Bishops to Aquino: Relieve DAR chief
MANILA, Philippines - Where is President Benigno Aquino III's political will when it is most needed?
Sustaining their critical stance against the Aquino government, 85 active and retired Catholic bishops slammed the government for its slow implementation of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program Extension with Reforms (Carper).
They also sought the sacking of Agrarian Secretary Virgilio de los Reyes for his alleged dismal performance in the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR). The bishops said even DAR officials and employees have lost confidence in de los Reyes. “It is impossible to lead DAR and make it do its job when its own employees have lost trust in its head.”
In a January 24 letter addressed to the President which the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines released on Firday, February 1, the bishops noted that “many promises made to the farmers (by the President) in the June dialogue are not fulfilled.” Carper is expiring in 2014.
The bishops were referring to the June 14, 2012 dialogue brokered by the Church between Aquino and the farmers where the President supposedly vowed for the speedy implementation of the Carper law. The President also announced in his 2012 State of the Nation Address that he was committed to fulfill the law. He said: “Bago ako bumaba sa puwesto, naipamigay na dapat ang lahat ng lupaing sakop ng CARP.” (Before I step down from office, the government would have distributed all the lands covered by Carper.)
The bishops noted that the President’s words do not match his actions.
They said that despite 36 dialogues -- including a dialogue with the President before the SONA and with de los Reyes in Dec. 2012 -- they have seen no progress in the implementation of the Carper law.
“Mr. President, please take quick decisive action that Carper be fully implemented, and revamp the current leadership of DAR, which underperformed these past 2 and a half years. You are racing against time. We make this appeal with great urgency,” the bishops said in their letter. It was signed by 85 archbishops and bishops, including Manila Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle and retired Cebu Cardinal Ricardo Vidal.
The prelates reminded Aquino that agrarian reform “had been a centerpiece social justice program of your mother, the late President Corazon Aquino.”
Shooting the messenger
Reacting to the CBCP letter, the DAR chief said the bishops “want to shoot the messenger” with an “erroneous” interpretation of the law and “flawed” appreciation of the facts.
Delos Reyes said that while the Carper law may expire on June 30, 2014, Section 30 of the law states that any case that will still be pending after “shall be allowed to proceed to its finality and be executed beyond such date.”
De los Reyes said he is very much aware of the deadline, which is why his agency is fast-tracking the issuance of “notice of coverage” to lands covered by land reform.
The DAR chief likened the bishops’ fear to the hyped doomsday scenario in the Mayan calendar. “June 30, 2014 is not Dec. 21, 2012. As the President said, we are going to finish land distribution before his term ends in 2016.”
Describing the call for his resignation as “unfair,” de los Reyes said the bishops may have been misinformed about the issue.
De los Reyes said the bishops should realize that the Aquino government is targeting the acquisition of private lands for land distribution, something largely ignored during the Arroyo administration.
“When we came in, we calibrated the system. The previous administration concentrated on government-owned lands, or those that do not have titles and those who agreed on voluntary land transfer,” he explained.
He pointed out that covering private lands for land reform is the more difficult part. “I am prepared to talk to all the bishops to explain everything. To be fair, I think I should be heard,” he said. “We are on track, we are doing everything we can.
In their latest statement, the bishops questioned the budget priorities of the Aquino government, pointing out that a P30-B supposed annual budget for CARP was not allocated this year.
The bishops reiterated that the DAR has been underperforming in land acquisition and distribution (LAD)—citing its reduced target of 260,000 hectares to 180,000 hectares last year. Still, LAD accomplishment was only 53,580 hectares as of December 2012.
In oblique reference to the frosty ties that the bishops now have with the President, they added: “Is it a design of Divine Providence that what your mother, of happy memory, started would be finished by the end of your term when the Carper law ends by July of 2014?”
Church and State ties have hit a new low with the passage of the Reproductive Health law which was strongly opposed by the bishops.
The bishops launched their own offensive against the RH bill last year, targeting members of the House of Representatives to kill it. But a last-minute push by Aquino crushed any Church resistance. The law was signed in December 2012.
Shortly after their plenary last weekend, the bishops issued a scathing statement against the Aquino government, accusing it of failing to punish the corrupt. - Rappler.com