Philippine agriculture

After Marcos relieves farmers of debt, gov’t needs to follow through – groups

Iya Gozum

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After Marcos relieves farmers of debt, gov’t needs to follow through – groups

SIGNED. President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. leads the signing of the new Agrarian Reform Emancipation Act at the Kalayaan Hall in Malacañang Palace on July 7, 2023.

Yummie Dingding/PPA/Pool

Groups say Marcos’ condonation of debts is a welcome relief for more than 600,000 beneficiaries. But more needs to be done.

MANILA, Philippines – President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. relieved 610,054 agrarian reform beneficiaries long burdened by amortization fees when he signed the New Agrarian Emancipation Act on Friday, July 7.

The new law, or Republic Act No. 11953, covers more than 1.7 million hectares of agrarian reform lands awarded under the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP), and condones P57.65 billion of agrarian arrears.

It is a fulfillment of a State of the Nation Address promise Marcos made in 2022. “I am here today to build on that promise because our beneficiaries deserve nothing less,” Marcos said during the ceremonial signing of the law.

Peasants and government officials across the country watched the event from their provinces.

But this is just one promise fulfilled. Filipino farmers are beset by a myriad of problems that have spanned decades of struggle.

Other burdens

Raul Montemayor, national manager of the Federation of Free Farmers Cooperatives, took the law as a good sign that the government is genuine in helping farmers. However, there are more lands that need to be distributed.

“Napakalaki pa ‘yung lupa na dapat sakop ng agrarian reform na hindi pa nauumpisahan,” said Montemayor in a radio interview on Friday. (There are still vast tracts of lands that are yet to be distributed under agrarian reform.)

Since the implementation of the CARP three decades ago, the government has distributed by 2020 more than 4.9 million hectares, or 91% of the total land promised.

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Aside from incomplete land distribution, enhancing land productivity remains a roadblock in making agrarian reform felt by peasants.

The Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura said that as much as they welcome this new development, amortization is only one of the problems that the sector faces.

“A heavier burden on farmers was the lack of support for making land granted to them productive, such as production subsidies, mechanized farm tools, irrigation services, and more,” the group said in a statement.

Even the President acknowledges the problem of productivity and promises to provide more support to farmers.

Threat of land conversion

Now that loans are condoned, Montemayor said it would be easier for developers to buy and eventually convert the land for non-agricultural uses.

“Actually ‘yun ang isang babantayan natin dahil mako-condone ‘yung utang, mapapadali ‘yung pagpapatitulo,” said Montemayor. (That’s one of the things that we need to look out for. If debt is condoned, giving away titles would be expedited.)

Once condoned, the farmers would be free from encumbrance which hinders them in the first place from selling their land.

“Baka mas malaki ngayon ‘yung pagkakataon sa mga developer na bilhin ngayon iyang mga lupang ‘yan at i-convert sa ibang non-agricultural use,” he added. (There will be a bigger chance for developers to buy the land and utilize it for non-agricultural use.)

Developing agricultural lands for commercial use is one of the ways landlords had evaded land redistribution in the past.

The principal loans valued at P14.5 billion of the 263,622 beneficiaries were already condoned outright.

The remaining P43.06 billion in loans of 346,432 beneficiaries will be condoned when the Landbank and the Department of Agrarian Reform submit details to Congress. –

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Iya Gozum

Iya Gozum covers the environment, agriculture, and science beats for Rappler.