Friday, June 25, 2010

Implement CARP in Mindanao, Aquino urged

After he takes oath on June 30, the commitment to alleviate poverty of President-elect Benigno Aquino III will be put to a test as nearly a hundred thousand hectares await distribution to landless farmers in Mindanao.

Land acquisition and distribution (LAD), the lifeblood of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP), has only four years left, yet there are still 89,590 hectares all over Mindanao that should be distributed to qualified farmer beneficiaries out of the total 1.2 million hectares backlog for CARP coverage.

This is the 2010 target for distribution, according to records from the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) Central- Field Operations Office.

Oscar Maniego, chairperson of the peasant federation Task Force Mapalad - Alyansa Bukidnon said that the success of CARP is linked to ending poverty in the countryside and would be a long-lasting legacy of Aquino to poor Filipino farmers.

If DAR under Aquino’s administration shall achieve its target before this year ends, Maniego will be one of the beneficiaries in Bukidnon province which has pending LAD balance of 7,761 hectares based on TFM data.

Maniego said that the new appointee for agrarian secretary must be keen on speeding up land distribution, especially in Mindanao where DAR confronts dramatic statistics of remaining backlog.

“It is our hope that the new appointed DAR secretary will never compromise our future to the interest of corporations and big landowners who will always find ways to circumvent agrarian laws,” Maniego said in a statement.

He and the other TFM- Mindanao farmers also urged the new Aquino presidency to possess the political will to stop violence in the process of CARP implementation as cited in the case of the 29-hectare Arcal Estate in Gov. Generoso, Davao Oriental where alleged goons of landowner reportedly harassed farmer-beneficiaries during their installation. This Arcal estate is one of the 2,624 hectares pending for CARP distribution in Davao Oriental.

They also proposed to the Aquino administration to abolish CARP exemption policies that hinder its implementation.

The farmers were referring to DAR Administrative Order No. 7 which exempts CARP coverage for lands devoted to cattle ranches that is being capitalized by the politically influential Fortich family of Bukidnon on the 857-hectare landholding in Valencia City of this province.

In 1992, the Fortich family received a CARP exemption order from DAR Office of the Secretary on grounds that they are using the land for livestock. However, the Fortich Farm Landless Farmer-Beneficiaries Association which appealed for its revocation at the Office of the President said that this land has been leased to agri-business plantations.

In another agrarian problem in Negros Occidental, TFM has slammed the family of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo for its last-minute move to convert from agricultural to industrial use the family-owned Hacienda Bacan in Barangay Guintubhan, Isabela, Negros Occidental.

The 157-hectare sugarcane hacienda, placed under CARP coverage in 2001, was promised by President Arroyo for distribution to 67 farmer-beneficiaries.

TFM president Jose Rodito Angeles said they have learned from a report Wednesday by Vera Files that Ruy Rondain, lawyer of First Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo, had filed an application for conversion of Hacienda Bacan last June 15 before the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR).

The application for conversion was filed on behalf of Rivulet Agro-Industrial Corporation, the registered corporate owner of the hacienda.

“The filing of the application is dubious and devious. Hacienda Bacan is already government property since the Land Bank had already issued payment for it two years ago in the amount of P42.3 million,” said Angeles.

Angeles added that under the agrarian law, lands under CARP coverage cannot be subject to conversion.

He said DAR had twice ordered the register of deeds (ROD) of Negros Occidental to issue a new title for the hacienda in favor of the government but the ROD had not done so up to now, reportedly due to pressure from Arroyo.

“We have also conducted protest actions to compel the ROD and even the Land Registration Authority in Quezon City to register a new title for Bacan so that DAR could already issue the CLOA (certificate of landownership award) of the farmer-beneficiaries, but we have been ignored,” said Angeles.

Rogelio Salva, leader of the farmer-beneficiaries in Bacan, said they have filed before DAR a motion opposing the application for conversion.

In the opposition motion, Salva said that Rivulet Corporation had no more juridical personality to apply for conversion since Badan had been acquired and paid for by the government, that the application for conversion was meant to evade CARP, and that it violated DAR rules on conversion under Administrative Order No. 1, Series of 2002.

Under AO No. 1 Series of 2002, irrigated agricultural lands such as Hacienda Bacan is non-negotiable for conversion (Section 4), and lands already under land valuation and acquisition are highly restricted from conversion (Section 5).

Salva said they are going to undertake active forms of protests to press for the dismissal or denial of the application for conversion of Hacienda Bacan.

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