Land distribution for Filipino farmer beneficiaries remains in limbo, groups say

QUEZON CITY. Farmers from Batangas, Negros Occidental, Boracay, Palawan, and other provinces, supported by various agrarian and social justice organizations stage a protest in front of the headquarters of the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) in Quezon City on June 10, 2024, the 36th anniversary of the government's Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program. They called upon DAR leaders to address critical issues affecting land distribution and ownership. They alleged that there are "numerous reversals of land acquisition and distribution (LAD), cancellations of Certificates of Land Ownership Awards (Cloa), and suspicious deletions of agricultural lands from the Carp."
QUEZON CITY. Farmers from Batangas, Negros Occidental, Boracay, Palawan, and other provinces, supported by various agrarian and social justice organizations stage a protest in front of the headquarters of the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) in Quezon City on June 10, 2024, the 36th anniversary of the government's Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program. They called upon DAR leaders to address critical issues affecting land distribution and ownership. They alleged that there are "numerous reversals of land acquisition and distribution (LAD), cancellations of Certificates of Land Ownership Awards (Cloa), and suspicious deletions of agricultural lands from the Carp." (Photo by Jimmy A. Domingo)

FARMERS in the Philippines continued to assail the national government for its “dismal” speed in the acquisition of private agricultural lands and completing the land distribution for agrarian reform beneficiaries (ARBs) 36 years after the enactment of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (Carp) and other land reform laws.

In Quezon City, hundreds of farmers from the Task Force Mapalad (TFM) and other farmers groups coming as far as Palawan, Rizal provinces, and Batangas started their camp out protest outside the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) headquarters on Monday, June 10, 2024 to demand President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. to immediately distribute lands to them.

In Negros Island region, over 500 farmers from ECJ CLOA Holders and Farmworkers Association (Echafawa) and the Kilusan para sa Repormang Agraryo at Katarungang Panlipunan (Katarungan) also gathered at the DAR provincial office in Negros Occidental South to commemorate Carp’s 36th year and to express their “ongoing struggles and demands,” emphasizing the “discrepancies between the program’s goals and the reality experienced by farmers.”

“Land distribution is the main feature of redistributive land reform because it shows the actual transfer of power on the land, from big landlords or corporations to actual tillers,” Danny Carranza, Katarungan secretary-general, said in an interview on Tuesday, June 11.

“This means that tillers are empowered to decide, what to produce, when and how to produce and to benefit directly from the fruits of his or her labor,” he added.

According to Carranza, the reason why the distribution of lands has remained in “limbo” up to now is because of the alleged “resistance to land reform by big and powerful actors, and government's lack of political will.”

“And the law gave landlords the escape route to evade agrarian reform such as the Stock Distribution Option in Hacienda Luisita before, and the Joint Venture Agreement implemented in Cojuangco Lands in Negros Occidental,” Carranza added.

The stock distribution option allows a farm worker for a stock transfer scheme instead of acquiring the land itself for him, under the Carp law.

In a separate interview with Rico Cajife, a former farmer organizer in Eastern Visayas region, he said that land distribution is important to the farmers “because it gives the poor the power to live with dignity.”

“The poor will be able to have a livelihood and ensure their food security,” he said.

Asked on why the land distribution is in limbo 36 years after, Cajife echoed the same reason: “The power is in the hands of the big landlords and oligarchs.”

This delay in the land acquisition and distribution resonated well with Dhon Daganasol, another Katarungan farmer leader based in Carigara town in Leyte province.

“The distribution of land under Carp is necessary for the security of the farmers. If their land is not being acquired by them and being titled, there is a chance that it will be repossessed by the original owner,” said Daganasol, who has been tilling their land since the late 1980s.

While his family was able to successfully acquire the rights to their farmlands today through the government’s land distribution program, Daganasol expressed sympathy to those other farmers who have not yet owned the land that they have been working for many decades.

He said many of the issues on Carp include the distribution of land but not yet being documented.

In five areas in Leyte province alone—Alangalang, Barugo, Carigara, San Miguel, and Ormoc City, there are still more or less 10,000 hectares of land that remained undistributed, according to him.

However, DAR-Eastern Vsiayas regional information officer Jose Alsmith Soria maintained that distribution of land for ARBs has been ongoing in the region.

Following the “renewed commitment” of Marcos Jr., Soria said they aim to complete the distribution of land titles to ARBs before the term of the president ends on June 30, 2028.

“We have about 29,000 hectares of land for distribution, with about 11,000 more agrarian reform beneficiaries to benefit in the Eastern Visayas region,” said Soria in a report from Catholic news site UCA News.

As this developed, TFM said that when Marcos assumed office in June 2022, the government still has to distribute 173,340 hectares of land nationwide.

“Task Force Mapalad figures show that 30,936 hectares of Carp-covered lands have yet to be distributed in Negros Occidental, the biggest tract of Carp land in the country,” the group said in a statement to the media on June 10.

Citing a DAR report, the farmers group said the total distributed lands for the year 2023 is 12,254.089 to 9,379 agrarian reform beneficiaries.

“This is so far one of the lowest yearly distribution record of land distribution covered by the Carp since the enactment of the agrarian reform law. The Marcos administration must summon the political will and deploy the full force of the law in implementing agrarian reform in the province and the entire country,” TFM added.

According to the farmer groups, the president "must be “consistent with his pledge to break the chains that bind farmers to the soil.” (Ronald O. Reyes/SunStar Philippines)

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