Bu-lat-lat (boo-lat-lat) verb: to search, probe, investigate, inquire; to unearth facts

Volume IV,  Number 21              June 27 - July  3, 2004            Quezon City, Philippines


Outstanding, insightful, honest coverage...


Join the Bulatlat.com mailing list!

Powered by groups.yahoo.com


16 Years of Agrarian Reform
Are Filipino Peasants Better Off Now?  
(Last of two parts)

The government claims that the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) is a success, even if it was supposed to end in 1998 but got extended until 2008 due to delays in the distribution of land. Farmers, on the other hand, claim to still experience feudal bondage and brand CARP as a bogus reform program. What is the truth behind the CARP’s accomplishment? How are the farmer-beneficiaries doing at present? This special report seeks to shed light on what has happened to the program, and, more importantly, the farmers, 16 years after CARP’s implementation.


Aling Maria, a retired sugar farm worker and former stockholder of the Hacienda Luisita, Inc.  Photo by Dabet Castañeda

In 1988, the government through Republic Act No. 6657 began implementing the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP). It sought to distribute lands to about 8.5 million landless peasants, share tenants and agricultural workers “to liberate them from the clutches of landlordism and poverty.” 

After 16 years, the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR), the government agency tasked to implement CARP, reported that it distributed around 3.4 million hectares of lands to some 1.9 million beneficiaries as of May 2004. It now aims to distribute some 1.3 million hectares in the next four years.

Based on its past performance, however, the government seems not only unable to do what it preaches but more alarmingly has shown itself incapable of freeing the peasant masses from centuries-old feudal bondage or even improve the tenant-beneficiaries’ productivity. Amid what critics said are the flaws and the emasculation of CARP, government may claim that land may have been given to many farmers. But the vast majority of land toilers remain poor forcing even many of what government had identified as tenant-beneficiaries to sell, mortgage or abandon their lands.

In an ironic twist of fate, studies show that CARP lands have been gradually turned over back to the landlords.

Widening gap

A World Bank (WB) study cited by Ibon Foundation in a 1987 report estimated that in 1971, 2.3 million families in the rural areas or about 57 percent of the total rural population could not meet their basic needs. By 1983, the same study showed that while the percentage of rural families below the poverty line fell to 45 percent, the number of rural poor swelled to 2.6 million families.

This pre-CARP agrarian situation seems to have persisted even after 16 years of the land reform program. The latest WB study showed that the number of the poor in the Philippines actually increased in the rural provinces by more than 300,000 between 1997 and 2003.

What proved to be very striking is that the income disparity between the rich and the poor widened. In 1994, the top 10 percent earned an average income that was 19 times greater than the income of the bottom 10 percent of the population. In 2003, however, this gap went up to 24 times greater between the top and bottom 10 percent income deciles, leading to a further marginalization of the poor and underprivileged.


But according to the DAR, there were gains in improving the living standards of the farmers benefited by the land reform program.

The department’s latest CARP impact assessment study compared poverty incidence in rural areas between 1990 and 2000 and, in the same period, between agrarian reform beneficiaries (ARBs) and non-ARBs. Poverty incidence refers to the proportion of families with per capita income below the annual poverty threshold of P11,605 ($207.68, based on exchange rate of P55.88 per US dollar) or such number of families of five earning below P4,835 monthly.

In the countryside, poverty incidence in 2000 was registered at 47.4 percent or three percent higher in 1990, the impact study said. But poverty incidence among ARBs went down from 47.6 percent in 1990 to 45.2 percent in 2000, showing positive impact of CARP on farmer-beneficiaries.

It looks like however that whatever improvements had been made on the living standards of ARBs compared to non-ARBs, have not influenced the general economic condition in the countryside as the incidence of poverty nationwide seemed to have even risen.

The claim about reduced poverty incidence should be seen in light of the fact that ARBs constitute only 5 percent to 10 percent of the total farming communities in the Philippines. Even if this is true, said Raul Espere, research officer of the Center for Peasant Education and Services (CPES), it should not gloss over the fact that among the rest of the peasant population poverty has worsened.

An earlier survey made by the Institute of Agrarian Studies of the University of the Philippines in Los Baños, Laguna showed that farm yields in agrarian reform communities (ARCs) are either close to or exceed national averages. ARC rice communities with a land distribution record of more than 76 percent show a yield higher than the national average of 2.93 metric tons per hectare. In other ARCs where land distribution is completed, the average yield is 2.0 metric tons per hectare for corn and 1.7 metric tons per hectare for coconut as against the national average of 1.5 metric tons and 1.3 metric tons, respectively.

In contrast, CARP beneficiaries outside ARCs harvest less than the ARC beneficiaries but are better off than non-beneficiaries, the same study revealed.

The ARC approach was launched by government in 1993 as a development strategy. Government intervention through the strategy sought to deliver support services faster and more efficiently for agrarian reform beneficiaries living in ARCs.

But there were only 3,364 ARCs nationwide representing, so a DAR impact assessment admitted, only about 15 percent of all agrarian reform areas. Beneficiaries in ARCs, numbering about 496,322, comprised less than 25 percent of total CARP beneficiaries. Given the estimated over 10 million Filipino farmers today, the number of ARC beneficiaries is less than five percent and hence, could hardly have any large-scale impact toward reducing poverty.

Poor and landless

In Tarlac province, about 100 kms north of Manila, Hacienda Luisita was once touted as a showcase of the land reform program. Here, however, CARP has failed to win the hearts and minds of farmers: In recent random interviews, they told Bulatlat.com that their lives have been ruined further because of CARP. Luisita is owned by the family of former President Corazon Cojuangco Aquino.

