MANILA, Philippines – Acquiring up to one million hectares of "contentious" properties to "complete" land reform in the Philippines will cost the government P98 billion (nearly $2 billion), according to a peace negotiator's estimates.
It is almost equivalent to the budget of the Department of Social Welfare Department (DSWD) for 2017, or the budget of the entire Philippine National Police.
Land reform is at the heart of the peace talks between the Philippine government and rebels responsible for Asia's longest running communist insurgency. The two parties will continue discussions when they return to the negotiating table April 2-6 for the 4th round of talks.
"The communist insurgency in this country is agricultural based, which simply means most of their people – their army, the issues they carry – have something to do with inequities as far as land ownership is concerned," said government negotiator Hernani Braganza on Thursday, March 23.
Free distribution of land
The government and the National Democratic Front (NDF) representing communist rebels in the talks have agreed that land will be distributed for free, but debates are expected on how this agreement will be implemented, he said.
"Under the Duterte administration's Philippine Development Plan, land can be given for free.... Although in principle both parties have agreed already, there is an equivalent. Nothing is free. There is a cost once you get it from landowners. The initial estimate is P98 billion," Braganza said.
A former agrarian reform secretary, Braganza leads talks on the Comprehensive Agreement on Socio-Economic Reforms (CASER), which is considered the heart and soul of the peace process.
Braganza said up to 6 million hectares of land have been distributed under the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) and the extension of the law, but a balance of another one million hectares that are considered "contentious" have yet to be distributed. These are plantation or hacienda type of properties mostly in the Visayas and Mindanao.
Realistic and time-bound
The two parties will debate how to distribute land during the Duterte administration. Braganza said it is important that the agreement is realistic and time-bound.
"One million hectares. That is the rough estimate. What we are saying is, CASER should be prospective in nature. Can it be accomplished during the Duterte administration? Is it possible to have all these land distributed? Do we have P98 billion or almost P100 billion of money to do that?" said Braganza.
He added the agreement should be time-bound and budget-realistic. "Maganda 'yung nag-agree kayo. Wala naman palang pera. Eh di nagbobolahan tayo dito," said Braganza. (It's good that we agree. But if there's no money, we are just fooling ourselves.)
The P98 billion cost does not include support services for the farmer beneficiaries to make sure that they can keep the land agricultural.
Ultimately, the goal is agricultural revolution. Not all will be given land, but they want beneficiaries of land reform to keep the land, make it profitable, and ultimately employ more people in the communities.
"This has something to do with creating more opportunities for people, for business, for jobs, simply because we know that the land will never be enough because the population continues to grow," said Braganza.
On Thursday, the government panel gathered representatives of various government agencies that they expect to help implement agreements under CASER. Agencies like the Department of Agrarian Reform are crucial in implementing land distribution, but other departments, like DSWD, will be tapped for other developmental projects in poor communities.
The draft proposals were presented to the government officials, whose inputs were sought to guide the government panel when they negotiate with the NDF. – Rappler.com