Aquino to Congress: Extend agrarian reform deadline

Pia Ranada
As the June 30 deadline set by law for agrarian reform nears, the President certifies as urgent a bill extending the land acquisition and distribution component of the program

SPEED IT UP. Mindanao farmers call on the Department of Agrarian Reform to speed up land distribution. Photo by Bobby Lagsa

MANILA, Philippines – President Benigno Aquino III wants both the Senate and House of Representatives to prioritize the passage of House Bill 4296, a measure that extends the land acquisition and distribution (LAD) component of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) for another two years.

In letters to Senate President Franklin Drilon and Speaker Feliciano Sonny Belmonte Jr both dated May 26, Aquino certified the bill as urgent.

“Despite the CARP’s initial success in implementing agrarian reform, a substantial portion of the country’s agricultural lands remains beyond the program’s coverage and will continue to be so unless the program’s efficacy is extended,” read the president’s letter to both solons.

Under the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program Extension with Reforms (CARPER) law, the deadline for acquiring land for distribution to farmers is on June 30, 2014 – less than a month away.

Yet the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) has yet to acquire and distribute roughly 550,000 hectares, admitted Undersecretary for Legal Affairs Anthony Parungao.

House Bill 4296 extends the ability of the DAR to issue notices of coverage (NOCs) and distribute them to tenant farmers until June 30, 2016. An NOC is the document that puts a parcel of land under the agrarian reform program and jumpstarts the distribution process.

The bill also provides funding for the extension.

The certification of the measure “provides for the seamless implementation of the LAD and reaffirms this administration’s dedication to implementing genuine agrarian reform,” wrote Aquino.

Bill supports DAR position

Parungao said the department supports the bill since it is in accordance with a position paper they submitted to the House of Representatives last March.

The position paper argued that Congress need not create a new bill to extend the entire CARPER, as was done when CARP ended.

“The government just needs to avoid a rigid interpretation of the June 30, 2014, deadline,” Parungao told Rappler previously.

A “one-liner” amendement to extend one component of CARPER – the land acquisition and distribution component – would suffice, he said.

But some land reform advocates are not buying it, calling it essentially, “an extension move.”

DAR should stick to the original 2014 deadline instead of making excuses for dismal performance in agrarian reform, said Akbayan Representative Walden Bello, who co-authored the CARPER law.

“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,” he said.

Weak DAR leadership

Other activists blame DAR Secretary Virgilio delos Reyes for the large backlog in undistributed land. (READ: Drilon doubts DAR will meet land distribution targets)

“This is the weakest administration in terms of agrarian reform implementation and one of the bases for that is its failure to accomplish even 70% of its targets annually,” said Danny Carranza, secretary-general of Katarungan (Kilusan Para Sa Repormang Agraryo at Katarungang Panlipunan).

The snails’ pace at which CARPER is moving is due to lack of political will in the DAR leadership, activists say.

DAR maintains that it is technical problems that impedes CARPER’s implementation.

Missing land titles, damaged ones, titles corresponding to overlapping lots, and protesting landowners lead to bottlenecks, said Parungao.

Though slowly, CARPER is moving, he maintained. As of May 20, the hectares of land without NOCs was 88,962, down from 206,000 hectares at the start of 2014.

From an inital 790,671 hectares of land still not awarded to farmers in the form of Certificates of Land Ownership Awards (CLOAs) in February, the balance is roughly 550,000 hectares, said Parungao.

CARPER is an extension of the CARP which was signed into law in 1988 during the presidency of Corazon Aquino. It was supposed to last for 10 years, until 1998. Even then, CARP did not meet its deadline requiring the next president, Fidel Ramos, to extend it for another 10 years. In December 2008, CARP expired.

The following year, an allegedly rushed CARPER was signed into law, extending the program until June 2014. – Rappler.com

 

 

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Pia Ranada

Pia Ranada is a senior reporter for Rappler covering Philippine politics and environmental issues. For tips and story suggestions, email her at pia.ranada@rappler.com.