Land to the Tillers Remains an Elusive Dream

Exemption and conversion

In 1991, local government units were given the authority to reclassify lands under their jurisdiction as provided for by Section 20 of the Local Government Code. In the same year, Department of Justice (DOJ) Secretary Franklin Drilon issued the opinion that lands already reclassified into residential, industrial or commercial use or purpose prior to June 15, 1988 are not covered by CARP (DOJ Opinion No. 44 Series of 1990).

The DOJ opinion and the authority given to local governments to reclassify lands paved the way for rampant land use conversion and exemption from agrarian reform coverage. In fact, October 2007 statistics from the Center for Land Use Policy, Planning and Implementation (CLUPPI) of the Department of Agrarian Reform showed that 22,900 hectares of agricultural lands have been exempted from CARP coverage because these lands have been reclassified before the agrarian reform law took effect.

Meanwhile, all lands reclassified after June 15, 1988 have to be covered by a conversion order from the DAR through CLUPPI. To date, the DAR has approved 48,767 hectares for conversion.

New law

In a statement, Pahilga said the provision of CARP allowing exemptions and conversions has spelled doom for farmers nationwide and has given landlords the leeway to hold on to large tracts of landholdings. For this reason, SENTRA calls for the abolition of CARP which agrarian lawyers deemed “inherently defective.”

“CARP allowed the exemption from its coverage even irrigated rice lands and other productive agricultural lands like the 144-hectare Sumilao property.” Pahilga added.

To answer the need for genuine land reform, partylist representatives from Anakpawis (toiling masses), Bayan Muna (people first) and Gabriela Women’s Party (GWP) filed House Bill 3059 or the Genuine Agrarian Reform Act of 2007 on Nov. 13. The bill aims to break up land monopoly and distribute lands for free.

The proposed bill expanded the coverage of agrarian reform to cover all agricultural lands in the country to include the following:

1. All private agricultural lands regardless of crops planted and tenancy relations; lands operated as agribusiness plantations by transnational corporations (TNCs), commercial farms, agricultural estates, and all lands operated as cattle and livestock farms, aquaculture and pasture, including those which are presently under various schemes considered as alternative to land transfer; all agricultural lands already distributed by Presidential Decree No. 27 and Republic Act 6657, as amended, but have passed into the ownership, possession or control of persons or corporations which are not qualified beneficiaries as mentioned in this Act, including lands distributed but placed under various schemes and modes of accessing the land to foreign and local corporations;

2. All lands that have been declared by various Presidential Decrees, Presidential Proclamations, other laws and issuances as part of reserved or devoted areas for tourism development, military reservations, human settlements projects, special economic development authorities, export processing zones, regional industrial centers, or special economic zones but have remained undeveloped or agricultural in dominant use or presently occupied and tilled by farmers.

3. All lands that have been reclassified as commercial, industrial or residential (CIR) lands by local government units and other government line departments and agencies but have remained undeveloped according to their legislated classification, agricultural in dominant use, or presently occupied and tilled by farmers;

4. All agricultural lands with approved land use conversion authority but have remained undeveloped and all agricultural lands with pending land use conversion applications;

5. All lands that are part of the reservations of state colleges and universities but predominantly used for commercial agricultural production, or presently occupied and tilled by farmers, or have remained undeveloped or lain idle for the last five (5) years; and lands of private schools which are not actually used for educational purposes and have remained undeveloped or agricultural in dominant use or presently occupied and tilled by farmers;

6. Agricultural lands which had been tilled by farmers and the subject of their land distribution claims but were taken away from them by the government or the landowner for use or lease by foreign institutions;

7. All timber and mineral lands, including those with existing concessions and exploration agreements with logging and mining companies, which have been placed under agricultural cultivation or use by farmers or their present occupants;

8. All government-owned lands that are agricultural in dominant use or presently occupied and tilled by farmers or have remained undeveloped, including those portions in excess of their use as penal colonies; and all public agricultural lands and alienable and disposable lands of the public domain that have remained undistributed, including settlement areas and foreshore lands presently occupied by farmers, settlers, and fishers for the last five years;

9. All private and public lands that have remained idle and abandoned and with potential for agricultural use except those necessary to maintain the ecological balance.

The proposed bill also provides for the free distribution of land so as not to burden agrarian reform beneficiaries with amortization that they could hardly afford, and comprehensive support services including credit facilities to enable them to make the land productive to uplift their quality of life. But for the proposed land reform law to be approved by a landlord-dominated Congress requires something short of a miracle. With reports from Karl Ombion/(

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