As you pass along the Elliptical Road, the main thoroughfare that encircles the Quezon Memorial Circle, you will not fail to notice placards with inscriptions calling for the ouster of Agrarian Reform Secretary Gil De Los Reyes in front of the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) building. To dramatize their protest, some of the protesters planted miniature crosses with names of slain land reform activists and a coffin symbolizing their untimely demise. The placards and tarpaulins serve as coverings for the makeshift tents which the protesters set up. One tattered tarpaulin announces that they are on a hunger strike.
More recently, the protesters, some 30 farmers wearing orange prison inmate shirts, rushed to the Quezon Memorial Circle, brandishing placards calling for the sacking of the DAR chief. There they found the De los Reyes, who just conducted a press conference at a nearby restaurant at that time, and tried to hound him. He managed to escape the irate protesters only with the help of some security personnel and his office staff. On another occasion, the protesters also stormed the office of the secretary himself, brandishing placards and plastering the walls with posters describing De los Reyes as “ineffective” and a “disgrace” to the Aquino administration.
Hunger strikes, prolonged protests, and long marches like the one undertaken by some 100 farmers from Sumilao in 2007 -- these are some of the tactics often resorted to by farmer groups to call attention to their plight and express their disgust over the state of agrarian reform in the country. And these protest actions are bound to intensify as the expiration of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program with Extension and Reforms (Carper) draws nearer.
Recently, the DAR Secretary has become the object of these protest actions staged by farmer groups with the backing of religious leaders. The Secretary is being castigated for alleged underperformance and incompetence.
One critic, who represents a farmer’s group, expressed his dismay over the Secretary’s supposed admission that as per Land Acquisition and Distribution (LAD) record only 42,234 hectares from January 2012 to August 2012 were redistributed, constituting only about 25% of the target of 180,000 hectares for the entire year.
Worse, according to him, the Secretary also admitted that DAR will not be able to distribute to farmers the remaining LAD balance, around 321,974 hectares of land, by the end of Carper in June 2014.
One cannot fault the farmer-beneficiaries for these protest actions, although at times these go over the top and are done without context. After all, it has been more than two decades since the passage of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law (Carp) in 1988, which was extended for 5 more years under RA 9700 or the Carper law on Aug 7, 2009. The new law was meant to complete the acquisition and distribution of the remaining one million hectares of private agricultural lands to landless farmers. To this day, many farmers have yet to be awarded their certificates of land ownership award (CLOAs).
Decades of struggle to own the lands they till is simply too long for our impoverished farmers. And it is but right for the State to address their concerns and listen to their grievances.
Yet to empathize with our farmers does not mean that we have to take all their accusations against the DAR Secretary without any reservation. As always, there are two sides in a coin just as there are two sides in every controversy.
It is just not right and grossly unfair to jump at the conclusion that the Secretary is all to blame for the problems that the DAR is facing simply because his critics say so.
Fair play demands that we also hear the side of his story.
Critics are apprehensive that DAR would not be able to distribute CARP-covered agricultural lands beyond June 2014, the date when CARPER expires. The DAR Secretary, citing section 30 of the Carper law, explains that this fear is totally unfounded.
He points out that a careful reading sec. 30, R.A. 9700 will show that farmer-beneficiaries are not foreclosed from receiving their CLOAs even after the end of Carper. Specifically, the cited provision clearly states that “cases or proceedings involving the implementation of the provisions of Republic Act No. 6657, as amended, which may remain pending on June 30, 2014, will be allowed to proceed to its finality and be executed even beyond such date.”
The operative phrase is – cases/proceedings pending before June 30, 2014. So these pending cases may continue even beyond the said date as long as they have commenced prior thereto. This is why DAR, according to the Secretary, considers it crucial that the Notice of Coverage, which initiates the compulsory acquisition of private agricultural lands, is issued to all farmer-beneficiaries before this date.
In its Report entitled “For the Record: Report on the state of Agrarian Reform, January 2013” dated Feb 4, 2013, which was posted on the Internet in the wake of mounting criticisms against the department and the supposed lackluster performance of its secretary, the department made the following clarifications:
The Report explained that from the 879,526 hectares still to be acquired as of January 2013 will be deducted "non-Carpable" portions such as roads, easements, creeks, undeveloped portions of more than 18° slope, and others; and the 175,000 hectares which will be claimed by the landlords as retention area.
All in all, according to the Report, of the NET land acquisition and distribution (LAD) Balance (or actually distributable lands) amounts to 704,526 hectares, 182,121 hectares of which are considered problematic (with pending cases, technical problems, etc.). This leaves a workable LAD Balance of 522,405 hectares. So these absolute figures can be misleading unless you know what’s behind and underneath them.
As early as 2011, DAR admitted in its assessment that LAD will not be completed by June 2014; although, it also revealed that it can be done before the end of the President’s term in 2016.
