MANILA, Feb. 4, 2014—Catholic bishops and civil society groups have asked the government to give the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program Extension with Reforms (CARPER) two more years to meet its land acquisition and distribution target, especially since close to one million hectares of land is still pending for coverage five months before the program is set to expire.
Agrarian reform advocates led by Manila Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo, chairman of the CBCP Permanent Committee for Public Affairs, and Christian Monsod of Sulong CARPER have urged President Benigno Aquino III to push for a legislation that will provide additional time for the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) to complete the issuance of notices of coverage (NOCs).
Under Republic Act 9700, CARPER is set to expire on June 30. According to government data, DAR was only able to issue NOCs covering 314,422 hectares from the 1.2 million hectares of agricultural lands covered by CARP from July 2010 to July 2013.
In a letter sent to Mr. Aquino dated January 22, 2014, Pabillo and other signatories said giving CARP two more years will coincide with the remaining two years of his term and “will assure a lasting legacy of the centerpiece program of former President Corazon Aquino.”
“Decisive action to ensure the success of CARP will be especially timely, given that 2014 has been declared the International Year of Family Farming by the General Assembly of the United Nations. There would be no stronger statement that your administration champions the cause of family farmers by sustaining the very program that would give land to the landless, and thus allow the family farm sector to flourish within our country,” the advocates told the President in their letter.
The group also reiterated a previous plea for the replacement of DAR Secretary Gil delos Reyes, saying the official “does not fit the role of a transformational leader for the demanding task ahead for CARP.”
Audit DAR, investigate violations
The agrarian reform advocates likewise asked the President to create an independent commission to audit the performance of DAR as well as order a comprehensive investigation of human rights violation and alleged land-grabbing cases in rural communities.
“Among other purposes, the (proposed) Commission would look into the lands that avoided or circumvented the law, such as the use of dummies in Voluntary Land Transfers (VLTs), unwarranted exemptions and conversions, excessive retentions, fake “joint ventures”, and take steps to have them declared null and void and subject the lands to coverage and distribution,” the signatories suggested.
The agrarian reform advocates also cited an “alarming increase” in reported human rights violations and land-grabbing incidents involving land redistribution cases.
“As CARPER’s land acquisition and distribution component approaches its deadline, more attacks against small farmers are taking place. Between 2012 and 2013, there has been a 4.6 percent increase in the number of cases filed at the Agrarian Reform Adjudication Board, while numerous cancellations of Certificates of Land Ownership Award (CLOA’s) have occurred, most notably in Quezon province,” they added.
The group also made a bold request to the government to condone all unpaid amortizations of delinquent farmer-beneficiaries and make future land distribution free of charge.
Citing the scant funding for CARP implementation, the agrarian reform advocates said freeing up the farmers with the burden of paying amortization is a “matter of social justice.” Funding for CARP should have been P255 million for its first 20 years of implementation but Congress only allotted P175 billion. Meanwhile, P150 billion was allocated for CARPER implementation but actual budget fell short.
“The inability of the farmers to meet their amortization payments arises mainly from the underfunding of CARP which resulted in inadequate support services and capacity-building of farmer beneficiaries. The farmers have been on the short end of these shortcomings and the condonation and free distribution will inject new life into what objective analysts consider to be the least successful, if not abject failure, of the Philippine agrarian reform program compared to those of other countries in our part of the world,” they said.
The group also told the President that numerous farmers’ groups have voiced their plans to dramatize their concerns through a series of marches to Malacañang.
“We understand the farmers’ sentiments and their great motivation to march to Malacañang. A dialogue with you would be a meaningful first step in responding to their plea for justice,” they said.
Finally, the agrarian reform advocates reminded Aquino of his commitment to fully implement CARP under his administration.
“The farmers together with bishops and civil society advocates seek a dialogue with Your Excellency because major decisions have to be made and actions taken before the deadline on both the strategic directions of CARP and the institutional capability of the government to accomplish these strategies, as well as the commitments of your Administration to the farmers. We owe the farmers a better future than what has been, and is being, dealt to them by our lapses and neglect,” the advocates added. (Kris Bayos/CBCPNews)