CARP backers urge free land distribution

By Satur C. Ocampo
At Ground Level | The Philippine Star

Are we going to see, in the remaining two years of the P-Noy administration, the free distribution of land under an extended CARPer (Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program Extension with Reforms)?

This question is being posed because, after 25 years of disappointing implementation of the CARP — declared to be the Cory Aquino government’s “centerpiece” program — its supporters among Catholic bishops and advocacy groups now urge the distribution of land to farmer-beneficiaries free of charge.

This surprising move comes from a group of prelates led by Manila Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo, chair of the CBCP National Secretariat for Social Action, Justice and Peace, and Christian Monsod, of Sulong CARPer, according to a signed statement posted on the CBCP website quoted by the Business Mirror.

Why surprising? Five years ago this same group had vehemently opposed proposed legislation, titled the Genuine Agrarian Reform Bill, which explicitly calls for free distribution of all agricultural lands. They lobbied instead for another bill extending CARP (for the second time) “with reforms.”

The extended CARP will expire on June 30, 2014 without accomplishing its land-distribution target of 1.4 million hectares. This failure has spurred demands, from Bishop Pabillo and others, for the removal of DAR Secretary Virgilio de los Reyes; but Malacanang has defended his performance.

The Pabillo-Monsod group has put forward a package of proposals, capped by free land distribution, as it reminds P-Noy of his declared commitment to fully implement CARP. It says that freeing the farmer-beneficiaries from amortizing the land awarded to them, as required under CARP/CARPer, is a “matter of social justice.”

The group also asks the government to 1) extend CARPer by two more years to fulfill its target; 2) condone all unpaid amortizations of delinquent farmer-beneficiaries, 3) create an independent commission to audit the performance of the Department of Agrarian Reform; and 4) order a comprehensive investigation of human rights violations and alleged land-grabbing cases in rural areas.

Pending in Congress are the Genuine Agrarian Reform bill (re-filed for the third time and having undergone two public hearings) and a bill extending CARPer for another five years.

Since 1987, actual funding for the CARP has been scant, resulting in “inadequate support services and capacity-building of farmer-beneficiaries,” noted the group. Of the required P255 billion for the first 20 years of implementation, only P175 billion was provided. Spending for CARPer also fell short of the P150-billion budgetary allocation.

Condonation of amortization arrears and free land distribution, the Pabillo-Monsod group argues, “will inject new life” into the Philippine program, which they said is considered by some to be “the least successful, compared to those of other countries in our part of the world,” if not indeed an “abject failure.”

The group’s call for audit of DAR’s performance by an independent commission (not the Commission on Audit) stems from several factors which have undermined agrarian reform, presumably with DAR complicity, that need to be verified and accordingly rectified.

Among these are schemes adopted by landowners to avoid or circumvent CARP coverage, such as the use of dummies in voluntary land transfers, unwarranted exemptions and land-use conversions, excessive land retention, and fake joint ventures.

Besides these landlord schemes, the group points to an “alarming increase” — under P-Noy’s watch — in reported human rights violations, such as attacks against small farmers, and landgrabbing incidents related to land-distribution cases.

From 2012 to 2013, the group avers, there was a 4.6% increase in the number of cases filed at the Agrarian Reform Adjudication Board, along with numerous cancellations of Certificates of Land Ownership Award (CLOAs), most notably in Quezon province.

The Pabillo-Monsod group appeals to P-Noy to dialogue with the farmers, the bishops and other land-reform advocates “because major decisions have to be made and actions taken before the deadline, on both the strategic directions of CARP and the institutional capability of the government to accomplish these strategies.”

“We owe the farmers a better future than what has been, and is being, dealt to them by our lapses and neglect,” the group concludes in its statement.

Meantime, backers of the Genuine Agrarian Reform Bill (GARB), who include bishops, priests and nuns united under PATRIA (Pagkakaisa para sa Tunay na Repormang Agraryo), are campaigning for public support for this alternative legislation, which essentially seeks the “nationalization of all agricultural lands” for free distribution to landless tillers.

The bill’s declaration of principles, policies, and objectives states in part:

“The State hereby declares the nationalization of all agricultural lands in the country. It recognizes that only nationalization of all lands can break up the monopoly of a few landowners and foreign control of our lands. It is through nationalization and the subsequent free distribution of lands to the landless tillers that a genuine agrarian reform can be implemented…and finally end the feudal and semifeudal exploitation of our farmers, render them social and historical justice, unleash their productive powers, and set our agriculture on the right path of development.”

To achieve such objectives, it adds, “requires the highest degree of political will” for the state to harness the involvement of all farmers, other stakeholders… and the entire Filipino people in “rectifying a historical wrong and fundamentally transforming our society.”

Is a consensus taking shape? How long will the farmers wait?

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February 8, 2014

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