MANILA, Philippines — After Hacienda Luisita, the spotlight is now on the distribution of the landholdings in Negros provinces, a process that Agrarian Reform Secretary Virgilio de los Reyes admits is “more difficult” than the politically incendiary Tarlac estate owned by the family of President Benigno Aquino III.
Hundreds of landless farmers from the Visayas are on a 10-day journey to Manila to urge the President and the Department of Agrarian Reform to speed up the distribution of sugar plantations in Negros Occidental.
As of Monday, some 250 farmers from Negros Occidental had arrived in Batangas City, where they were greeted by Lipa Archbishop Ramon Arguelles. Twenty-two Catholic bishops voiced support for the march to Malacañang on Monday.
From Batangas, the group proceeded to Santa Rosa in Laguna, where they were to stay overnight before proceeding to Manila early on Tuesday.
Another group of around 60 farmers, tired and sweating, arrived in Cagayan de Oro City from Davao Oriental and Bukidnon. They were to fly to Manila and were to join the Negros marchers on Wednesday, in Muntinlupa City. Some of them had been marching since June 1 from Malaybalay in Bukidnon.
The Mindanao marchers are demanding the distribution of 30,232 hectares of land in Bukidnon and 6,185 hectares in Davao Oriental.
In an interview with reporters on Monday, De los Reyes described the situation in Negros as more complicated than that of Hacienda Luisita.
The Supreme Court recently ruled that the Tarlac land should be distributed to farmers, striking down the stock distribution implemented by the estate management in 1989.
Ousted Chief Justice Renato Corona cited the landmark ruling against the Cojuangcos as the reason for the President Aquino’s animosity toward him, which led to his impeachment trial and conviction in the Senate tribunal last week.
“Negros is more complicated. Unlike Hacienda Luisita, the lands there (in Negros Occidental) were broken up to lots. The balance here is 10,000-15,000 lots,” De los Reyes said. “The issues here are technical issues,” he noted.
DAR placed the undistributed land in the Negros provinces at 120,000 ha. However, the NGO group Task Force Mapalad placed the total of size of undistributed lands at 130,000 ha.
The sheer number of land that should be evaluated and surveyed would be too much for the technical people on the ground, De los Reyes said. DAR has only eight surveyors in Negros Occidental, according to De los Reyes. “This is why we will have to bid out the services for surveying,” he said.
The lack of staff has affected other aspects of the distribution process, said De los Reyes.
There has been some resistance from landowners, he said. De los Reyes recalled that a case has been filed before the court questioning the powers of the DAR and the Land Registration Authority to annotate the titles.
Task Force Mapalad, which organized the march, blasted the government and the DAR for allegedly dragging their feet on the Negros farmers’ plight.
DAR still has to issue notices of coverage (NOCs) on more than 300 haciendas on the Negros Island, with the backlog of 135,000 ha causing agrarian unrest on the island where landowners have been bragging that they supported President Aquino during the 2010 elections, the TFM said in a statement.
“DAR’s failure to efficiently pursue its LAD (land acquisition and distribution) function for several years caused a huge backlog of 1.093 million hectares of agricultural land as of January 2012, with 94 percent of the backlog privately owned. In 2011, only 54.6 percent of the 200,000-hectare national target has been achieved,” TFM confirmed.
(With reports from Carla P. Gomez, Inquirer Visayas; Maricar Cinco and Marrah Ericka Lesaba, Inquirer Southern Luzon; and, Bobby Lagsa, Inquirer Mindanao)