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Free land for farmers eyed in peace talks with Reds

/ 05:18 AM May 18, 2017

BAGUIO CITY—A deal to provide free land to farmers may be the first benefit coming out of the ongoing peace negotiations between the government and communist rebels, a government peace panel member said here on Monday.

Hernani Braganza said providing free farm land had been part of the demands of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) since the start of the peace talks after the ouster of the late dictator, Ferdinand Marcos, in 1986.

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But the Duterte administration can initiate free agrarian land distribution ahead of the comprehensive agreement on socioeconomic reforms (Caser) being hammered out by both government and NDFP panels, said Braganza, a former agrarian reform secretary.

He attended a two-day consultative workshop here with members of the Cordillera regional development council, hoping to secure feedback on the progress in the talks before the fifth round of negotiations on May 27.

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He told the council members that the government could subsidize the payments for agrarian land to be given out for free to eligible farmer beneficiaries by raising P200 billion over the next five years.

According to him, 30 percent of that proposed agrarian fund would be handed out as “just compensation” for landowners. Congress could allocate P12 billion annually until 2022 to cover this expense, he said.

Providing free agrarian land was the outcome of the fourth round of talks on April 6, said Robert Ador, who heads the government panel committee handling Caser.

He said both panels had agreed that distributing free land was the “proper course in implementing genuine agrarian reform and rural development, not just in principle.”

A team was formed to draw up the mechanics for the distribution of free land, which Ador described as the first major consensus in the April 6 talks.

Braganza said both the government and NDFP share the sentiment that agriculture should be “a platform toward industrialization.”

In spite of the comprehensive agrarian reform law, farmers who were granted lands ended up earning less than P5,000 a month, he said.

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“What can P5,000 buy?” he said, adding that both panels wanted to raise the farmers’ status from impoverished to a middle income class.

He said the government was assured that talks need not even take place provided it would enforce land reform properly. He said he left the Department of Agrarian Reform when landowners found loopholes that allowed them to retake land acquired for farmers.

“Those are things we are trying to remove from or correct in existing policies,” he said. —VINCENT CABREZA AND KARLSTON LAPNITEN

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TAGS: Communist Party of the Philippines, Hernani Braganza, Peace Talks, Philippine news updates
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