October Peasant Month: The remoteness of real land reform

October 11, 2010

by superadmin

IBON Features | October 2010 | The bitter plight of Filipino farmers continues past the Aquino administration’s first 100 days and into October which the peasant movement marks as Peasant Month

IBON Features—The First 100 Days Report of Pres. Benigno ‘Noynoy’ Aquino’s administration made no mention of its program for land reform. This was also true in Pres. Aquino’s first State of the Nation Address (SONA) in July, which only mentioned public-private partnerships for farming facilities and infrastructure.

All these betray that working for real land reform is not in the list of priorities of Pres. Aquino, a known haciendero. In the past, he had declared support for the one-year-old Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program Extended with Reforms (CARPer), which peasant groups have denounced as a futile law that is biased against peasants. In fact, a year after the enactment of RA 9700 or the CARPer, past the new administration’s first 100 days and into October which the Philippine peasant movement marks as Peasant Month, the bitter plight of Filipino farmers continue.

Only three days after Aquino was sworn into office, scores were hurt and 42 were arrested in authorities’ violent dispersal of a camp-out by peasants and their supporters only a stone’s throw from Malacañang. The camp-out was conducted to lobby farmers’ demands to the new administration, representing stark and recent cases of landgrabbing and landlessness as in Haciendas Luisita, Looc and Yulo. The new administration has also not been heard to condemn the extrajudicial killings of at least 12 farmers within its first 100 days.

The attempt to hype up the ‘compromise deal’ in Hacienda Luisita between the Cojuangco-Aquinos and ‘representative peasants and farmworkers’ – as the ‘solution’ to the Luisita controversy fails by any standard. The deal was a no-win solution for the peasants who were given a choice between embracing the stock-distribution option (SDO) as ‘shareholders’ who have only so far gotten coins – or getting a parcel of land from 33% of the hacienda divided by thousands of farmers and farm workers.

Thus dealing with the basic demand for genuine agrarian reform not only remains out of the picture after the CARPer’s first year. Even the faltering implementation of the flawed extended land reform law merely underscores its pro-landlord, anti-farmer framework.

Landlord compensation

The CARPer’s bias in favor of landlords is in the tradition of past land reform programs bearing the premise that landlords are entitled to “just compensation” in exchange for land distribution as opposed to distributing for free both landholdings and all rural wealth justly to farmers who have been tilling and making the land productive. Since 1972-2008, landlords have received P289 billion in payments for 1,619,513 hectares by virtue of these land reform programs. An additional 19,133 hectares compensable by the Land Bank of the Philippines have been distributed from January 2009 to June 2010.

The nature of the program coupled with the absence of political will for real and redistributive agrarian reform resulted in the requirement for “just compensation” which, in turn, has created the conditions for land reform to drag on and be subverted. The chronic underfunding for agrarian reform in the national budget has also caused land redistribution to drag on for decades. Worse, protracted implementation has even given landlords the time to find, create and exploit loopholes in the program and so circumvent land reform.

Under the CARPer, the required down payment for such compensation has even been raised from 25% to 50 percent.

Landlord testimony required

The CARPer also requires landlords’ testimonies that prospective farmer beneficiaries indeed worked on the land in question before the issuance of titles. Data from the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) show that as of July 2010, 106 landowners nationwide either would not attest to tenants, leaseholders or farmworkers or have pending protests over 3,318.4 hectares of land targeted for 1,602 Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries (ARBs). DAR Assistant Secretary Dominador Andres himself observed that this continued landlord resistance is a big problem that will hinder the targeted completion of CARPer implementation within five years.

Moreover, 5,703.1 hectares owned by 54 landlords and targeted for 2,703 ARBs are listed by the DAR as ‘problematic landholdings’ involving land disputes, more cases of revocation of emancipation patents and certificates of landownership award, and criminal cases filed by landowners versus farmers, as well as several complications in contacting landowners, locating markers, land valuation by the Land Bank of the Philippines and transferring titles of landholdings with many claimants.

Circumventing land distribution remains prevalent

In its 2010 report, DAR reported its land distribution accomplishment from 1972-June 2010 to have already reached 4,183,524 hectares or 81% of its target. During CARPer’s first year, 64,329 hectares or 39.5% of 163,014 target hectares were distributed.

