“Presidential commitments, if delivered, will be a big leap for change.”
By RONALYN V. OLEA
MANILA – Alejandro Ramos, 37, travelled for six days to join the march marking President Rodrigo Duterte’s State of the Nation Address (SONA). A farmer from Modo, Masbate, Ramos hopes that the President would fulfill his promise to implement land reform.
Ramos said large tracts of land have been exempted from agrarian reform coverage because these were devoted to livestock production. “In Masbate, one cow has three hectares while farmers remain landless,” he told Bulatlat in an interview.
Forty percent of the land area of the province is devoted to cattle ranching, according to Department of Trade and Industry (DTI).
Ramos said what he and fellow farmers need is the free distribution of agricultural lands.
In a forum, Feb. 3 at the University of the Philippines in Diliman, Duterte told members of the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) that he would come up with a new agrarian reform program, calling the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program a farce.
KMP chairperson Joseph Canlas said, “Presidential commitments, if delivered, will be a big leap for change.”
Ramos said his fellow farmers want large-scale mining out of their province. He said agricultural lands have been covered by mining operations.
Data from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) in December 2015 show that five mining companies were granted permits to explore and mine for gold, silver and other minerals covering more than 55,000 hectares of land.
Meanwhile, farmers from Southern Mindanao region are resisting the expansion of agricultural plantations.
At least 500,000 hectares of land in Mindanao are covered with agricultural plantations primarily for export. In the last ten years, big agricultural corporations aggressively expanded their operations. From 2005 to 2014, the land areas covered by the plantations increased by 79 percent, according to the research by the newly formed Network Resisting Expansion of Agricultural Plantations in Mindanao (REAP Mindanao Network).
Citing data from various government agencies, REAP Mindanao Network said that up to 1.6 million hectares of land are targeted for the expansion of plantations of banana, pineapple, sugarcane, rubber, oil palm and cacao.
Pedro Arnado, secretary general of KMP-SMR, told Bulatlat that they want these plantations covered by genuine agrarian reform.
Another farmer from Mindanao, Noneta Campos, 55, called on Duterte to increase the prices of agricultural goods.
Campos and her husband work on a two-hectare land and grow coconut, banana, sweet potatoes and cassava in Marihatag, Surigao del Sur.A mother of six, she laments that their monthly income is not enough for the family. Banana is sold at P15 for every kilo. Cassava is sold at P100 for 80 kilos and coconut is only P30 per kilo.
The KMP also reminded Duterte of his promise, during the Commission on Elections-organized presidential debates in Cebu, to return the multi-billion coconut levy fund to small coconut farmers and to provide free irrigation services.
The coco levy came from taxes imposed on coconut farmers during the martial law years with the promise of sharing investments and development of the coconut industry.
In its September 4, 2012 final ruling, the Supreme Court upheld that a 31-percent bloc of SMC shares constitutes public money and should be used solely for the benefit of farmers and the industry. The 31 percent shares refers to the Coconut Industry Investment Fund shares in SMC that was reduced to only 24 percent and was already remitted to the national treasury in October 2012 amounting to more than P70 billion (US$ 1.52 billion).
The group challenged Duterte to certify as urgent the Genuine Agrarian Reform Bill, the Small Coconut Farmers’ Fund Bill, and the proposed Free Irrigation Services Act.
Anakpawis Partylist Rep. Ariel Casilao filed the three bills in the 17th Congress.
KMP secretary general Antonio Flores pinned his hopes on the peace negotiations between the government and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) to address the problem of landlessness in the countryside.
Flores said an agreement on social and economic reforms must include free land distribution, the return of the coconut levy funds, the tobacco excise tax, and the sugar amelioration fund, among others.