Friday, August 06, 2010

Peasant group appeals to President Aquino to prioritize land reform

MANILA, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / Aug. 6, 2010) - The peasant federation Task Force Mapalad called on President Benigno Aquino III to give priority attention to the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program and ensure the completion of land distribution during the remaining four years of the program.

TFM, which comprises some 500 farmers’ organizations in 15 provinces nationwide, made the appeal as it noted that one year had passed since Republic Act No. 9700, also known as the CARP Extension with Reforms Law, was enacted on August 7 last year but land distribution has not made any progress.

“We are worried that President Noynoy has not issued any clear policy on agrarian reform, not during the election campaigns and not now that he is president. His silence is deafening,” said TFM president Jose Rodito Angeles.

Angeles added: “CARP has only four more years left. It still has to distribute 1.2 million hectares of private agricultural lands. President Noynoy has to take decisive actions and distribute 300,000 hectares per year if he wishes to complete land distribution during the extension period.”

He said the Department of Agrarian Reform had only distributed 87,000 hectares last year, which is 13,000 hectares short of its target of 100,000 hectares.

“This is so far the lowest performance of DAR in terms of land distribution, which is the heart and soul of agrarian reform. If this trend continues under the Aquino administration, then there is no hope for CARP and for at least half a million farmers who want to own land,” said Angeles.

“However, we still hope that President Noynoy is true to his word that the common Filipino is his boss. We hope that he also considers the poor farmers as his boss and will listen to their demand for CARP completion,” he added.

Angeles expressed regret that Negros Oriental Representative Henry Pryde Teves had been chosen chair of the House committee on agrarian reform.

He said Teves is grandson of former Congressman Herminio Teves, whose 61-hectare property in Negros Oriental was awarded by DAR to 30 farmer-beneficiaries in November 2008.

However, the farmer-beneficiaries were driven away by armed goons reportedly led by Hermino’s son Arnee a few weeks after they were formally installed by DAR in their awarded land.

He added that prior to the eviction of the farmer-beneficiaries, Teves had requested them to give him time to remove his piggery from the awarded property.

However, it was not the piggery but the farmer-beneficiaries who were removed from the property, according to Angeles.

“With Representative Teves as agrarian reform committee chair, the farmers have lesser to hope for from Congress,” said Angeles.

Angeles also called on new DAR Secretary Virgilio Delos Reyes to make the department distinctly different from DAR under the Arroyo administration.

“DAR under the Aquino administration should not be more of the same DAR under Arroyo. Secretary Delos Reyes should give the farmers a new hope by promptly addressing and resolving their existing problems,” Angeles said.

He said Delos Reyes could give the farmers positive signals by upholding and enforcing the agrarian law in current land disputes, adding, the Agrarian Secretary should reinstall the farmer-beneficiaries in the former Teves land and give them adequate protection against harassments by armed goons.

He also said Delos Reyes should compel the register of deeds of Negros Occidental to issue a new title for the 157-hectare Hacienda Bacan in the name of the Republic of the Philippines so that DAR could issue the certificate of landownership award to the hacienda’s 37 farmer-beneficiaries.

Hacienda Bacan, located in the village of Guintubhan in Negros Occidental's Isabela town was formerly owned by former First Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo and has been paid for by the government in the amount of more than P42 million.

“Secretary Delos Reyes is facing great challenges, but he should always remember that the landless farmers are his constituents. He needs to exercise great political will to serve his constituents,” said Angeles.

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