A rightful land reform

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

A “moral imperative and a political necessity” is how a militant peasant organization and advocates of genuine agrarian reform described the launching yesterday of a Philippine Land Reform Movement at the UP College of Social Work and Community Development.

Averring that the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (extended by legislation called CARPER, which ended on June 30, 2014) “totally failed to address the centuries-old problem of land monopoly,” the new movement resolved to heighten the campaign for a new and truly distributive agrarian reform program.

“Vast haciendas and plantations remain intact while lands allegedly distributed to so-called beneficiaries are reversed, re-concentrated in the hands of big landlords and foreign agro-corporations,” states a briefer handed to participants. It adds: “In CARP’s 27 years, landlessness and land-grabbing suffered by the farmers worsened.”

Among the CARP’s defects was its provision for non-land transfer schemes aside from outright land distribution to farmers – the law’s key objective. These included the stock distribution option applied in Hacienda Luisita in Tarlac, a “corporative” scheme used in Negros Occidental, leasehold operations, contract growing, leaseback arrangements, and other agribusiness venture arrangements. These exempted vast landholdings from distribution to farmer-beneficiaries.

The PLRM organizers, Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas and Patria, cited the following:

• Millions of farmers tilling more than 1.2 million hectares are tied down to onerous contracts with plantation owners and agribusiness firms. The land is devoted mainly to export-crop production.

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• Lands under leasehold arrangements increased almost three times from 582,476 hectares in 1988 (when the CARP took effect) to 1,740,345 hectares in 2012. The number of leasehold farmers more than doubled from 555,232 in 1988 to 1,216,430 in 2012.

• Land-grabbing in the form of land-use conversions intensified under the CARP. Department of Agrarian Reform records show that it approved 2,885 applications for land-use conversion from 1979 to Dec.31, 2003, involving 40,485,912 hectares of agricultural lands. The National Statistics Office says that in 2002 alone 827,892 hectares of agricultural lands were converted to other uses.

Unregulated conversion has been depleting the lands devoted to food production. The resulting drop in rice output in recent years raises grave concern over the country’s food security.

• As regards compensations to landowners subjected to CARP coverage, records show that from 1972 (when Marcos’ Presidential Decree 27 took effect) to June 2005, the Land Bank of the Philippines approved P41.6 billion to pay 83,203 landowners for only 1.3 million hectares.

• On the other hand, millions of farmer-beneficiaries face the threat of eviction from their lands through foreclosure proceedings because they couldn’t pay the high amortization cost.

Despite the CARP’s failure, the PLRM organizers are aghast that the Aquino government and its legislative allies are pushing for a bill seeking to revive the CARPER — which had P150-billion funding but failed to attain its goal. The bill would extend it by two years, purportedly to enable the DAR to issue notices of coverage on more than 700,000 hectares of lands.

Should the bill be passed, they warn, the landowners would hasten to apply for exemption, exclusion, or conversion of the 700,000 hectares. Cited as precedents are the cases of the Araneta Estate in San Jose del Monte, Bulacan and Hacienda Dolores in Porac, Pampanga (set to be transformed by the Ayala group into an upscale village).

Also evoking strong reaction was the House approval on second reading last Wednesday of Resolution of Both Houses 1, authored by Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. and Sen. Ralph Recto. It seeks to amend the 1987 Constitution’s provisions on the economy and national patrimony to remove the limits on foreign ownership of land, public utilities, media, and advertising firms and the exploitation of the country’s natural resources.

Tagged as RBH1, the resolution would take effect as law without the President’s approval if passed by three-fourths of all the members of each chamber.

If successfully pushed, such charter change “would further open the floodgates for the unbridled entry of foreign and local agribusinesses, mining corporations, real estate giants, and big-ticket ecotourism projects in the countryside,” the PLRM organizers warned. It would, they added, worsen the land-grabbing, land-use conversion, and the forced eviction of peasants and rural poor from our countrysides.

To buck these negative trends, the landless rural poor and their long-time allies and land reform advocates are solidly resolved to struggle harder to put an end to land monopoly and push a genuine agrarian reform program no matter how long it may take.

They were heartened to learn that way back in 1744 the people of Batangas, Cavite, Laguna, Rizal, and Bulacan rose up against the friar orders that had usurped the lands that their ancestors had been cultivating. The friars built vast haciendas, reducing the Filipino peasants into landless serfs in what used to be their own lands. These same provinces fiercely fought for national liberation in the 1896 Katipunan Revolution.

Under the First Philippine Republic established in 1899, steered by prime minister Apolinario Mabini, all friar lands and those taken by the Spanish crown were placed under the Republic’s administration for eventual distribution to the people.

That first land reform act in the name of the people was aborted by the Philippine-American war and annulled by the US colonial government. Present-day realities tell us that it is worth replicating and improving on.

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E-mail: satur.ocampo@gmail.com
Published in The Philippine Star
May 30, 2015

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