By DAWN CECILIA PEÑA
MANILA – A farmers’ group debunked claims of Agrarian Reform Undersecretary Elmer Distor that “landlords and capitalists” no longer “hold sway over vast tracts of agricultural lands.”
“[DAR’s] statement is blatantly false and essentially pro-landlord,” said Rafael Mariano, Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas chairman emeritus and former agrarian reform secretary.
“The claim that they are implementing a genuine agrarian reform program is similarly preposterous and untrue. CARP is a bogus, inherently flawed, and failed land reform program,” he added.
In a July 22 statement, KMP released a list of existing landholdings that are still controlled by the Philippines’ richest, based on data they gathered from 2017 to 2021. Among them are DMCI, which owns a 102,954-hectare land in Sultan Kudarat, and the Yulo family who owns a combined estate of 47,100-hectares for Yulo King Ranch in Palawan and the Hacienda Yulo in Laguna.
Distor, however, claimed that these landholdings are already covered with Certificates of Land Ownership Award (CLOAs), a certificate given to a beneficiary who has received a parcel of land from the government’s Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program. This document supposedly affords them the permanence and security afforded by other land titles.
Mariano explained that the need to evaluate and validate whether CARP beneficiaries remain in actual possession and control over awarded lands remains urgent today saying, “It has been too easy for DAR to show off CLOA distributions as successes, but whether the farmers retain possession and control over the awarded lands long after the ceremonies is a wholly different matter.”
He cited the case of Hacienda Luisita, where a 2017 DAR revalidation, under his term, revealed that 83 percent of the agrarian reform beneficiaries (ARBs) were no longer in possession of awarded lands.
Further, the most recent publicly available data on DAR’s amortization collection revealed that 89 percent of ARBs were unable to pay in full, while 30 percent are in danger of disqualification. Similarly, a 2000 DAR study stated that about 70 percent of lands awarded through Voluntary Land Transfers have ended up at the hands of landlord dummies.
Under CARP, ARBs who fail to pay amortization for at least three years can be disqualified as beneficiaries.
How about government-owned lands?
Back in June, the agrarian reform department distributed CLOAs in Malaybalay City, comprising a total of 1,286 hectares of government-owned lands. This, the department said, was made possible with President Rodrigo Duterte’s signing of Executive Order (EO) No. 75 in 2019.
Under Executive Order No. 75, Series of 2019, DAR is “to acquire all lands devoted to or suitable for agriculture, which is owned by the… government… for the purpose of eventual distribution to qualified beneficiaries.”
But with such focus on distributing government-owned lands, Mariano asked, “what happened with the undistributed private agricultural lands, comprising 92 percent of DAR’s land acquisition and distribution balance?”
“Due to its comprehensive exemptions, CARP only covers a total of 5.43 million hectares or just 44 percent, not even half, of the 12.4 million hectares total croplands nationwide. [Agrarian Reform Secretary John] Castriciones has made this worse by making the conversion of agricultural lands easier,” Mariano added, noting that recognition of covered lands depends upon the voluntary identification of government agencies.
Aside from ensuring that croplands make their way into the hands of deserving farmers, KMP also appealed to the agrarian reform department to undertake a nationwide revalidation of the status of agrarian reform beneficiaries (ARBs).
“That the numbers are quite dated is precisely the point, since Castriciones has not been transparent about the actual extent of their failures. It is a grave and bewildering disappointment that he has not undertaken an updated revalidation nationwide. Is this an attempt at a cover-up?” Mariano asked.