MANILA, Philippines—Militant farmers on Friday barged into the office of Agrarian Reform Secretary Virgilio delos Reyes in Quezon City to demand his resignation over his department’s slow-paced implementation of land distribution.
Delos Reyes was not around to meet them.
About 50 members of the farmers group Task Force Mapalad (TFM) entered the compound of the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) at noon, proceeded to the fourth floor where Delos Reyes held office and barricaded his door with a chain and padlock.
The protesters also taped on the wall a large poster that read, “The DAR is declared off-limits to Gil delos Reyes et al by orders of the bosses of [President Aquino],” an allusion to the President’s famous “Kayo ang boss ko (You are my boss)” address to Filipinos.
‘They could not stop us’
“They could not stop us,” TFM national deputy coordinator Lanie Factor said after the security guards allowed them to enter the building and occupy the lobby just outside Delos Reyes’ office.
A police team was later deployed to the compound to secure the area.
Contacted by phone, Delos Reyes, who was in Makati City for a meeting, said he was monitoring the situation and had asked his subordinates to “negotiate” with the farmers, most of whom came from Negros Occidental, and some from Batangas, Bukidnon and Davao Oriental.
Factor said the farmers were not there to seek a dialogue with Delos Reyes, but to send a strong message to Mr. Aquino to fire the official. She said their stay in the office should “prevent Delos Reyes from returning to his office.”
The group assailed what they called the Cabinet member’s failure to address the farmers’ demands to expedite the process of land distribution.
They said Delos Reyes distributed only 42,234 hectares of land from January to August, constituting only 25 percent of the 180,000 hectare target for 2012.
But Delos Reyes said the criticism was unfair, noting that more landholdings have been distributed since August. He estimated distribution to reach between 140,000 and 160,000 hectares by the end of the year.
The official admitted that the DAR was taking more time than previous administrations in processing land transfers for the farmer beneficiaries under the agrarian reform law.
“It’s true that we are slow. But we are working right now to improve the system, and that requires time. We can’t reform the old system by being haphazard about it,” Delos Reyes said.
He pointed out that previous governments were speedier because they were mostly distributing government-owned properties, whereas the incumbent DAR leadership was grappling with private landholdings.
Delos Reyes said the DAR was also struggling with a number of problems that contributed to the delays, including the digitization of land records at the Land Registration Authority and lost or missing titles, among other issues.
“I understand where the farmers are coming from, but we’re doing our best. We just need time,” he said. He admitted he was experiencing problems in “communicating to the general public how much we have been trying to correct deficiencies in the old system.”
But Factor said her group had had enough with Delos Reyes, and there was nothing he could do to convince them that he could be effective at his job.
She said there was a crisis of leadership at the DAR under Delos Reyes, and that he did not appear to enjoy the confidence of the DAR employees.
A separate protest rally was staged on Friday by members of the DAR Employees Association, which, like TFM, was seeking Delos Reyes’ resignation over reasons, including purported plans to shrink the DAR workforce, something which the official had denied.