MANILA, Philippines—A musti-stakes horner task force formed by President Benigno Aquino III convened on Friday, nearly two months after farmers’ groups lifted their hunger strike staged to push for the sacking of Agrarian Reform Secretary Virgilio de los Reyes.
Government officials assured the farmers that “a solution is in sight,” although the decision concerning the leadership of the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) still depended on the President.
“They appealed for patience to let the process finish. There is an assurance that a solution is underway,” said Task Force Mapalad (TFM) legal counsel Christian Monsod.
In a phone interview, Monsod said Budget Secretary Florencio Abad and Social Welfare Secretary Corazon Soliman, who were representing the government, could “only discuss so much with the stakeholders” regarding the appeal for a change in the DAR leadership.
Happy with talks
“We are very happy with the fact that talks are ongoing,” the TFM counsel added.
Right before Christmas last year, the TFM lifted their week-long hunger strike, which they mounted to demand the dismissal of De los Reyes from his post for his alleged incompetency to lead the agency.
In yesterday’s convening of the multi-stakeholders task force in Quezon City, the farmers and various government representatives discussed the farmers’ main demands: the removal of De los Reyes; the overhaul of the DAR leadership; the revision of administrative orders impeding the implementation of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program; the repair of the ruined relationship between the DAR employees and the leadership; and the quick and smooth implementation of the socialized credit fund for agrarian reform beneficiaries, particularly those affected by Typhoon “Pablo” in Mindanao.
Monsod noted that in many instances, the DAR leadership wanted the legal opinion of the Department of Justice even if the law does not require it.
“There is nothing in the law which requires that… The DAR is thinking like a lawyer instead of thinking like an activist for social justice. I think, if the DAR follows that principle, then a lot of cases could be expedited,” the lawyer said.
Make farmers happy
He noted that a lot of cases could be expedited without going through legal technicalities, which make the farmers unhappy.
In June 2012, a few months before the hunger strike, the group met with Abad and later with President Aquino, who pledged to speed up the acquisition and distribution of land, the issuance of notices of coverage on landholdings 25 hectares and lower and the release of P1 billion in loan assistance to agrarian reform beneficiaries.
The farmers accused De los Reyes of deceiving the public when he said DAR would be able to distribute 160,000 hectares of land by the end of 2012.