Aquino orders DAR, DBM chiefs to meet farmersBy Christine O. Avendaño
Philippine Daily Inquirer
President Benigno Aquino, wrapping up a visit to London, on Wednesday directed administration officials to meet with farmers marching on Malacañang on Friday to demand the full implementation of the agrarian reform program before its expiration in two years, his spokesperson said.
Edwin Lacierda said Mr. Aquino would have presided over the meeting with the farmers had he been in Manila to hear their concerns and assure them that the government was moving to distribute nearly 1 million hectares of prime agricultural land that have so far evaded coverage of the program.
The President departed on Monday for London to attend festivities marking the 60th anniversary of Queen Elizabeth II’s reign. He was to proceed to Washington for a three-day US visit.
According to Lacierda, Agrarian Reform Secretary Virgilio de los Reyes and Budget Secretary Florencio Abad will meet with the farmers at 2 p.m. on Friday to address concerns brought to Malacañang in a letter by the Most Rev. Broderick Pabillo, head of the National Secretariat for Social Action of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines.
To dispel bias
“They are under the impression that since the President belongs to the Cojuangco clan, we are biased against land distribution. We would like to dispel that belief,” Lacierda told reporters at a briefing.
He said that unknown to Pabillo, De Los Reyes had met several times with farmers of Hacienda Luisita, which is owned by Mr. Aquino’s family, and that the government was “in the process of distributing land” there following a Supreme Court decision on November 22 ordering the partitioning of the 5,000 ha estate to some 6,000 workers.
Lacierda said Palace officials would explain to the farmers what De los Reyes had already told Pabillo early last month about the government’s efforts to distribute agricultural lands. “This is not the least performing administration in so far as distributing land,” he said.
The government had already distributed government agricultural lands as this was easier to dispose given that the “government owns them and can issue titles, and determine limits and bounds,” he said.
Right now, the government is in the process of acquiring the “more difficult” private agricultural lands, Lacierda said.
“You have cases being filed by the private owners in terms of valuation, in terms of necessity. So there are concerns on that and that’s the reason why those things have been the subject of concern by some stakeholders and we need to explain the situation in those areas,” he said.
These included land parcels in Negros Occidental province, he said.
Lacierda noted that De los Reyes had already implemented measures to hasten the acquisition of private agricultural lands.
“Certainly, we would like to hear from them their concerns. Although we do now and have already answered their concerns,” he said.