“We in DAR are one with the struggles of the Filipino people.”
By DANIEL BOONE
MANILA – Former peasant leader and now Agrarian Reform Secretary Rafael “Ka Paeng” Mariano vowed to support peasant initiatives for land distribution in the countryside as well as strengthen campaigns to pass the Genuine Agrarian Reform Bill (GARB) in Congress.
On July 20, Mariano delivered his first year report, the State of Agrarian Reform Address, at the gymnasium inside the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) compound in Quezon City. It was attended by officials of the department, as well as peasant leaders from different groups, including Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP), Unyon ng Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA), Pambansang Pederasyon ng Kababaihang Magbubukid (Amihan), and Alyansa ng mga Magbubukid sa Asyenda Luisita (AMBALA).
“We in DAR are one with the struggles of the Filipino people … As DAR Secretary, I stand firm and believe that we could always rely on our collective action and organized movement in defending our rights,” Mariano said.
Such support coming from no less than the agrarian reform secretary can hasten the progressive peasants’ campaign to break land monopoly and distribute land to the tillers, which had begun early this year in “occupy” mass actions in haciendas in Central and Southern Luzon and Negros island.
“Because Ka Paeng was recommended by militant groups to the position, we are presenting challenges for him to accomplish in his next year,” said KMP Secretary General Antonio Flores, who was given the opportunity to speak before the end of the program. Among such measures demanded by the progressive farmers are the abolition of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law and a stop to rapid land use conversion of farms.
Mariano accepted the challenge and presented a 10-point general directive to the department in the Duterte administration’s second year. This includes speeding up the process of land acquisition and distribution, apart from the ongoing inventory of landholdings in the country.
Mariano also acknowledges that a genuine agrarian reform in the country is a necessary step in addressing poverty and food shortage in rural areas.
Genuine agrarian reform will also resolve the armed conflict between the revolutionary groups and the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP), said Flores. During the third round of peace negotiations, both the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) and GRP agreed that breaking land monopolies is a step towards alleviating the lives of the Filipino people.
Before being Secretary of the Department, Mariano served in the Congress as representative of farmers under Anakpawis Partylist. He is also the former national chairperson of KMP.
Aside from pushing for GARB in the lower house, the groups also demanded to totally abolish the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) and its extension (CARPER), which they labeled bogus. After 30 years of implementation of the program, the government has not been successful in distributing vast haciendas to farmers, Flores said.
Farmers also demanded to end the land-use conversion scheme, which allows landlords to circumvent the laws and reclassify agricultural lands for non-agricultural purpose. Agrarian reform beneficiaries are hindered to acquire the land which have been approved for conversion.
From 1988 to 2016, at least 98,939 hectares of land have been approved for conversion, according to data from DAR and independent think-tank Ibon Foundation. Mariano, in his first months in office, proposed a two-year moratorium on land-use conversion, which immediately drew flak from the secretaries of budget and finance and Vice President Leni Robredo. The officials said hindering conversion of agricultural lands would prevent creation of jobs in different regions.
As a result, exemptions were inserted in the moratorium, including projects from the Deparment of Energy (DoE), Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council (HUDCC), Department of Tourism (DOT), and Philippine Economic Zone Authority (PEZA). But these business-oriented projects are among the reasons why the moratorium is needed, Ibon Foundation said.
Mariano is yet to get the nod of the all-powerful Commission on Appointments, which bypassed him and Social Welfare Secretary Judy Taguiwalo, another progressive leader.