One of the workers, Francisco Nakpil, is an agricultural worker in the sugarcane plantation of Hacienda Luisita, Inc. (HLI) for 45 years. When the stock distribution options (SDO) scheme under CARP was introduced in the hacienda in 1989, Nakpil became one of the 7,000 workers who became instant “stockholders” of the agro-corporation. Within 30 years under this scheme, hacienda owners were to transfer 32 percent of the total stocks of the company to the farm workers.

For the past 15 years, Nakpil received an average daily wage of P9, a sack of rice every month, a P4,000 educational loan every June and an average annual three percent profit share of around P2,000. Based on reasonable market price equivalents of the material benefits, Nakpil was in effect getting an average yearly income of P17,760 - or P48.66 daily. For being an HLI stockholder, he also got a 240 square meter home lot.

Yet, has Nakpil become richer through the land reform program?

Today at 62, Nakpil says he has only a home lot souvenir from the HLI, a P20,000 separation pay, and some P2,600 monthly pension from the Social Security System. His retirement ended his profit share from the HLI. He does not have land to pass on to his children. His monthly pension gave him just P86 a day that can hardly meet his family’s needs.

And so his answer in Filipino: “I am poor, past and present.”


The case of CARP and Presidential Decree No. 27 (land reform under then President Ferdinand Marcos) beneficiaries who were compelled to join the 30,000-ha. grand cassava plantation joint project of San Miguel Corporation (SMC) and the provincial government of Isabela is a striking example of how farmers have become poorer over the years despite purported land ownership. SMC is controlled by Eduardo Cojuangco, another member of the Cojuangco clan.

Contrary to promise that they would earn thousands of pesos, as IBON Foundation reported in July last year, most farmers who planted cassava to supply the needs of SMC incurred huge debts because of the high cost of production. In Barangay (village) Luna, Quirino town, 40 farmers planted cassava covering more than 119 hectares. Came the first harvest, farmers incurred almost P1.6 million or $28,632.78 (with interest) in debt from a cooperative that lent the production capital. This means that each farmer owed the cooperative an average of P40,000 ($715.82).

Under the lending scheme, the cooperative has the right to take over the lands of farmers who have incurred debts. The contract states that two consecutive harvest seasons of failure to make profit are enough grounds for a takeover. Many farmers failed to make any profit after the first harvest.

The cooperative terms obviously pushed the farmers into deeper poverty and bankruptcy. Some of them lost their land titles to the cooperative. Apparently, the cassava project in Isabela reverses what little “accomplishments” agrarian reform achieved.


The poverty situation, as depicted in Tarlac and Isabela, is aggravated by undelivered promises of CARP.

DAR claims to have distributed lands at an average of 112,000 hectares per year. If true and at this pace, the balance of around 930,000 hectares will be completed in about eight more years or by 2010, two years past the 2008 deadline set by Congress under Republic Act No. 8534 during the term of President Fidel Ramos.

Based on this projection, which became the basis for the CARP’s extended term, DAR should be able to distribute at least 200,000 hectares yearly beginning 1998 to fully implement the adjusted working scope of 4.3 hectares in about six years. By this year, the entire country should have been declared free from land acquisition and distribution.

These earlier projections, however, never materialized.

On top of this, there are more than 40,000 cases of land conflicts and other issues pending before the DAR Adjudication Board and regular courts.


As far as David Erro, executive director of a Quezon City-based foundation Sentro Para sa Tunay na Repormang Agraryo (Sentra – Center for Genuine Agrarian Reform), is concerned CARP is not for the landless peasants. “It is an instrument of the landed elite to make the landless believe that someday they will own the land they till and so pacify the restlessness in the countryside. But, owing to several loopholes of the law, the landlords find their way to continuously control the land,” he told Bulatlat.com.

Another Sentra lawyer, Jobert Pahilga, said, “The lack of political will to implement a genuine land-to-the-tiller reform is understandable in a government that is dominated by a landed elite.”

Based on their experience in rendering free legal assistance to poor farmers, Erro said,  Ang panalo ng mga magsasaka na magkaroon ng lupa o mapanatiling sa kanila ang lupa ay wala sa Kongreso o sa korte. Kapag nagkakaisa sila at determinadong manatili sa kanilang lupang binubungkal, handang ipaglaban ito at paunlarin nang sama-sama, saka lamang nagiging siguradong sa kanila ang lupa “ (The chance of the farmers to own land or to ensure that the land remain theirs is not found in Congress or in the courts. If they unite and are determined to remain in the land they till, are prepared to fight and improve the land, that’s the only time they can be sure that the land will be theirs.)

Several Sentra farmer-clients have lost their battles in the court, according to David, but they have won their lands when they decided to stay in the lands and fight for them. 

Danilo Ramos, secretary general of the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP – Peasant Movement in the Philippines), agreed with both lawyers but went further into blaming the government and the World Trade Organization (WTO) for consigning farmers to a life of perpetual feudal and semi-feudal exploitation.

He said that the farmers’ sorry plight with bogus agrarian reform programs of the past and the present administrations got even worse with agricultural trade liberalization due to the WTO. Because Filipino farmers are naturally disadvantaged against highly-subsidized farmers in industrialized and industrializing countries, Ramos explained, most of the country’s farmers are not only becoming landless but broke as well. With additional research by Ma. Jessica Ocasla and John Thomas Sipin / Bulatlat.com

Part I: Lands are Back in the Hands of the Lords

Sidebar: Ex-President’s Hacienda Workers Score Crackdown

Back to top

We want to know what you think of this article.