ABANG Lingkod party-list Representative Stephen Paduano said Thursday that the complaint filed by the members of Task Force Mapalad (TFM) against Third District Rep. Alfredo Benitez is baseless.

The TFM filed the complaint against Benitez who leads the Visayan Bloc in Congress before the House committee on ethics and privileges for alleged unethical conduct, conflict of interest, and corrupt practices for his failure to disclose his landholdings in Negros Occidental.

This, they said while Benitez is taking an active role in the Congress’ deliberations on a bill extending the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (Carp) to cover lands that have not been distributed to farmers in the last three decades.

“Why single out Congressman Albee?" Paduano asked.

He added that the TFM complaint emanated from the issue on the extension of the Carp which was not approved before Congress adjourned because it was not included in the plenary agenda.

The House committee on agrarian reform headed by Ifugao Rep. Teddy Baguilat, with Dinagat Islands Rep. Arlene Bag-ao has filed a new bill,

House Bill 4296 seeks to renew the Department of Agrarian Reform's authority to issue notices of coverage (NOCs) and provide funding for support services to agricultural landholdings that had not yet been placed under Carp while House Bill 4375 seeks to create an independent Agrarian Reform Commission to review the Carp and to investigate circumventions and violations of the Carp Law.

The House has yet to pass either of the two measures despite being certified as urgent by President Aquino in June 2014 yet. The Senate has passed its version of House Bill 4296 while House Bill 4375 is pending at the committee level.

Paduano said that Bag-ao used to be a lawyer for TFM.

He added that Visayan Bloc congressmen Jerry Trenas of Iloilo City, Pryde Henry Teves of Negros Oriental, and himself sat down with Bag- ao's committee where they presented the amendments that they are pushing under the new bill.

Paduano further clarified that the Visayan Bloc’s stand on Carp is that the NOCs shall only cover “carpable” lands identified in 1998 and no inclusion shall be made. No more additional lands shall be covered and no more additional beneficiaries shall be included except those who are original and genuine beneficiaries, he added.

“These are the amendments that we insist on the completion of the NOCs," he pointed out.

Based on the data obtained by the Visayan Bloc, there are 67,000 hectares of land covered with NOCs that are not yet distributed in the whole country and 39,000 hectares of which are in Negros Occidental.

“We just want to protect the landowners and the genuine beneficiaries. That is the only thing we want to straighten out under the new bill," Paduano said.(TDE)