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    Extending agrarian reform law: Same Old Story Equals Same Result

    For several days, the issue of agrarian reform found its way to the front page of newspapers. But, perhaps for the wrong reasons.

    In 2008, Akbayan and several groups, including the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), animatedly lobbied for the extension of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP). They argued that there was a need for extending CARP as more than a million hectares of agricultural land have not yet been covered by the law.

    Their bill, which was certified urgent and which was enacted into law was called the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program Extension with Reform (CARPER). Quite interestingly, Akbayan’s CARPER, as the name suggests, aside from extending CARP, also sought to reform the original CARP law. To us, it was an admission that there is something wrong with CARP for which reason there was a need to “reform” the law.

    Five (5) years has passed since 2008, today, Akbayan and their equally deceptive and perhaps ill-informed ilk are still singing the same tune. They redundantly argued that CARPER has not yet fully realized its purpose and as such, needs additional time to complete the land acquisition and distribution component thereof.

    But how would CARP and CARPER distribute as much lands when they were riddled with built in loopholes and defects that provides for, among others, exclusion, exemption, and conversion of agricultural lands?

    We at SENTRA most respectfully beg to disagree with Akbayan and their kind. Even when we extend CARPER for life, the law will not answer the needs and aspirations of the farmers.

    As a legal institution providing free legal services to farmers since 1988, SENTRA is a bare witness to the implementation of the CARP and CARPER. We have witnessed how productive agricultural lands were excluded and exempted from agrarian reform because CARL itself provided such exclusion and exemption. CARPER did not repeal section 3 (c) of RA 6657, the basis of the infamous DOJ opinion 44, which provides for comprehensive exclusion of productive agricultural lands from CARP. Under DOJ 44, agricultural lands already reclassified into other uses before June 15, 1988 are no longer considered agricultural lands even when their actual use is agriculture or for agriculture-derivative production. Those lands are ripe for conversion even when farmers are still tilling the said lands.

    This DOJ opinion was affirmed by the Supreme Court in the Natalia Realty versus the Department of Agrarian Reform (225 SCRA 278, 1993). That was made the basis of exclusion from agrarian reform of productive agricultural lands such as the 14,000 hectares Hacienda Yulo in Canlubang, Sta. Rosa, and Calamba, Laguna; the 8650 hectares Hacienda Looc, in Nasugbu, Batangas; the 217 hectares irrigated rice land known as Tropical Lands in Dasmarinas, Cavite; the 6,000 hectares Hacienda Agoncillo in Laurel and Talisay, Batangas; the thousand of hectares of agricultural lands in Aplaya Laiya, San Juan, Batangas; the 400 hectares productive being developed by APEX and PILAR Development Corporations in Salawag, Dasmarinas, Cavite; the 90 hectares irrigated rice land in Malolos and Calumpit, Bulacan developed by Sta. Lucia Realty, among others. Aside from excluding those lands from agrarian reform, DOJ opinion 44 paved the way massive displacement of farmers as a result of the land conversion that ensued thereon.

    Section 10 of CARP also provided for comprehensive exemption from coverage of Prawn farms and fishponds paving the way for exemption of more than 800,000 hectares of lands devoted to fishponds and prawn farms. It also provides for exemption of lands reserved for national defense even when they, or portion thereof, are not actually used for national defense purposes like the 74,000 hectares Fort Magsaysay Military reservation and the 33,000 hectares in Tapas, Capiz. It also provided for exemption of lands reserved for school, campuses, or for research purposes even when portion of such lands have not been actually used for said purpose like the 3040 hectares land of the Central Mindanao University (CMU). Only a fraction of 3040 hectares is actually used by CMU and the rest are being leased to local and foreign agribusiness corporations. Yet, all of the 3040 hectares were exempted from CARP. Penal farms and penal colonies, even when they comprise more than a thousand hectares and cultivated by farmers such as the Davao Penal Colony as well as the Iwahig Penal Colony in Palawan were exempted from CARP coverage. And Lands with eighteen percent (18%) slope, even when cultivated by farmers like the 311 hectares Araneta Lands in San Jose Del Monte Bulacan; 400 hectares land of Montalban Resources Trading Inc in Rodriquez Rizal; 76 hectares land of New San Jose Builders also in Rodriquez, Rizal; and thousand of hectares in Patugo, Balayan, Batangas, all of them were exempted from CARP coverage.

    Aside from those enumerated above, there are thousand of hectares of agricultural lands that have been excluded and exempted from CARP, which were not touched by CARPER. For lack of space, we could not enumerate them in here.

