MANILA, Philippines – The Senate passed on third and final reading an amendment to the agrarian reform law allowing the government to continue covering lands for distribution to farmer-beneficiaries until 2016.
Senate Bill No 2278 was passed on Wednesday, September 17, putting the ball in the court of the House of Representatives which has yet to pass its own version of the bill, House Bill No 4296.
But in a text to Rappler, Akbayan party-list Representative Walden Bello said the House bill has not been scheduled for second reading.
Once the law is enacted, the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) will have another two years to cover more hectares of land under the government's agrarian reform program. (WATCH: What's next after the agrarian reform deadline?)
Once land is out under Notice of Coverage (NOC), the government can start the process of distributing it to farmers as mandated by the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Extension with Reforms (CARPER).
Giving farmers ownership of the land they till is supposed to help improve farmers' quality of life, ensure higher productivity, and higher income for smallholder farmers in the country.
Backlog land waiting
"We are very grateful to the Senate for its unanimous vote in favor of the NOC bill. We are looking forward to its eventual passage into law in due course," DAR Undersecretary for Legal Affairs Anthony Parungao told Rappler on Wednesday.
The DAR is yet to issue NOCs for 29,935 hectares or 3,398 landholdings, said Parungao.
It had to stop issuance in June 30, the deadline set by CARPER for land acquisition and distribution.
Most of these lands, he said, are small coconut and sugar lands in Region 6 (around 11,000 hectares), the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (around 7,000 hectares), and Region 8 (around 3,900 hectares).
While agrarian reform advocates agree it is a welcome development, they stressed that the House should get moving on passing their version of the urgently needed bill.
"It's good news but time is running out. We need the House version and then the joint initiative. We only have 20 months of PNoy administration," said Danny Carranza, secretary general of Katarungan (Kilusan Para Sa Repormang Agraryo at Katarungang Panlipunan).
In May, President Benigno Aquino III wrote to Senate President Franklin Drilon and Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr to prioritize the pasage of the CARPER amendment.
It was certified as urgent in June and was mentioned by Aquino in his most recent State of the Nation Address (SONA).
The first version of CARPER – CARP – was first signed into law in 1988. Failure to meet its 1998 deadline led to an extension of 10 years. When this too was not met, the CARPER was signed into law in 2009. – Rappler.com
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.