By John Paolo Bencito
Agrarian reform and rural development play an essential role in “promoting sustainable development, which includes the realization of human rights, food security, poverty eradication and the strengthening of social justice, on the basis of the democratic rule of law.”[Philippine Council for Agriculture, Forestry and Natural Resources Research and Development (PCARRD), 2003.]
As the clock ticks near for the deadline of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program Extension with Reforms (CARPER) on June 30, 2014 – much promise has already been given.
As of February 2014 – based on DAR’s own figures, 790,671 hectares of land are yet to be awarded to farmers in the form of Certificates of Land Ownership Awards (CLOAs), the document that gives farmer-beneficiaries ownership of the land.
More than 206,000 hectares are still not under Notices of Coverage (NOC), the document that catalyzes the process of distribution for that parcel of land.
The snail-paced government action since CARPER was passed inherited CARP’s biggest mishaps – continued resistance from clans with big landholdings, lack of commitment from the national government to provide resources and myriad inefficiencies in lead implementing agencies.
While the promise of land reform has already been given, lack of political will can make such into nightmares.
The DAR’s weak implementation has allowed land grabbers to get away with illegal conversion of irrigated, agricultural land to other uses such as commercial and residential.
Many cases of land grabbing have been reported from all over the country, displacing farmers by bulldozers and demolitions to make way for development projects like subdivisions, resorts, and malls.
Under the CARPER law, it is illegal to convert all irrigated or irrigable agricultural land. Those who wish to do so have to appeal to DAR to exempt the land from agrarian reform coverage.
Loopholes on the law also became disadvantageous to the common farmer as the CARP “allows multinational corporations to maintain their control and operation of vast tracts of agricultural lands through lease, management, grower or service contracts for a period of 25 years and renewable for another 25 years”.
This provision allowed in the past transnational corporations such as Dole and Del Monte to control 220,000 hectares of agricultural lands devoted for export crops.
Also, Sec. 5 states that landowners shall issue the so-called “attestation of landowners” which will certify whether a person is a farm worker or tenant in his landholdings. These loopholes in turn resulted to more landowners to filing more petitions for exemptions before the DAR.
The agriculture sector contributes the least to economic growth, which takes away opportunities for the country’s “poorest majority,” who account for almost a third of the nation’s work force of almost 37 million.
Weak implementation also translates to fact that the agriculture sector contributes only around 11 percent of the nation’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). This indicates intense poverty that lingers throughout the sector where more people compete over very little production.
Poverty incidence in the nation is highest among fishermen with 41.4 percent, followed by farmers with 36.7 percent according to the National Statistical Coordination Board (2009).
With the CARPER still far from achieving its goals of distributing lands to its farmer-beneficiaries, the President is still pressing the Congress to pass a bill extending the June 30 deadline.
27 years after the Mendiola Massacre, 26 years after the passage of CARP, and 5 years after CARPER – the injustices still remains.
While a lot of words have been said, more farmers in the countryside await a piece of paper bearing their names bringing the recovery—or not—of a long, elusive struggle.
The challenge of CARPER is to remain true to its spirit, and finally bring genuine agrarian reform in the country.