    The issue of exclusion and exemption from CARP coverage is not the only problem with CARP and CARPER. There is also the issue of retention. Section 6 of CARP, which was retained by CARPER, provides that the landowner has the right to have five (5) hectares retention and the landowner has the right to choose the area to be retained. Aside from the retention granted to the landowners, section6 of CARP, which was not also amended or repealed by CARPER provides that children of landowners are entitled to three (3) hectares each as preferred beneficiaries. This means that before the land is awarded to a farmer, every child of the landowner who is 15 years of age, actually tilling the land or directly managing the farm, must be given three (3) hectares each.

    Lands eventually awarded to the beneficiaries, moreover, are not given to the farmers for free. They have to pay annual amortization for thirty (30) years, on the basis of the valuation made by DAR, Department of Agriculture, the landowner, and the Land Bank. To ensure the payment of the land, a mortgage is constituted thereon. In case the farmer fails to pay aggregate of three (3) amortization, the mortgage will be foreclosed and the farmer will be evicted from the land; their Certificate of Land Ownership Award (CLOA) will also be cancelled.

    And DAR’s data on cancellation offloads and EPs show a horrible fact. In September 2007, DAR has already reported that 5,049 EPs while 103,092 CLOAs were cancelled. That figure did not include pending cases for cancellation of EPs and CLOAs, which may go as high as 50,000cases. To date, even when asked by congress to submit the data, DAR to date has not made an actual determination and inventory of how many CLOAs/EP were cancelled.

    While farmers did not benefit from CARP and CARPER, landlords have already profited immensely therefrom. In 2005, government data already shows that the total approved compensation to landowners by LBP has already reached P41.6 billion in cash and bonds, or an average ofP500,463 per landlord.

    Also, under CARP and CARPER, landlords had the option to forgo actual land distribution through non-land transfer schemes like the infamous Stock Distribution Option (SDO) previously implemented at Hacienda Luisita which is still being implemented at fifteen (15) other haciendas in the country. Arrangement such as leaseback, management contract, grower service contract, corporative schemes, profit-sharing and other non-land transfer arrangements were also used by landowners to maintain control of the land while giving measly sum to the farmer-beneficiaries as share in “income” as they supposedly co-owners of the land.

    It has been twenty seven years (27) since CARL was passed. The five-year extension under CARPER has also already expired. Yet, it cannot be denied that until now, the lives of our farmers remained the same. They are still living in a state of destituteness, and the promise of better life under CARL and CARPER was never materialized.

    We are pretty sure Akbayan knows of these defects of CARP which defects were not “reformed” by CARPER. We are also pretty sure that Akbayan, as it claims to also represent the farmers, knows of the massive displacement of farmers from the lands they were tilling for years as a result of exclusion, exemption, conversion, and non-payment of amortization by the farmers. Despite knowing such facts, Akbayan still insist on extending CARPER? Who, then, is pro-landlord and anti-agrarian reform?

    Kahit ilang extension pa ng batas, walang mangyayari kung CARP-CARPER pa rin ang framework. The provisions on non-land transfer schemes like the SDO in Hacienda Luisita, on exclusion, exemption, conversion, cancellation of CLOAs, payment of amortization will still be there. Did Akbayan not realize that almost 27 years had passed but CARP law as amended by CARPER failed to uplift the lives of our farmers? Did they not also realize that it was under CARP/CARPER that rampant conversion of agricultural lands transpired? That CARP/CARPER resulted to massive displacement and eviction of farmers?

    Akbayan, Pres. BS Aquino’s favorite Partylist, has fooled the farmers once. It should not be allowed to do it again this time.

    CARP was extended in 2009. At that time, Akbayan, the prime advocate for extension argued that there is a need for extension and to reform the law to ensure its success. Today, five years later, Akbayan is singing the same tune. To us, the length of time alone for which CARP/CARPER was implemented is a testament of its failure. So why extend a failed law? Bakit di na lang palitan ng bago! [Why not an entirely new law?]

    While we say there is no need to extend CARPER, we have not without any option. There is a pending bill in Congress, the Genuine Agrarian Reform Bill (GARB), which to us, mirrors the needs and aspiration of the farmers.

    We thus challenge the bishops, the legislators, and agrarian reform advocates to stop CARPER and take a closer look at GARB as alternative to CARPER extension bills.

    ATTY. JOBERT I. PAHILGA
    Executive Director
    SENTRA Foundation
    Sentro Para sa Tunay na Repormang Agraryo
    +639394346930

    ——————————————————————————

    Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura
    (Agricultural Workers Union)
    Philippines

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