Bill writing off land reform debts awaits Marcos OK
The enactment of a bill condoning some P57 billion in debt incurred by land reform beneficiaries will be President Marcos’ “biggest legislative accomplishment” yet, lawmakers said on Friday.
They said the proposed New Agrarian Emancipation Act will allow farmers freed from debt to devote more resources to their land.
“When our farmers are freed from the burden of debt, they would be able to invest more in their land and improve their productivity. This can lead to better yields and profits, which can help improve the lives of our farmers and their families,” Speaker Martin Romualdez said in a statement.
He added: “This relief to hundreds of thousands of agrarian reform beneficiaries gains even more significance now that we are facing the twin challenges of increased prices of farm inputs, particularly fertilizers, and the harmful effects of climate change on the agriculture sector.”
The House of Representatives passed House Bill (HB) No. 6336, its version of the measure, in December last year, and the Senate approved Senate Bill No. 1850 in March.
Both chambers also separately ratified that month the bicameral conference committee report on the two bills and sent it to the President before the congressional break on March 25.
The measure is one of the legislative priorities which Mr. Marcos identified in his first State of the Nation Address. It is also one of 42 priority bills that he submitted to the Legislative-Executive Development Advisory Council.
Once enacted, it will cover P57.56 billion in unpaid principal debt, as well as interest, surcharges and penalties incurred by 610,054 land reform beneficiaries who are tilling a total of 1.17 million hectares.
Following the loan condonation, the Department of Agrarian Reform will issue a certificate of condonation as an “annotation” to a beneficiary’s emancipation patent and certificate of land ownership award (Cloa), or any such title under the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law—the 1988 legislation which establishes the government’s Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (Carp).
The proposed law will also stop the execution of a ruling to a beneficiary’s failure to pay the 30-year amortization and annual interest of 6 percent covering his awarded property.
Without such a law, any administrative or judicial ruling would otherwise lead to the cancellation of the beneficiary’s Cloa.
Albay Rep. Joey Salceda said the measure “will be the President’s biggest legislative accomplishment to date.”
Salceda, chair of the House ways and means panel and one of the principal authors of HB 6336, said he had been pushing for loan condonation for land reform beneficiaries since he was a private sector analyst in the 1990s, and also as chief of staff of then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, now his colleague in the House.
He said he revived that proposal during Rodrigo Duterte’s administration, but this was opposed by the Department of Finance.
“Finally, we see success. History will be made,” Salceda said in an interview, adding that he is expecting “productivity gains of at least P33.5 billion every year from the condoned lands alone.”
Besides writing off the P57.56 billion, the proposed act “also establishes comprehensive support services for agrarian reform beneficiaries, something we should have done long past,” said the economist and lawmaker.
“The lack of support services for agrarian reform beneficiaries has resulted in almost P418 billion in lost productivity for all Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program lands every year for the 10.3 million hectares of Carp land,” Salceda said further.
The measure also has a provision on tax amnesty and the exclusion of estate tax liabilities.
Romualdez said the New Agrarian Emancipation Act will complement the Department of Agriculture’s various programs aimed at uplifting farmers’ lives.
He said the House “will continue to explore more avenues to revitalize our agriculture sector… and promote increased productivity and help us attain food security.”
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