“How do farmers recover their expenses if their harvest is not enough?”
By NICO PINPIN and CHARISSE MAYUGA
MANILA – For Abby Bucad, a daughter of an agrarian reform beneficiary in the controversial Hacienda Tinang, the incessant price hikes of oil, food, and other staples made them restless in the past months. This, however, is just the tip of the iceberg.
On June 9, Bucad was among the nearly a hundred farmer-beneficiaries of the agrarian reform program who were arrested while they were holding a collective land tilling in a portion of the 200-hectare estate in Tarlac, a province north of Manila. Their plight brought to mind how land reform and due support continue to evade Filipino farmers.
“Our worst fear is to wake up one day and find our land planted neither with rice nor vegetables but houses and buildings,” Bucad told Bulatlat.
Critics said the Duterte administration failed to implement genuine land reform. This despite a 2020 promise of President Duterte that if there are lands available for land reform, his administration will strive to include it in the land reform coverage, and even giving a stern warning to land owners that “if you don’t let go of these lands, I will force you to give it.”
The Duterte administration said that it has distributed 120,889 hectares of land under the agrarian reform program to 77,275 beneficiaries. This number is 20 percent of the 613,327 hectares of land pending for distribution back in July 2016.
A study conducted by the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas revealed that from 2017 to 2021 the existing landholdings in the country are still controlled by the Philippines’ richest. These estates include the 102,954-hectare land in Sultan Kudarat owned by the DMCI and the combined estate of 47,100-hectare Yulo King Ranch in Palawan and the Hacienda Yulo in Laguna, which remains in the hands of the Yulo family.
Read via our mirror site: Landlords, corporations, still control vast tracts of agricultural lands – farmers
“Our hope is for this land to be distributed because this is ours and it is our right [to till it],” she said.
Assistance to agrarian reform beneficiaries
Land distribution, said Bucad, should be coupled with due services as they do not have funds to develop the land, including the purchasing of fertilizers and accessing necessary equipment.
“Farmers are buried in debts these days,” she said.
Farmers, she added, cannot make ends meet as production costs continue to increase while gate prices of rice remain low. Meanwhile, the supposed programs for land reform beneficiaries are not getting sufficient support.
Under President Duterte, the Program Beneficiaries Development program of the Department of Agrarian Reform has seen serious budget cuts from P2.94 billion ($52.7 million) in 2016 to P1.31 billion ($23.8 million) in 2022.
“The concerns of small farmers should be given priority,” Bucad said.
KMP, on the other hand, noted that the Philippine government’s continued failure to implement genuine land reform has pushed farmers to assert their rights even when their own lives are already at stake.
Under President Duterte, the farmers group said at least 333 farmers were extrajudicially killed.
“With its wanton killing, terrorism, and red-tagging against farmers and land reform advocates, Duterte is undeniably anti-peasant and anti-land reform,” said Danilo Ramos, chairperson of KMP.
Land reform under another Marcos?
The newly-inaugurated administration of Ferdinand Marcos Jr. appointed the grandson of his father’s land reform minister, who, in a television interview, expressed hopes to be the last agrarian reform chief as land distribution should be finished under this administration.
Conrado Estrella III said land distribution should be coupled with services, and that he knows where to get the funds for the 2023 budget.
KMP has already called on the agrarian reform department to reinstate the land beneficiaries of Hacienda Tinang. Tinang farmers still wait for this to become a reality.