'271,000 hectares not yet covered by agrarian reform'

MANILA, Philippines – The extended period for agrarian reform ends on June 30, but more than 35,000 landholdings covering more than 271,000 hectares of land all over the country have yet to be covered by government notices.

This is according to a survey by the agrarian reform group Task Force Mapalad (TFM), whose members marched with other groups and Cagayan de Oro Archbishop Antonio Ledesma to petition the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) on Wednesday, June 4, to fast-track the issuing of Notices of Coverage (NOC) for these lands.

These lands are in at least 22 provinces, according to TFM.

The petition includes 7,750 landholdings covering 32,362 hectares in Leyte and Eastern Samar, provinces barely recovering from Super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan).

An NOC, a document issued by the DAR, jumpstarts the process of land acquisition and distribution by the agency. 

Section 30 of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program Extension with Reforms (Carper) law allows the acquisition and distribution of land to small farmers as long this is covered by an NOC by June 30.

But farmers worry that the DAR may not be able to issue NOCs by June 30. 

Amendment to CARPER needed

It's "possible" that these hectares of land may not receive an NOC by June 30, DAR Undersecretary for Legal Affairs Anthony Parungao admitted to Rappler.

A major source of delay is that many documents required for the issuance of NOCs are either missing or damaged. Many land titles, for example, are missing, destroyed by calamities or damaged during storage. 

To solve this problem, the DAR has issued an administrative order allowing the agency to issue NOCs based on documents other than the certified true copy of the titles themselves, said Parungao.

But even then, it's unlikely they will meet the deadline. 

Law may be passed 'soon'

That's why the DAR hopes Congress can pass even just a "one-liner" amendment to the CARPER law allowing the issuance of NOCs after June 30.

The DAR's position paper on the matter was sent to the committee on agrarian reform at the the House of Representatives on March 3. 

The paper stated that there was no need for Congress to extend CARPER, as agrarian reform advocates interpret it as a tactic to delay the distribution of lands to farmers.

Rather, the paper said all that is needed is a provision that allows NOCs to be issued by DAR even after the original June 30 deadline. This would also allow DAR to provide the support services to farmers, another requirement of the law. 

The house committee approved its version of the bill last month, said Parungao.

"The Senate just last or so conducted a hearing on this. Looks like a law may be passed very soon," he added. – Rappler.com

Pia Ranada

Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. For tips or story suggestions, you can reach her at pia.ranada@rappler.com.