A Centuries-Old Problem

A government which is not serious in implementing a genuine agrarian reform program with a weak law such as the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law of 1988 is a recipe for more feudal exploitation and peasant unrest. A government which is not serious in agrarian reform with a strong law and program may be forced to make some concessions. But for a genuine and truly comprehensive agrarian reform program to take place, it would need the strong political will of a truly democratic government.

Vol. VII, No. 36, October 14-20, 2007

It has been almost two decades when the proclaimed centerpiece program of the Aquino government was passed and implemented. The Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law of 1988 was passed April 21, 1988. It was supposed to provide social justice to the millions of peasants who have been tilling the land for centuries, and have been suffering from feudal exploitation.

The struggle for land was one of the main issues, together with colonial oppression, which sparked the Revolution of 1896. Within a decade after the imposition of American colonization, peasant unrest gave rise to revolts and the establishment of peasant organizations. During the brief Japanese occupation, peasants formed the bulk of the Hukbalahap (People’s Army Against the Japanese). After World War II, peasant unrest never abated. The Pambansang Kaisahan ng mga Magbubukid (National Association of Peasants) was outlawed by the Roxas administration in 1948. The suppression of peasant organizations and struggles led to the formation of the Hukbong Mapagpalaya ng Bayan (HMB or People’s Liberation Army soon afterwards. Under the leadership of the Partido Komunista ng Pilipinas (PKP or Communist Party of the Philippines), the HMB launched an offensive against the government in an effort to seize political power and implement agrarian reform. The PKP and the HMB was defeated and became a spent force. But in 1968, the Communist party of the Philippines (CPP) was reestablished and in March of 1969, the New People’s Army (NPA) was formed. The land question is the main content of the national democratic revolution that the CPP and the NPA have been waging.

The issue of land is no less important and urgent today with 11, 865,000 employed in agriculture. Moreover, majority of the Filipino people are residing in the rural areas, where the economy still revolved around agriculture. In fact, agriculture and mining, both dependent on the land – aside from low value-added semi-manufactures and migrant labor – are the main exports of the country. Thus, the problem of monopoly of land by and the concentration of vast tracts of land to a few landlords and big foreign mining corporations is still a major issue in the county today.

The question confronting us now is whether the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law of 1988, which was already extended for 10 years in 1998, is effective and worth extending for another 10 years.

The DAR’s view

As far as the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) is concerned, it deems that it has been doing its job well and it is supporting the ten-year extension. It is endorsing House Bill 743 filed by Rep. Jaime Cua which seeks to extend the law and amend certain provisions, particularly allowing the use of the land distributed under the law as collateral.

Two agencies were tasked to implement the distribution of the land: the Department of Agrarian Reform’s target is to distribute 4,290,450 hectares while the Department of the Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) was set to distribute 3,771,411 hectares. Of the 8,061,861 hectare-target, the DAR claims that it has distributed 3,764,294 hectares and the DENR 3,056,186 hectares for a total of 6,820,480 hectares or 84.6 percent of the target.

The administrations from Aquino to Arroyo were known to pad the statistics of accomplishments of the agrarian reform program. But granting for the sake of argument that these claims are true, why do they need another ten years to distribute the balance of 1,241,381? Another way of looking at it is that if took twenty years to distribute 6,820,480, does it not show how ineffective the law is? Why do we have to bear with an ineffective law for another ten years?

Fraught with problems and loopholes

The more important thing is the impact of the agrarian reform law on the lives of the peasantry. Most, if not all, genuine peasant organizations (not the government-controlled ones) have complaints about the loopholes and problems of the agrarian reform program of the government.

Land-use conversion is one of the main problems being cited. rom 1997-98 alone, there were 67,466 hectares of agricultural land legally approved for conversion. In the year 2000, the DAR approved 34,160 hectares of the 39,066 hectares up for conversion. There have been other numerous cases of land use conversion approved by the regional and provincial agrarian reform officials in cahoots with landlords and big business. These land-use conversions not only deprive potential beneficiaries of the land that could have been theirs but have taken away land that was already distributed.

Aside from land use conversions, landlords also filed cases to take back the land that have been distributed. By 1998, the DAR has confiscated from farmer-beneficiaries 20,000 certificate of land transfers, 2,500 emancipation patents, and 320 certificates of land ownership agreements covering 70,000 hectares and affecting 25,000 farmers. Bulatlat ran a story of an agrarian reform community, one of the showcases of the agrarian reform program, whose land is now being claimed by a landlord.

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