Farmers to Duterte: Use iron fist vs ‘untouchable’ landlords in Negros

Bobby Lagsa

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Farmers to Duterte: Use iron fist vs ‘untouchable’ landlords in Negros
Task Force Mapalad farmers urge the president-elect to go after landlords holding 76% of 'untouched' lands in Negros Occidental

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY, Philippines – Thousands of farmers in Negros Occidental urged president-elect Rodrigo Duterte to make good on his strong pronouncements on land reform and go after powerful landlords that control much of the land in the province.

Based on data from the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR), there are still 700,000 hectares of agricultural landholdings nationwide that have not yet been distributed to beneficiaries under the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP).

Of this 700,000-hectare CARP balance, close to 20% or about 135,000 hectares are found in Negros Occidental, a major agrarian reform bottleneck, known as the province with the most number of recalcitrant landlords.

Among the biggest landholdings in Negros Occidental that remain “untouched” by CARP are the haciendas that belong to the Aranetas, who are relatives of defeated presidential candidate Manuel Araneta-Roxas II; Locsins, who are relatives of Susan Roces, the mother of defeated presidential bet Grace Poe; and the families of the Benedictos, Consings, Gustilos, Montinolas, Lopezes, Jalandonis, Lacsons, Yulos, and Montillas.

“These are among the most stubborn landlord-families that have defied CARP for almost three decades. We are hoping that President Rody will put an end to the greed of these politically powerful untouchables through Digong’s iron fist,” said 64-year-old Negros farmer Jose Rodito Angeles, president of national peasant federation Task Force Mapalad (TFM).

Untouchable landlords

According to data from DAR, about 12,000 landholdings nationwide with a total area of close to 127,000 hectares have not yet been issued CARP notice of coverage (NOC) or do not have valid NOCs. 

The lack of NOCs means that the government has not yet done any of the 27 steps to have the landholdings acquired and distributed through the program.

Most of the landholdings without valid NOCs are found in the Visayas, with some 6,367 landholdings, covering 65,665 hectares, remaining “untouched” in the region. 

Negros Occidental has the biggest number of landholdings without valid NOCs: 4,856 landholdings covering 47,684 hectares, or 76% of the total “untouched” landholdings in the Visayas.

Under the Aquino administration, the DAR failed to meet its target of 198,000 hectares of farmland to CARP beneficiaries, hitting only 18% of the target.

TFM blamed the lack of political will, and also pointed to the watering down of the program through the insertion of loopholes in CARP laws by Congress, whose members either belong to landlord clans or are allies of the landed elite.

Socialist path of development

TFM farmers urged Duterte to investigate the cases of CARP evasions and circumventions involving up to 1.5 million hectares of agricultural landholdings nationwide.

They also welcomed Duterte’s pronouncements that he would implement an agrarian reform program that would dump a loophole-ridden version of the program that allowed landlords to maintain control of vast agricultural landholdings already subject to redistribution.

In a television interview in Davao City on May 10, Duterte lamented that most of the landholdings distributed to tillers just went back to the control of landlords due to the ineffective implementation of the CARP. 

The president-elect said that while he would need to “study the matter very carefully,” he would be open to an “extended land reform,” provided that he would be “satisfied why it has gone that way.”

He said that under his administration, farmers would be guaranteed the availability of “money for financing” support services and farm productivity.

TFM farmers also welcomed Duterte’s pronouncement that he would “follow the pattern of socialism.” Duterte has also said that “he is angry at oligarchs” (because) they get the fat of the land,” and the problem was that “the government allowed” such greed. 

“Those strong pronouncements coming from a non-elite President bring a ray of hope among us peasants. The politically and economically powerful hacienderos are among the country’s oligarchs. And if President Rody would follow the socialist path of development, that would mean more equitable distribution of income, wealth and resources by breaking up land monopolies and ending the reign of hacienderos, who counter reforms so they can continue enjoying wealth built from our backs,” said Angeles.

He added, “If there were victories under the Aquino version of the CARP, these were mostly won not through the government’s political will, but by the efforts of peasants, who fought with their lives and limbs to reclaim the land they have been tilling for decades.” –

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