Genuine Agrarian Reform Can Help Philippines Deal With Crisis



MANILA – On May 20, the House Committee on Agrarian Reform finally scheduled a public hearing on House Bill 3059. The proponents of the bill, also called the Genuine Agrarian Reform Bill (GARB), came in full force.

Leaders of the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) from as far as Mindanao came to the hearing, ready to convince the lawmakers of the necessity and urgency of the GARB. But time constraints prevented most of them from making their case. The committee vice chairman, Rep. Edgar Valdez of the partylist group APEC, promised to hold another hearing before Congress takes a break on June 6.

That long overdue hearing underscored the problems that the bill has faced since it was filed by the late Anakpawis Rep. Crispin Beltran a few months before his death on May 20, 2008.

Any discussion on the bill, however, should no longer be delayed because GARB has become even more urgent amid the global financial and economic crisis. Implementing genuine agrarian reform now can immediately stimulate domestic economic activity and help address the problem of massive job dislocation.

Those directly and indirectly involved in agricultural production comprise around 70 percent of the labor force. Meanwhile, their combined production accounts for almost 75 percent of the domestic economy. But lack of genuine agrarian reform continues to deprive 70 percent of Filipino farmers of land. (CARP Extension and Reform: Further Agrarian Restructuring for Imperialist Globalization” by Arnold Padilla, IBON Facts & Figures Special Release, Sept. 2007) A very huge portion of the labor force is thus denied access to gainful, secure and sustainable employment.

As a consequence, nearly 70 percent of the poor live in the countryside, and around 90 percent of the rural population live below the poverty line. Consider, too, that around 55 percent of the national population is concentrated in the rural areas. (CARP Extension and Reform: Further Agrarian Restructuring for Imperialist Globalization” by Arnold Padilla, IBON Facts & Figures Special Release, Sept. 2007)

In other words, even before the global crunch, economic activity was already sluggish as a great number of Filipinos is job-starved and does not have the capacity to purchase goods and services.

Genuine agrarian reform can help the country get out of this economic predicament. With heightened uncertainties in the global economy, the key is to promote internal drivers of growth, increase domestic consumption, and invigorate domestic production.

Concrete benefits

With genuine agrarian reform, we can expect a substantial increase in household incomes in the countryside, improving the capacity of rural families to consume. To illustrate, let us take a look at the case of farmers tilling one hectare of land planted to palay in the Southern Tagalog region.

Tight monopoly control by landlords over the means of agricultural production has driven many palay farmers in Southern Tagalog into bankruptcy. It is estimated that they lose P554 ($11.73 based on the current exchange rate of $1=P47.229) to as much as P738 ($15.62) every day during the whole production process. The figures are based on the prevailing costs of farm inputs (fertilizer, etc.), rates of land rent, terms of payment with usurers and buying price of palay.

Land rent in the region is pegged at 15 cavans of palay per hectare while usurers ask for four cavans for every P1,000 ($21.17) in loans. Farm inputs cost around P26,220 ($555.17) per hectare. (Field study in 2008 of KASAMA-TK, a peasant group based in Southern Tagalog, and processed by the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan); published in “Praymer sa Krisis sa Bigas”, Bayan, May 2008) Using these variables, we can estimate the direct and immediate benefits that palay farmers in the region can gain from genuine agrarian reform.

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