DAR also attributes the slowing down of LAD to some problematic provisions of the Carper itself, specifically the so-called phasing requirement. Under the law, Phase 3, which involves agricultural lands commencing with large landholdings and proceeding to medium and small landholdings, can be implemented only after the completion of Phase 1 and 2 which also covers identifiable CARPable lands.
And according to the DAR Report, Phase 3, which affects about 351,619 hectares or about 40% of the remaining undistributed lands (and these lands have to be distributed within one year and only at the last year of Carper), can be implemented as far as practicable only on July 1, 2013.
On the allegation that DAR lowered its 2012 accomplishment target from 260,000 hectares to 180,000 hectares to reflect its dismal performance, the Report explained that the subsequent recalibration of this figure was made after the DAR conducted its claim folder days operation (literally, the DAR opened all claim folders to determine their actual status any problems that must be fixed). With the results of the claim folder days operation on hand, the DAR reconfigured the annual targets distributing the remaining balance to 2016 rather than 2014.
As to whether LAD accomplishment should be reckoned at the time the actual possession of the beneficiaries -- as its critics insist -- and not upon the registration of the CLOAs, DAR clarified that the latter reckoning period used has been used by previous administrations. Besides, “not all CARP-acquired lands would require that the agrarian reform beneficiaries be installed into their CARP-acquired lands. In cases where tenancy or leasehold arrangements obtain, installation is not necessary because the agrarian reform beneficiaries are in place.”
The reported DAR’s accomplishment for 2012 is also being challenged for being doubtful since as of December 13 of that year, its LAD was only 53,580 hectares. Critics pose the question: Does this mean that DAR distributed more than 63 thousand hectares in the final two weeks of the year?
DAR explains that the 13 December 2012 should not be interpreted as the accomplishment of DAR as of that date. The Dec 13, 2012 figures were partial figures of DAR as of November 2012 and as with any other operations, there is a natural time lag between the actual accomplishment and the consolidation of its figure. The truth is, according to the Report, DAR’s records upon collating figures from the field offices, will show that it has accomplished distributing around 113,000 hectares in 2012.
Finally, it is important to put into context what the current DAR administration is facing. Seventy-six percent (76%) of lands distributed from 1972-2012 involved government-owned lands, or lands distributed through voluntary modes of acquisition (voluntary land transfers or voluntary offer to sell). They were therefore easier cases because they were less contentious and less tedious to acquire and redistribute.
The Report further clarified that the remaining lands subject to redistribution are the “more difficult, more tedious and more contentious." This inventory of cases or LAD remains problematic because of technical and legal complexities, such as titles that require judicial reconstitution and inaccurate technical descriptions in titles.
The Report clearly points out that the bulk of the remaining lands for redistribution, which are subject to compulsory coverage, are the contentious ones.
And as we all know, these landowners will not allow the farmer-beneficiaries to take their landholdings sitting down. The natural tendency is to marshal all resources, legal or otherwise, to thwart any and all attempts by the farmer-beneficiaries and the DAR officials from implementing the law. That is why this kind of landholdings takes a little longer to acquire and distribute.
I think this is hard to refute because after almost two decades running it can be expected that the most difficult cases to resolve will be left at the tail end of the program. The earlier heads of the DAR easily achieved their targets because they had the good fortune of dealing with easily acquired lands and the distribution of collective certificates of land ownership award (CLOAs).
It is just unfortunate, if you may call it that, that Secretary De los Reyes became the DAR chief when most lands that remain to be distributed are those that are complex, tedious and most contentious.
Fit for the job
Understandably, nerves are frayed especially on the part of the farmer-beneficiaries who must be so frustrated that until now they have yet to receive the lands which, by law and moral considerations, have been granted them. To air one’s grievances and peaceably assemble are constitutionally protected rights.
However, it goes without saying that those who wish to air their grievances against any government agency or official cannot simply vent their dissatisfaction through violence, threats and intimidation or hurl baseless criticisms or do so because it is the fashionable thing to do.
The prudent course of action is to express sentiments with sobriety and reason; by first making sure that data and information relied upon are accurate before arriving at conclusions. Engaging in continuous dialogues to identify problematic areas and propose solutions is a critical step in resolving differences peacefully and satisfactorily. After all, differences are oftentimes caused by misunderstanding and misreading of the real situation.
I know Secretary De Los Reyes personally since we were both students at the UP College of Law. He is a hardworking and honest, an innovative lawyer, and a person of faith deeply committed to social justice. Basing on his experience and impeccable credentials as an agrarian reform advocate and specialist, he surely is competent as one could ever hope to be.
I am certain he will be able to prove that he has what it takes to accomplish the directives of the President on the agrarian reform program. If one cannot change horses in the middle of the river, as the saying goes, with more reason in this case where the agrarian reform program has entered the most critical and difficult stage – the final phase of a difficult and ultimately imperfect endeavor. - Rappler.com