COULD have been avoided had the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR), the led government agency in land distribution and support services, been fair and conscientious in its principal task to carry out the government social justice program.
In the matrix of power and dynamics of land conflict, DAR is the one with the greater responsibility and accountability to ensure all qualified tillers get lands. The others play a secondary role.
In most massacres and bloody killings related to agrarian reform, most agrarian reform beneficiaries (ARBs) were often on the defensive despite the threats, harassment and general terror climate in and around the disputed farms. That was the case too of the recent massacre of nine ARBs in Sagay per reports of different groups.
In a number of cases, they have even prevented the outburst of violence due to their positive and great negotiating skills. In some other cases, they easily fall as victims because they were either too complacent of the situation, or too hot not to resist attacks.
The landowners and some with private armies have greater accountability too but they are not solely to blame for all violent incidents. Certainly, they resort to deceptive and coercive means, to keep their lands.
On one hand, they fight the DAR and other agencies for their inefficiency. On the other hand, they also engage in the bribery of DAR officials to work to their favor. When possibilities to keep their lands become nil, they resort to armed violence, victimizing both government people and the ARBs.
While the landowners could influence the actions of DAR, the DAR still plays the decisive role in determining the outcome of land disputes.
While the landowners and the DAR ensure that the ARBs lose, it is still the DAR that hammers the nail on the coffin, so to speak.
The DAR as the led agency is equipped with funds and mandate to mobilize the support of other agencies like the LBP, PNP, DOLE, DA, among others to ensure landowners get right valuation and on time; right ARBs are properly, promptly and peacefully installed on the land, and are given adequate support services thereafter.
Unfortunately, DAR has often dilly-dallied the installation of ARBs causing fierce land disputes, more money and legal problems for ARBs, and even resulting in unnecessary killings of ARBs.
In a number of cases, DAR officials in different levels have reportedly connived to de-list qualified ARBs from land, disenfranchise legitimate Certificate of Land Ownership Award (Cloa) holders, and schemed to let ARBs fight ARBs, thus weakening their bargaining position.
There were numerous reports that local DAR officials and personnel have been acting as land brokers between Cloa holders and former landowners or new landowners for lease contracts, enter into joint ventures, and in other cases, brokered to get the lands returned to former landowners in exchange for money or promotions in position.
I was informed that an organized syndicate is using certain offices in DAR central office to make huge sums of money from extorting business clients who applied for land conversion, developers who have applied for lands via CLOA holders or those lands included for distribution, and qualified CLOA holders who have not been installed yet in the lands they have long won from struggles. This should be investigated, and if true, they should be recommended for lifetime imprisonment or even death by execution.
Worse, there were not few cases where DAR officials and personnel acted like private security agency of the landowners to mobilize police and the army to terrorize their members, kill their leaders and finally remove the ARBs from their lands.
If the DAR thinks this is exaggerated or fake news, then I challenge them to dialogues in full public view with ARBs organizations, their lawyers assisting them and the mainstream and social media.
All I am saying here is that DAR could decisively minimize if not end all bloody land disputes if they be true and transparent to their commitment to public service, fair in implementing a social justice program, firm in their bias to our poor farmers and farm workers, and resolute in their task to contribute to transforming their lives of our rural poor.
While the landowners have to answer yet for their culpability in a number of violent dislocations and killings of ARBs, the DAR must be made to account for their role in bastardizing and dislodging agrarian reform program, and the killings of thousands of ARBs in countless land disputes.
If one thinks BOC, BIR, DPWH are among the reported most corrupt government agencies, oh please don’t overlook DAR.
With billions of taxpayers’ money and funds from ODA and international credit institutions entrusted to DAR for the emancipation and transformation of our landless farmers and farm workers, and on the other hand, the massive neglect and disenfranchisement of ARBs nationwide, we couldn’t just stop and give a suspecting eye on the agency, from national to local and top officials to rank and file, without offense to the good civil servants.
The bloody mess spilled on our farms by agrarian reform managed by DAR cannot just be ignored, because the cries for genuine land reform continue to reverberate from tombs and the fields.
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