Agrarian Reform in 2009: More of the Same Failed Program


MANILA — Addressing the just demand of the majority of the population should form part of the policy agenda of any pro-people government. In an agrarian country such as the Philippines where majority of the people are peasants, land reform is a must if the government seeks to respond to the needs of the people, and achieve peace and development for the nation. Thus, administrations since the 1950s had their own versions of agrarian-reform programs. These programs, however, have proven to be a failure as seven out of 10 farmers remain landless today.

The most recent of these programs is the Aquino regime’s Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP). Enacted on June 10, 1988, Republic Act 6657 or the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law was supposed to be implemented for 10 years. Falling short of its targets, the Agrarian Reform Law was extended by the Ramos administration for another 10 years. It expired for the second time in June 2008.

In June this year, the landlord-dominated House of Representatives, led by the four relatives of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo (her two sons, her brother-in-law and sister-in-law), adopted House Resolution 4077, or the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program Extension with Reforms (CARPER). Only 13 voted “no” and two abstained. Shorty thereafter, the bicameral conference committee voted for the extension of the CARP for another five years.

In August, Arroyo signed the CARPER, a consolidation of House Bill No. 4077 and Senate Bill No. 2666, effectively extending the CARP from July 1, 2009 to June 30, 2014.

Did the landlord-legislators, including the Arroyos and the president herself — her husband Miguel “Mike” Arroyo owns the 157-hectare Hacienda Bacan in Isabela town, Negros Occidental province — go against their interests in extending the CARP? More importantly, will the CARPER finally resolve the centuries-old problem of landlessness afflicting the peasantry?

Basic Flaw

A genuine agrarian-reform program should result in the free distribution of land to the tillers. After all, land, which should be universally available to all, was merely grabbed and titled by landlords who were close to the Spanish and then the American colonial authorities. Second, these landlords have already profited immensely through the labor of generations of peasants. Herein lies the basic flaw of CARP and CARPER, which provided “compensation” to the landlords, thereby negating the aforementioned historical truths. Compensation limited the capacity of the government to distribute land and gave the landlords the power to dictate the price of compensation and eventually take back the land from peasants who are unable to pay the amortization because of the backwardness of agricultural production in the country.

A study by the Sentro Para sa Tunay na Repormang Agraryo (Center for Genuine Agrarian Reform) revealed that landlords whose lands were covered for implementation of CARP profited immensely from their sale.

Citing data from the Land Bank of the Philippines, the study revealed that from 1972 to 2005, the compensation to 83,203 landowners for 1,348,758 hectares reached P41.6 billion ($899,653,979 at the current exchange rate of $1=P46.24) in cash and bonds, or an average of P500,463 per landlord ($10,823). In 2005, P4.6 billion ($99,480,968) was spent to compensate landlords.

The CARPER provides for a P150-billion ($3,243,944,636) outlay for the acquisition and distribution of 1.6 million hectares of agricultural lands as well as support services for 1.2 million farmer-beneficiaries.

In September, Agrarian Reform Secretary Nasser Pangandaman said lack of funds could affect the department’s land acquisitions target. He complained that the Development Budget Coordinating Committee (DBCC) approved only P19.7 billion ($426,038,062) for the operations of the department and the implementation of CARPER.

No Real Redistribution of Land

Pangandaman said their task is to cover one million hectares in the next five years. By 2010, the department should be able to distribute 200,000 hectares of land.

The CARPER also mandates that private agricultural lands — the type that the Arroyos and the Cojuangcos own — can only be distributed if the original CARP managed to distribute 90 percent of its target. But CARP, despite the two decades of its implementation, only distributed less than half of its target.

Lands covered by CARPER will be acquired and distributed in three phases.

Phase One will cover rice and corn lands, all idle lands or abandoned lands, all private lands voluntarily offered by the owners for agrarian reform, all lands foreclosed by government financial institutions, all lands acquired by the Presidential Commission on Good Government, and all other lands owned by government devoted to or suitable for agriculture.

Phase Two will cover all alienable and disposable public agricultural lands; all arable public agricultural lands under agro-forest, pasture and agricultural leases already cultivated and planted to crops in accordance with Section 6 Article XIII of the Constitution; all public agricultural lands that are to be opened for new development and resettlement; all private agricultural lands in excess of 50 hectares.

Phase Three will cover all other private agricultural lands starting with large landholdings and then medium and small landholdings.

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