public purposes.

The LOI also ordered the lands bureau to dispose the estate’s residential lots (under of Republic Act 730) and commercial and industrial lots (under Chapter IX of Public Land Act); to sell a lot each to actually listed occupants and their legal-age children; to each of the heirs of Crumb and their legal-age children; and to each of the 22 defendants in Civil Case No. 344 of the Court of First Instance of Davao and their legal-age children.

On June 9, 2003, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo issued Executive Order No. 215, extending the term of implementation of Item No. 3 (A) in the Marcos’ LOI up to 2010.