MANILA, March 26, 2015— They are one with the Catholic bishops on land reform, but this group of priests, nuns and religious workers believe there’s a different way of achieving it.
The Solidarity Philippines, a movement to proactively advance the social teachings of the Church, said the bishops must give HB 252 or the Genuine Agrarian Reform Bill (GARB) a chance if only to address landlessness and poverty in the countryside.
“Landowners will be compensated by the government if they have come by their lands honestly. All this is necessary for the farmers to exercise their ‘right to own the land they till’, equitably share in the fruits of their labour and find a path out of poverty,” said Fr. Jesus Dumaual, MSC, among the convenors of Solidarity Philippines.
“Moreover House Bill 252 ensures there are no schemes to avoid land distribution and that all agricultural lands are covered, including those exempted under CARP,” he said.
The group made the appeal after a big number of bishops called on President Benigno Aquino and Congress to pass twin measures on the extension and expansion of the already expired Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP).
The bishops were referring to the HB 4296 or the Notices of Coverage Extension Bill and the HB 4375, which seek to create an independent Agrarian Reform Commission to review the accomplishment of CARP and investigate circumventions and violations of the CARP law with a view to cause these landholdings to be redistributed to qualified beneficiaries.
But rather than pushing the two measures, the group urged the bishops to instead support HB 252 since it is “the only way all our farmers will be able to lift themselves out of poverty”.
Agrarian reform in the Bible
The group cited at least three reasons why the 27-year old agrarian reform program of the government should be abandoned:
* There are so many schemes in the law, which militate against distribution to farmers that include corporate schemes and the stock distribution option.
* Many agricultural lands are excluded from coverage such as plantations owned by multinational corporations, pasture lands, aquaculture projects, military reservations, lands covered by proclamations for tourism, economic or industrial zones.
* Amortization payment for the land is beyond the reach of the small farmers.
Dumaual added that land reform is one of the most pressing issues to lift farmers out of poverty, and so a “genuine” agrarian reform law is needed to replace the CARP which “has not broken land monopoly because it was never intended to do so”.
“If we as Church people read Leviticus 25, a land reform program in the Bible, we note that one of the main elements is that the land is returned free and that support services are provided,” he said. (Roy Lagarde/CBCPNews)