Last year, the ‘breakthroughs’ in land distribution cited by DAR were attributed to the enactment of the CARPer and the ‘restoration of compulsory acquisition (CA) to its principal role.’ But Anakpawis Partylist Representative Rafael Mariano lamented that in the same DAR report, only 1,777 hectares or 4% of 42,428 hectares of private land were distributed through CA.

From January-June 2010, of 17,501 hectares distributed, only 1,061.51 hectares or 6% were distributed through CA. Meanwhile, land distributed through the voluntary offer to sell (VOS) mode – which landlords can use to their advantage by dictating the price – covered a bigger 7.7% or 1,340.44 hectares. Land distributed through the voluntary land transfer (VLT) mode – which allows landlords to retain control over their landownings by choosing whom to transfer land ownership to – covered the largest percentage at 40.7% or 7,119.14 hectares, all of which are landholdings over 50 hectares. This shows that the CARPer itself has allowed the bigger landowners to work around genuine land distribution.

Also, under the extended law not a single case of non-land transfer schemes – not the ’stock distribution option’ in Hacienda Luisita, the ‘corporative scheme’ by the Eduardo Cojuangco Jr. & Sons Agricultural Enterprises Inc. in Negros Occidental, the ‘cooperative scheme’ between San Miguel Corporation and the Valley Planters Development Cooperative in Isabela nor other ‘stock-sharing schemes’ in Iloilo and Davao – have been revoked.

Conversion to non-agricultural use and multinational gains

Under the CARPer, the conversion of hundreds to thousands of agricultural lands to non-agricultural use persists, which puts the livelihood of thousands of farmers’ families and the country’s food security at risk. This includes 200 hectares of Araneta-owned land for the MRT7 project in Tungkong Mangga, San Jose Del Monte, Bulacan and 375 hectares of land planted to rice, fruits and vegetables for lawmaker Luis Villafuerte’s Green Earth Heritage Foundation and export cash crops. A test case for the new administration is its handling of a recent application to convert 157 hectares of sugarland Hacienda Bacan into industrial use even if this had been placed under the defunct CARP as early as 2001. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, whose family owns Hacienda Bacan, earlier even promised to distribute the hacienda lands to 67 farmer beneficiaries.

The CARPer also retained CARP’s provision allowing multinational corporations to control and operate the country’s agricultural lands through lease, management, grower or service contracts for a period of 25 years and renewable for another 25 years. In the case of transnational companies Dole and Del Monte, 220,000 hectares of agricultural lands in Mindanao are devoted for export production and geared for further expansion.

Rep. Mariano also noted the obscurity of the status of a comprehensive inventory system congruent with the national land use plan, which the CARPer tasked the DAR to draft during the extended law’s first year of implementation. He said that the provision further narrows the scope of the CARPer in that aside from lands reclassified from agricultural into non-agricultural use under DOJ Opinion No. 44 until June 15, 1988, all land reclassified since then until August 2010 could no longer be covered by CARPer.

Indecisive implementation

In spite of the efforts by the CARPer’s lawmaker proponents to drumbeat the extended and reformed CARP, its provision on the creation of the Congressional Oversight Committee on Agrarian Reform (COCAR) has not been implemented. Led by the Chairpersons of the Agrarian Reform Committees of both Houses, the COCAR could have been vital in recommending and monitoring the progress of land acquisition and distribution under the CARPer.

The non-establishment of a basic body in any undertaking of such high national importance as agrarian reform is another sad telltale sign of the remoteness of a great push for genuine land reform coming from the country’s currently landlord-dominated legislative branch.

The great push for a truly progressive land reform can only come from the ranks of farmers and farmworkers who have, for generations and centuries, worked hard to battle landlessness amid rigorous tilling and production. It would be helpful for legislature and the people as well to consider tackling the Genuine Agrarian Reform Bill being endorsed by several farmers’ groups and networks as an alternative to the CARPER, which after a year has shown its real color as the landlord-endorsed, loophole-battered, made-over CARP. IBON Features