Land reform advocates to DAR: Stick to 2014 deadline

Pia Ranada

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Four months to go before the end of CARPER, around 800,000 hectares of land are yet to be awarded to farmer-beneficiaries

A MATTER OF WILL. Land reform advocates say the DAR should be able to meet the CARPER deadline if they had enough political will. Photo by Pia Ranada/Rappler

MANILA, Philippines – Land reform advocates on Friday, February 28, relayed to the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) a demand to stick to the June 30, 2014, deadline of completing land reform, as prescribed by law. 

“Because the problem is not a technical one. Politics is the problem. DAR lacks political will,” said Akbayan Representative Walden Bello, one of the authors of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program with Extensions and Reforms (CARPER).

“We won’t allow them to extend CARPER in order to accommodate their request for two more years,” the lawmaker said. 

There’s a huge backlog in land distribution. Based on DAR’s own figures, 790,671 hectares of land are yet to be awarded to farmers in the form of Certificates of Land Ownership Awards (CLOAs), the document that gives farmer-beneficiaries ownership of the land.  

More than 206,000 hectares are still not under Notices of Coverage (NOC), the document that catalyzes the process of distribution for that parcel of land. (READ: Drilon doubts DAR will meet land distribution targets)

Bello said the slow implementation of land reform was “unacceptable” and blamed the leadership of DAR Secretary Virgilio de Los Reyes.

“The completion of agrarian reform is, above all, a matter of political will, which has been sorely lacking in this administration’s DAR. Instead of rationalizing its slow process of distribution, DAR should fast track the distribution of all farmlands in the country,” he said.

Landlord interests

The DAR’s weak implementation has allowed landlords to get away with illegal conversion of irrigated, agricultural land to other uses such as commercial and residential, he said.

Cases of land grabbing have been reported from all over the country, usually involving smallholder farmers getting displaced by bulldozers and demolitions to make way for development projects like subdivisions, resorts, and malls. 

Farmers from Bulacan, Aurora, Quezon, Tarlac, Aklan, Antique, and parts of Mindanao have reported incidents of land grabbing or premature conversion in which the developer or landlord clears out farmers’ fields without permission from DAR. 

Under the CARPER law, it is illegal to convert all irrigated or irrigable agricultural land. Those who wish to do so have to appeal to DAR to exempt the land from agrarian reform coverage.

“Again and again, we have appealed DAR to stop illegal demolitions and conversions of irrigable and irrigated lands. But instead, DAR Secretary Virgilio De Los Reyes has explicitly stated in Congress last February 5 that he does not see landlord resistance as a problem,” said Save Agrarian Reform Alliance spokesperson Trining Domingo.

Technical problems

The DAR admits it won’t be able to meet the 2014 deadline and have asked for CARPER to be extended until June 30, 2016. But they cited technical problems – not a lack of political will – as the major reason for this failure.

“Many times, technical problems impede implementation – double land titles, overlapping titles, missing titles, chop-chop ones, defective technical descriptions, etcetera,” DAR Undersecretary for Legal Affairs Anthony Parungao told Rappler.

The bottleneck occurs when documents needed to facilitate land distribution are difficult to obtain. Land titles that have gone missing or were eaten by termites or destroyed by typhoons have to be reconstituted by the courts. And then there are technical problems when the titles correspond to overlapping lots. The DAR must also deal with those protesting the redistribution of the land. 

Based on the law, landlords must be compensated by the government for the loss of their land due to redistribution. The Land Bank of the Philippines is in charge of determining the value of the land in order to compensate the former owners. But technical problems delay the valuation process, said Parungao.

Philippine land reform began in 1972 with President Ferdinand Marcos’ issuance of Presidential Decree No 27.

From 1972 to 2013, the DAR says it has distributed 4,597,445 hectares. The Department of Environment and Natural Resources has distributed 3,755,357 hectares of public land, bringing the total number of distributed land to 8,352,802 hectares for more than 5.4 million beneficiaries.

Presidential intervention

The only way to fast-track land distribution is for President Benigno Aquino III to intervene, said Bello. 

Aquino met with farmer leaders in 2012 and 2013 assuring them that installation – physical distribution of the land – will have taken place by the original deadline.

The President should not entertain requests to extend the deadline to a later date because he committed to follow the CARPER law in his last State of the Nation Address, said Bello.

“Basically, if you give them a law that says we are extending agrarian reform for two more years, malaking butas na naman ‘yan (that’s another big hole). It will mean one extension after another.”

If De Los Reyes does not live up to the law, Bello said he and other CARPER authors are considering filing a lawsuit against the secretary. Groups, including the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, have also asked Aquino to relieve De Los Reyes of his post.

But some land reform activists would say Aquino has his own backyard to fix.

Hacienda Luisita, the 6,000-hectare land that fell into the hands of his powerful family, the Cojuangco clan, is the subject of one of the most controversial land disputes in the country. Though distribution of land titles to farmers happened last October 2013, there are those who call the distribution a sham– 

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Pia Ranada

Pia Ranada is Rappler’s Community Lead, in charge of linking our journalism with communities for impact.