Duterte to push for land reform, free irrigation for farmers

Pia Ranada
Duterte to push for land reform, free irrigation for farmers
The presidential bet says land distribution under the Aquino government is a 'farce' because support services are not being given to farmers

MANILA, Philippines – Under the Aquino administration, farmers have endured a “total failure of land reform,” presidential candidate Rodrigo Duterte said on Wednesday, February 3. 

Addressing over 100 farmers and land rights advocates, he said he can provide a better alternative.

Duterte said he would pursue land reform differently by prioritizing the provision of support services alongside land distribution to farmers.

He would also push for irrigation services to be given to farmers free of charge. At present, farmers pay irrigation fees to the National Irrigation Administration (NIA) – fees they aren’t able to pay accumulate as debt.

The implementation of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program Extension with Reforms (CARPER) was a failure, said Duterte, because farmers lacked the capability and resources to make their land productive.

“The land reform was a farce not because it was not given, but the problem again is, there was no support from government. You give him 3, 4, 5 hectares. Land reform? But you don’t give fertilizer, seedlings, support. He could not get credit,” he said in a mix of English and Filipino. 

No wonder, he said, most of the poor in the country are agricultural workers.

He pointed out the prevalence of the abusive aryendo system in which farmers who receive land from the government end up selling it back to the owner because farming the land would be too expensive. (READ: Lack of support for farmers drives abusive ‘aryendo’ system)

“He might as well sell the land back to the land owner and his only consolation is he gets to hold big money,” said Duterte.

Slow support for farmers

If he becomes president, Duterte said he would come up with a system to distribute assistance to farmers in a focused manner. (READ: Duterte, Cayetano platform focuses on crime, economy)

“If I get to be president, I will tell the Bureau of Soil or Agriculture, make me a color-coded map, see which crop is best in this area and we can focus the assistance, what we will give to the farmers,” he explained.

For instance, if the soil of a certain province is found to be conducive to growing cacao, his government would then distribute, for free, cacao seedlings, fertilizer, and farming equipment appropriate to cacao.

The slow delivery of services was one of the concerns raised by farmers during the forum, before Duterte’s arrival.

Para kang dumadaan sa butas ng karayom, mabagal (It’s like going through the eye of a needle, slow),” said Panay farmer Chriz Chavez.

Supposedly “discriminatory” practices would also get in the way of farmers getting the help they need. 

Harap-harapan sinabi sa amin hindi kami mabibigyan kung hindi kayo accredited ng DA (Department of Agriculture). Mamamatay ka na, hindi pa dadating ang tulong?” he said. (They told us to our face they could not give us anything because we are not accredited with the DA. Even if you’re about to die, help still won’t come?)

Duterte did not explain the details of how he would distribute support services, like if he would retain the DA’s policy of giving support only to accredited farmer cooperatives.

Free irrigation

But he agreed with the farmers that irrigation should be free.

Chavez said earlier that, even if farmers sell their land, they would not be able to pay off their debt to NIA for unpaid irrigation fees. 

Sana gawin natin libre ang irigasyon. Kung pakay ng gobyerno ang social justice at food security, dapat paunlarin niya ang buhay ng magsasaka,” emphasized the farmer.

(Irrigation should be free. If the goal of government is social justice and food security, they should improve the lives of farmers.)

When asked if he would accede to such an appeal, Duterte said: “Yes, definitely, that. Ang una kong gawin, free water for the farmers, hindi na sila magbayad (The first thing I will do, free water for the farmers so they won’t have to pay).”

Another way Duterte plans to help farmers is by continuing to build roads in rural areas to bring down the cost of transporting crops and agricultural goods.

“There has to be government spending there because we need mobility. I will repair the farm-to-market roads especially in really agriculturally-productive areas,” said the presidential aspirant. 

Aside from roads, he is championing the establishment of a Mindanao Railway System given that Mindanao has the potential to be a major “food basket” for the country.

Militarization and farmers

Duterte said his peace and order agenda would address another concern of farmers, especially in Mindanao: the militarization of rural areas.

Nag-evacuate ang 600 na magsasaka mula sa Davao del Norte at Bukidnon dahil sa NPA (New People’s Army). Mga pagnanakaw, murder, kidnapping,” said distraught Davao farmer Pedro Arnado during the first part of the forum. (600 farmers had to evacuate from Davao del Norte and Bukidnon because of the NPA. There is thievery, murder, kidnapping.) 

The presence of 60 battalions and over 10,000 military personnel in Mindanao has only heightened tensions.

Duterte said he would engage the NPA and Muslim separatists in peace talks.

His push for federalism, he said, may also appease Muslim separatists since this system of government would give them more autonomy in handling their region’s affairs.

Helping farmers become more productive ties in with Duterte’s campaign promise to ensure food security in his first 100 days in office.

“I must see to it that in every table of the family, there is food that is available and affordable,” said Duterte.

Because the presidential candidate was more than an hour late, forum participants were no longer able to ask him questions.

Duterte was unable to address the following concerns voiced by farmers at the start of the forum:

  • Conversion of farmlands to subdivisions and roads
  • How government should spend the P75-billion coco levy fund
  • Government policy on genetically-modified crops
  • Impact of mining activities on farmers 

But forum organizer Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) was happy Duterte was able to attend.

He was the only presidential candidate who accepted the invitation extended to all candidates in early January.

Aside from Duterte, senatorial candidates Isko Moreno and Neri Colmenares, and reelectionist senator Vicente “Tito” Sotto III graced the event.

Out of all the candidates, Duterte was the only one who personally met with organizers beforehand to understand the group’s electoral agenda.

KMP’s Miko Mendizabal said the Davao City mayor met with one of their leaders in Davao City last Saturday so he could better “prepare” for the forum. – 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.