MANILA, Philippines – Between now and June 2014, “all agricultural lands shall be covered and distributed to qualified beneficiaries,” Presidential Spokesman Edwin Lacierda told a press briefing on Thursday, June 14.
The briefing was held after a meeting between President Benigno Aquino III and farmer representatives from Task Force Mapalad, Davao Oriental Farmers Alliance, Pesante and other groups.
During that meeting, Lacierda said priority will be given to landholdings 25 hectares and above and notices of coverage would be issued on or before December 2012.
In reiterating his commitment to agrarian reform, President Aquino agreed with the farmers to issue Notices of Coverage (NOCs) to facilitate land acquisition and distribution within the time period prescribed by law.
According to Lacierda, NOCs for landholdings 25 hectares and above will be issued on or before December 2012; for 10 hectares and above, on or before December 2012; and for those under 10 hectares, not later than July 2013.
He added the Department of Budget and Management committed to immediately release P1-B for support services to be made available to agrarian reform beneficiaries.
RA 9700 or the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program Extension with Reforms (CARPER) has allocated at least 150-B for the program which would be utilized to successfully complete the implementation of agrarian reform.
To monitor implementation of land distribution, a multisectoral body convened by the President will also be formed. Among others, it will consist of the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR), church, civil society groups, and other farmer groups.
Manila Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo earlier claimed that the “current Department of Agrarian Reform has been consistently underperforming in implementing agrarian reform, particularly land acquisition and distribution (LAD).”
Various farmers’ groups and advocates who earlier placed their hopes in CARPER also feared that the program would expire in 2014 without being fully implemented under Aquino. CARPER extended until 2014 the implementation of the original Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program, which expired in 2008. It was first enacted on June 10, 1988 during the term of former President Corazon Aquino.
The implementation of land reform under the Aquino government is “the worst since 1988,” said Food First Information and Action Network-Philippines president Ria Teves, one of the agrarian reform advocates who trooped to the historic Mendiola bridge a few meters away from Malacañang.
“DAR lags far behind its official targets of distributing 220,000 hectares annually,” Teves said. In 2011, DAR distributed only 111,889 hectares to 63,755 agrarian reform beneficiaries.
24 years of waiting
Hundreds of farmers from the Save Agrarian Reform Alliance (SARA) marched from España to Mendiola in Manila to commemorate the 24th anniversary of CARP on Thursday, June 13.
Doubting that Aquino’s son could still distribute the remaining 1 million hectares of agricultural lands, protesters complained they have been waiting far too long.
Under CARPER, 961,974 hectares of agricultural land remain to be distributed. The country’s rich families maintain control over 107,639 landholdings, including the Cojuangco-owned Hacienda Luisita.
“This apparent lack of political will has fatal consequences for more than 1.1 million farmers who are still struggling for their rightful access to land,” Teves said.
“In the past years, peasant leaders have been killed by armed goons hired by landlords. Rural communities also face the threat of eviction from lands they have been tilling for generations as well as the reversal of decisions and land conversions,” Teves added.
Not the lowest
Secretary Virgilio de los Reyes, however, refuted claims of the farmers that land distribution under the Aquino government is the lowest in the history of agrarian reform implementation.
“On an average per administration, yes, but it is not the lowest in terms of absolute hectares (distributed),” de los Reyes told Rappler.
Based on recent DAR records, the lowest total hectares of land distributed year-on-year fall under the Arroyo administration: 97,795 hectares in 2003 and 59,495 hectares in 2009.
For the first two years of Aquino’s term, DAR acquired and distributed 219,069 hectares of land throughout the country.
|Annual Land Distributed 2000-2011
Year Land Distributed
|Source: DAR, 2012|
Right on schedule
De los Reyes stressed that DAR is right on schedule in land acquisition and distribution.
“CARPER was designed so that a big chunk, more than 300,000 hectares, couldn’t be distributed until its last year (July 1, 2013 to June 30, 2014),” de los Reyes clarified.
According to the DAR chief, the remaining hectares of land will be distributed based on the schedule mandated by law. In less than a month, DAR will start phase 3 of the implementation following this schedule:
•July 2012 to June 2013: 217,639 hectares
•July 2013 to June 2014: 187,959 hectares
Harder to distribute
DAR earlier admitted that the land acquisition and distribution process needs to be fast-tracked. Additional provisions in the CARPER law, however, stretched the acquisition process to 12-15 months.
The agrarian reform department simplified the acquisition process, shortening it to about 9 months. And to speed up the land distribution process, DAR also held mass processing of claims folders from February to May 2012.
De los Reyes, however, explained that the remaining balance is harder to distribute because the acquisitions are mainly private property that require just compensation.
About 93.58% (900,188 hectares) of the lands yet to be distributed are private agricultural land, while nearly 85% (816,491 hectares) of the balance requires the government to pay the landowner just compensation.
“It should be noted that the large portion of the DAR’s accomplishments in previous administrations consists of acquisitions that are ‘easy’: government-owned lands, voluntary land transfers, and voluntary offer to sell,” DAR said in a statement.
On Wednesday, June 13, protesters in Mendiola lamented Aquino’s seeming lack of commitment to fighting bureaucratic inefficiency and corruption in DAR.
Samuel Catamora, a 60-year-old farmer who joined the protest, said that his group opted not to join the dialogue. He however wants Aquino to look into DAR — from its central office down to its provincial and municipal offices.
“Nandoon ho ang anomalya (Therein lies the anomalies),” he said of the local offices, citing alleged cases where land developers would bribe local DAR officials.
“Bakit sa tingin niyo karamihan ng kaso ay hindi nare-resolba sa baba at naibibigay ang mga lupa sa developers?” Catamora asked, reiterating an age-old problem that has beset the agrarian reform efforts of the government. (Why do you think cases don’t get resolved in local offices and lands are given to developers instead?)
Catamora said he has no other source of income but the land he has been tilling as a tenant for over 25 years now. None of his 7 kids reached college and only 5 of them graduated from elementary. The land, if it ever gets distributed to them, is only what his children can have when he dies, Catamora said.
Catamora joined other protesters who held placards that read, “24 na taon na ang CARP, hihintayin niyo pa ba kaming mamatay? (CARP is already 24 years old. Will you wait for us to die before you give us our land?) – With reports from Buena Bernal/Rappler.com
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