Land to the Tillers Remains an Elusive Dream

The contentious events surrounding the history of the land struggle of the Sumilao farmers once more brings to fore the failure of CARP to address the problem of landlessness in the country and the need for a new land reform law.

VOL. VII, NO. 46, December 23, 2007- January 5, 2008

The Sumilao farmers may be happy over Malacanang’s decision placing, for the second time since 1990, the 144-hectare property in the province of Bukidnon under the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP). But the contentious events surrounding the history of the land struggle of the Sumilao farmers once more brings to fore the failure of CARP to address the problem of landlessness in the country and the need for a new land reform law.

As early as Jan. 3, 1990, the Sumilao landholding was already placed under CARP coverage. But the owners skirted the CARP through a resolution passed by the Sangguniang Bayan (SB or Municipal Council) of Sumilao, Bukidnon on March 23, 1993 reclassifying the contested land in Barangay San Vicente from agricultural to industrial and institutional use.

The Sangguniang Panlalawigan (SP or Provincial Council) of Bukidnon passed another resolution on Feb. 4, 1994 approving the program of the Bukidnon Agro-Industrial Development Association (BAIDA) to construct the Development Academy of Mindanao, the Bukidnon Agro-Industrial Park and a forest development project at the contested land.The local government resolutions practically voided the 1990 decision of the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) to place the contested land under CARP coverage.

In 1996, an executive order by then President Fidel Ramos upheld the conversion of the contested land to industrial and institutional use, resulting in the cancellation of the certificates of land ownership award issued by the DAR to the farmers in 1995.

Even if Pres. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo issued an order reversing the executive order issued by former Pres. Fidel Ramos in 1996, agrarian reform advocates say the Sumilao farmers are still a long way from owning the land.

‘Just compensation’

Peasant leader Rafael Mariano of the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP or Peasant Movement of the Philippines said the Sumilao farmers will have to pay some of P2.4 billion ($58,181,818 at an exchange rate of $1=P41.25) to San Miguel Foods Incorporated (SMFI), the agro-industrial giant that acquired the contested land after it was exempted from CARP.The amount represents the investments SMFI is said to have made on the property and which the farmers have to pay under a ‘just compensation’ provision embodied in CARP.

Agrarian lawyer Jobert Pahilga of the Sentro para sa Tunay na Repormang Agraryo (SENTRA or Center for Genuine Agrarian Reform) said there is always the “possibility that the order of Macapagal-Arroyo will be reversed … if elevated to the Court of Appeals or the Supreme Court by SMFI.

“Even with the decision of GMA revoking the conversion order used by SMFI and placing the land under compulsory acquisition, the farmers could not still cultivate the land. In fact, the executive order did not include a cease and desist order to put a stop to the construction activities of SMFI nor did it order the installation of the farmers, which she could lawfully do so,” Pahilga said.

German study

The case of the Sumilao farmers highlights the plight of agrarian reform beneficiaries in the country. But their difficulties represent only part of the obstacles farmers have to go through before realizing their dream of owning the land they till to secure a decent living for their families. A study by a German-based institute showed that more and more CARP beneficiaries sell or leaseback the lands awarded to them due to lack of support services from the government.

The German Technical Assistance (GTZ) commissioned a review of the CARP in 2007. “Despite a total of 34 years of agrarian reform – agrarian reform failed to increase agricultural productivity, reduce rural poverty, and landowners’ investment in rural-based industries,” the study said. In its 272-page report made available to Bulatlat, the GTZ bared that the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) has concentrated mainly on land redistribution without considering viability and support services.

The GTZ study also showed that about 26 percent of the farmer-beneficiaries nationwide sold their lands. In Nueva Ecija 41 percent of farmer-beneficiaries sold their land. In Laguna a high 53 percent of beneficiaries sold and mortgaged their lands. The same is true for 26 percent of beneficiaries in Quezon province, and 35 percent in Iloilo province.

Related studies cited by GTZ said that in Southern and Central Luzon, three out of five holders of Certificate of Land Ownership Awards (CLOAs) or Emancipation Patents (EPs) have sold their rights or mortgaged and then abandoned their properties without paying.

The GTZ study produced results similar to that of a recent survey commissioned by the Negros Occidental provincial government that revealed that a high 40 percent of agrarian reform beneficiaries in the said province sold or leased back the lands they acquired through CARP.

The report also said 66 percent of 3.1 M agrarian reform beneficiaries have not been given support services; the Land Bank of the Philippines has not given any crop loan to agrarian reform beneficiaries because less than 17.8 percent of them can’t even pay for their amortization on the purchase price of the land; and neither was there enough funds to pay landowners.

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