Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Is gov’t serious about land reform?

By Val G. Abelgas
(File copy)
(File copy)
More than nine months after President Aquino certified the bill that would extend the life of the agrarian reform program by two more years, House Bill 4296 and a related measure, HB 4375, remain languishing in the House of Representatives apparently because of strong opposition from landlord members of the lower house.
Without the extension, more than 700,000 hectares of agricultural land that have yet to be awarded to farmers would remain in the hands of the big landlords. Only those that have already been issued notices of coverage can be processed for distribution to farmers after the original law, the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP), expired on June 30, 2014.
Without the passage of HB 4375, on the other hand, it would be difficult to explain why one million hectares out of the 1.5 million that the Department of Agrarian Reform claims to have already been distributed to farmers remain under the control of the landlords.
Without HB 4375, the public may never know the various violations that landlords have committed to evade the distribution of their haciendas.
HB 4375 seeks to establish an independent Agrarian Reform Commission that would review the CARP’s accomplishments and investigate violations of the agrarian reform law.
The establishment of an independent commission to review the CARP accomplishments and violations is important because the DAR has obviously bungled the land reform program. After 27 years, more than a million hectares of agricultural lands still has to be processed for distribution to the farmer-beneficiaries.
HB 4296 hopes to correct the situation by renewing DAR’s authority to issue notices of coverage and provide adequate funding for support services to agricultural landholdings that have not yet been placed under CARP.
Last Monday, 81 members of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) appealed to President Aquino and members of the Senate and the House of Representatives to “give new life and a glorious finish” to the agrarian reform program to help at least 1 million Filipino farmers find a path out of poverty.
“Not extending the CARP and ensuring the gains of the program is tantamount to disenfranchising at least a million farmers of their right to own the land they till, equitably share in the fruits of their labor and find a path out of poverty,” the bishops said. “It also means the country’s failure to break up the unjust concentration of land ownership in a few and thereby not achieve inclusive growth.”
Earlier, protesting farmers threw snails at the Batasan building that houses the House of Representatives and lambasted Rep. Norberto Gonzales II for refusing to table the two land reform measures for floor deliberations.
President Aquino certified the bill as urgent on May 26, 2014, just a little more than a month before CARP was set to expire. But the House’s rules committee, headed by Gonzales, has not tabled either bill for floor deliberations despite repeated requests by agrarian reform committee chairman Rep. Teddy Baguilat allegedly because of strong opposition from landlord lawmakers.
This should give us proof that the House, whose membership includes scions of hacienderos, is not a true representative of the people. But the delay in the passage of the two important bills should also give us a clue that Aquino, himself a member of a prominent clan that owns the vast Hacienda Luisita in Tarlac, was not really sincere in certifying the bill as urgent.
With his almost complete control of the lower house, the two land reform measures would have been approved and signed into law long before CARP’s expiry. Apparently, despite his proclamations to the contrary, Aquino is more concerned about his family’s landholdings than the interests of his so-called “bosses.”
By continuing CARP’s implementation with the proposed two-year extension, it is hoped that the farmers would finally benefit from the toils of their labor and that their incomes would increase, giving the economy in the rural areas a big push, which will redound to the overall economic benefit of the entire country.
If Aquino is serious in ensuring that the economic growth that he has been boasting about reaches the poor and elevate them from the pangs of poverty, he should order his pawns in the House to hasten deliberation on the two land reform measures. But is he ready to take the high road of leadership and statesmanship to remove the last vestiges of feudalism in the country and steer the country back to a truly inclusive economic growth?
Or is his certification of HB 4296 and 4375 just a mere “palabas” like many of his promises to the people?

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