Church’s social arm doubt sincerity in Philippine land reform program

MANILA. Farmers from Batangas and Negros Occidental troop to the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) central office in Quezon City on February 19, 2024, to demand the full implementation of the country’s agrarian reform program for thousands of landless farmers across the Philippines.
MANILA. Farmers from Batangas and Negros Occidental troop to the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) central office in Quezon City on February 19, 2024, to demand the full implementation of the country’s agrarian reform program for thousands of landless farmers across the Philippines. Photo by Jimmy Domingo

AN OFFICIAL of Caritas Philippines, the social and development arm of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), has expressed doubt that the National Government’s land reform program will be fully implemented for the benefit of landless farmers in the country.

“Nothing is happening. Just promises,” said Jing Rey Henderson, Caritas Philippines' head of communications and partnership development.

“When did the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program start (Carp)? It has become a Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program Extension with Reforms (Carper). The World Bank also helped infuse millions of funds for its implementation. But until now, it is still the same. Farmers continue to till their lands as tenants, not as owners,” Henderson told Sunstar Philippines. 

Since February 19, 2024, hundreds of landless farmers from Negros Occidental in the western Visayas region and Batangas in the southwestern part of the Luzon staged a campout and rally at the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) headquarters in Quezon City in the capital Manila to demand the immediate distribution of private agricultural lands (PALs) as promised in 2023 by President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.

“The marchers from Negros Occidental want Marcos all 12 haciendas covering 4,654 hectares controlled by the late business tycoon Eduardo Cojuangco distributed to thousands of landless farmers,” said Lanie Factor, national deputy coordinator of Task Force Mapalad (TFM), a national federation of farmers, farm workers and individual advocates working for agrarian reform and rural development in the Philippines.

In a statement, Factor said the farmers “want Marcos to fulfill his promise to distribute all lands covered by Carp quickly and not wait for 2028,” which is the president’s end-of-term in office.

To show the seriousness of their calls, the farmers brought with them heart-shared red placards bearing their demand for Marcos not to fiddle with Carp and agrarian reform beneficiaries, while warning that “the country could not achieve food sufficiency unless farmers are freed from the bondage of the soil.”

Over 500,000 hectares of PALs or private agricultural lands have remained to be distributed to the landless farmers, the group said.

On February 21, the third day of their campout, crusading Catholic priest Robert Reyes held a mass for the farmers outside the DAR headquarters to show his support for their plight.

“Farmers are the life of the land,” Father Reyes said in his homily.

The farmers vowed not to leave the premises until their demands were heeded.

 Meanwhile, Danny Carranza, secretary-general of the Kilusan Para sa Repormang Agraryo at Katarungan Panlipunan (Katarungan), reiterated their support for the “aspirations” of Marcos Jr. to seek permanent solutions to agrarian issues and uphold the genuine land reforms initiated by his late father, former President Ferdinand Marcos, Sr.

“We laud President Marcos’ vow to find a permanent solution to the real problems confronting agrarian reform. We urge President Marcos to heed our call and take concrete steps toward realizing the true essence of agrarian reform in the Philippines,” Carranza said in a statement to Sunstar Philippines. 

“Indeed, the country has a protracted agrarian reform implementation; 52 years for his father’s Presidential Decree 27 which has yet to be completed and close to 36 years for the Carp, which continues to be significantly incomplete to this day. For anyone suffers from this prolonged promise of reform, it is the farmers and their families,” Carranza said.

Given the complexity of the situation, Carranza believed the current state of agrarian reform “can only be resolved if the government will make it a priority program and will exercise political will to implement it.”

 “At the core of this issue is the need for the government to fully recognize and guarantee the land-to-the-tiller principle in the Constitution. Yet there are so many instances where this right of farmers is treated halfheartedly,” the Katarungan leader said.

Permanent solutions to the Philippines’ agrarian reform

Carranza proposed some permanent solutions to the current situation of agrarian reform in the country.

These include the government under Marcos Jr. to end all forms of violence and human rights violations against farmers and potential agrarian reform beneficiaries; and look into the situation of farmers under Joint Venture Agreements, such as in the case of the Cojuangco lands in Negros where farmers are calling for the non-renewal of the scheme that only deepened their poverty and insecurity as the majority of them are now being disqualified.

Also, for the government to look into the overly delayed implementation of agrarian reform covered by his father’s PD 27; demands uninstalled farmers be placed in their lands immediately, and that uninstalled farmers should not be disqualified especially after 15 years of getting the certificate of land ownership award as in the case of some farmers in Negros Oriental.

“Permanent solution also requires for the government to properly implement Carp by choosing qualified beneficiaries and those who refuse to cooperate and be part of the program be dealt with accordingly for they delay the implementation of the program,” he added.

On his final note, Carranza emphasized that a permanent solution to the agrarian reform problems in the country requires that the government provide a comprehensive package of support services for all agrarian reform beneficiaries.

“One of the main reasons that pushes farmers to sell reformed lands is their bankruptcy. Some of them get indebted due to emergency needs while others just can’t get their lands more productive which discourages them from continuing their farming. A process of redistribution that takes more than 10 years can easily be reversed,” Carranza said. (SunStar Philippines)


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