MANILA, Philippines – Bayan Muna Representative Neri Colmenares said he would advocate for a genuine agrarian reform program in the country should he win as senator in the May elections.
“[For me], genuine agrarian reform is not merely a social justice tool; it is also a development tool. In my opinion, no country can develop without genuine agrarian reform,” said the senatorial aspirant during Rappler’s #TheLeaderIWant Forum at the De La Salle University on Wednesday, January 20.
Colmenares, who is running under the tandem of Senators Grace Poe and Francis “Chiz” Escudero, has long been an advocate of House Bill No 252 or the Genuine Agrarian Reform Bill (GARB), which is currently languishing in Congress.
Several legislators from the House of Representatives’ Makabayan bloc have been pushing for GARB as an alternative to the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program Extension with Reforms (CARPER) law.
Unlike CARPER, GARB seeks to distribute for free all agricultural lands to landless farmers. There has been a long-standing dispute on a fair agrarian reform program in the Philippines, where landless farmers continue to call on feudal lords to give them access to the land they till. (READ: 28 years on: Still no justice for Mendiola Massacre victims)
Colmenares, a supporter of GARB, believes the government must subsidize agrarian reform.
“Like most countries around the world, gobyerno ang nagbabayad ng lupang ito (the government should be subsidizing the land). In the same manner that the government spends hundreds of billions of pesos on roads and bridges that lead to nowhere, government must also spend for a genuine agrarian reform,” he said.
He was taking a swipe at the provision under CARPER that requires farmer-beneficiaries to pay amortizations for their CARPER-awarded land for a period of 30 years.
“Kapag pinabayaran mo sa magsasaka ang agrarian reform, katulad ng CARP ngayon, isang bagyo lang ‘yan, tumba lahat ng palay niyan, goodbye land reform na ‘yan. Isang anak niya lang madala sa ospital, wala siyang bayad sa ospital, ‘di na po ‘yan makakabayad ng amortization,” said Colmenares.
(If you ask a farmer to pay for agrarian reform like in CARP now, you would have to say goodbye to land reform when a single typhoon destroys the farmer’s crops. He won’t be able to pay for his land amortization if he would need to send his child to the hospital and he doesn’t even have the money to pay for that.)
Apart from a genuine agrarian reform program, the 3-term party-list congressman said he would support the industrialization of local businesses should he secure a Senate seat to provide more jobs to Filipinos.