October Peasant Month: The Remoteness of Real Land Reform

The bitter plight of Filipino farmers continues past the Aquino administration’s first 100 days and into October which the peasant movement marks as Peasant Month.

Posted by Bulatlat.com

The First 100 Days Report of Pres. Benigno ‘Noynoy’ Aquino’s administration made no mention of its program for land reform. This was also true in Pres. Aquino’s first State of the Nation Address (SONA) in July, which only mentioned public-private partnerships for farming facilities and infrastructure.

All these betray that working for real land reform is not in the list of priorities of Pres. Aquino, a known haciendero. In the past, he had declared support for the one-year-old Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program Extended with Reforms (CARPer), which peasant groups have denounced as a futile law that is biased against peasants. In fact, a year after the enactment of RA 9700 or the CARPer, past the new administration’s first 100 days and into October which the Philippine peasant movement marks as Peasant Month, the bitter plight of Filipino farmers continue.

Only three days after Aquino was sworn into office, scores were hurt and 42 were arrested in authorities’ violent dispersal of a camp-out by peasants and their supporters only a stone’s throw from Malacañang. The camp-out was conducted to lobby farmers’ demands to the new administration, representing stark and recent cases of landgrabbing and landlessness as in Haciendas Luisita, Looc and Yulo. The new administration has also not been heard to condemn the extrajudicial killings of at least 12 farmers within its first 100 days.

The attempt to hype up the ‘compromise deal’ in Hacienda Luisita between the Cojuangco-Aquinos and ‘representative peasants and farmworkers’ – as the ‘solution’ to the Luisita controversy fails by any standard. The deal was a no-win solution for the peasants who were given a choice between embracing the stock-distribution option (SDO) as ‘shareholders’ who have only so far gotten coins – or getting a parcel of land from 33% of the hacienda divided by thousands of farmers and farm workers.

Thus dealing with the basic demand for genuine agrarian reform not only remains out of the picture after the CARPer’s first year. Even the faltering implementation of the flawed extended land reform law merely underscores its pro-landlord, anti-farmer framework.

Landlord compensation

The CARPer’s bias in favor of landlords is in the tradition of past land reform programs bearing the premise that landlords are entitled to “just compensation” in exchange for land distribution as opposed to distributing for free both landholdings and all rural wealth justly to farmers who have been tilling and making the land productive. Since 1972-2008, landlords have received P289 billion in payments for 1,619,513 hectares by virtue of these land reform programs. An additional 19,133 hectares compensable by the Land Bank of the Philippines have been distributed from January 2009 to June 2010.

The nature of the program coupled with the absence of political will for real and redistributive agrarian reform resulted in the requirement for “just compensation” which, in turn, has created the conditions for land reform to drag on and be subverted. The chronic underfunding for agrarian reform in the national budget has also caused land redistribution to drag on for decades. Worse, protracted implementation has even given landlords the time to find, create and exploit loopholes in the program and so circumvent land reform.

Under the CARPer, the required down payment for such compensation has even been raised from 25% to 50 percent.

Landlord testimony required

The CARPer also requires landlords’ testimonies that prospective farmer beneficiaries indeed worked on the land in question before the issuance of titles. Data from the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) show that as of July 2010, 106 landowners nationwide either would not attest to tenants, leaseholders or farmworkers or have pending protests over 3,318.4 hectares of land targeted for 1,602 Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries (ARBs). DAR Assistant Secretary Dominador Andres himself observed that this continued landlord resistance is a big problem that will hinder the targeted completion of CARPer implementation within five years.

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