Aquino eyes 2016 for full land reform
President Benigno Aquino will make his best effort to implement fully the agrarian reform program his mother, democracy icon Corazon Aquino, launched 24 years ago before he steps down in 2016, Malacañang said Tuesday.
Budget Secretary Florencio Abad issued the statement as hundreds of farmers converged in Manila for a huge rally at Malacañang on Friday at the end of a 10-day march from various points in Mindanao and Negros Occidental to seek a firm commitment from Mr. Aquino that he will distribute the remaining 900,000 hectares of prime agricultural lands before the program ends in 2014.
“The government will try its best to complete the program by the time the Aquino administration completes its term,” said Abad, himself an agrarian reform secretary during the Corazon Aquino administration that enacted the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) on June 10, 1988.
Abad said in a text message to the Philippine Daily Inquirer that the process of acquisition and distribution may continue even after the five-year extension of CARP, called Carper law, ends in two years.
“Even if the Carper law expires by 2014, for as long as notices [of coverage] have been issued and the process of acquisition have started, that process up to distribution, we believe, can continue beyond 2014,” he said.
Abad noted that the government was now dealing mostly with private agricultural lands, “where landowner opposition is strong.”
He said that under its schedule, the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) hoped to issue notices of coverage on all lands above 10 ha by December 2012.
“From there, the process of acquisition and distribution proceeds and will continue until completed. What we expect remains for distribution for the most part by June 30, 2013, will be lands 10 ha and below totaling about 300,000 ha,” Abad said.
According to him, the process of acquisition—from issuance of notice of coverage to land surveying to land valuation to physical distribution—is “vulnerable, as experience has shown, to all forms of legal, technical and even political disruptions.”
“But in the face of all that we welcome working with the farmer-beneficiaries, their CSO (civil society) advocates and the bishops to accelerate the process,” Abad said.
In a letter dated June 1 to Mr. Aquino, the Most Reverend Broderick S. Pabillo, head of the National Social Action Center of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), and Rev. Fr. Marlon Lacal, executive secretary of the Association of Major Religious Superiors of the Philippines, lamented that his administration had been “consistently underperforming in implementing the Carper, particularly the LAD (land acquisition and distribution).”
“The current DAR administration has recorded the lowest CARP accomplishment when compared to all DAR-CARP administrations,” it said.
“With this appalling situation, farmers and tillers become restless and desperate. They fear the winds of August 2014, the end year of the extended period of CARP. They have fought for land reform for decades and fear that it will be all for naught,” the letter said.
It said the farmers were calling on the President “to use his enormous political capital to fulfill the vision of CARP by distributing all the remaining balance of ‘carpable’ agricultural lands and by providing the necessary support services and financial support that would help them become successful owner-cultivators.
Organizers of the march-rally on Friday said that as of Tuesday, at least 28 members of the CBCP had endorsed the letter sent via e-mail to all 100 prelates who are scheduled to convene for their semiannual meeting next month to discuss important policy issues.
No clear message
In an interview with the Inquirer on Monday, Pabillo noted that Mr. Aquino, whose family owns the sprawling Hacienda Luisita, had made no statements at all about agrarian reform since he became the President.
The sugar plantation has been ordered redistributed to its 6,000 workers by the Supreme Court in a landmark decision on November 22, but Pabillo said that the DAR had been dragging its feet in implementing the ruling without an apparent clear signal from the President.
Corazon Aquino launched CARP as the centerpiece of a social justice program to ease the lives of millions of impoverished Filipinos and remove one of the major causes of a simmering communist insurgency.
But loopholes inserted into the program by Congress, made up mostly of landowners, watered down the program.
The Carper law provides for a P150-billion outlay, but under Mr. Aquino, the program remained underfunded. This year, Abad cut down a proposed P30-billion budget to P18 billion and removed another P4.9 billion in technical support and credits, according to a senior DAR official.
The DAR itself is in the process of being dismantled, its functions to be farmed out to various departments, the official said.
Originally posted: 3:50 pm | Tuesday, June 5th, 2012