(to House Bill Nos. 328, 743, 935, 1257, 1265, 2083, 2219, 2280, 2948, 3369, 3559, 3613 and 3702)

The substitute bill approved by the Committee on Agrarian Reform after lengthy debates gives us many reasons to hope. It, however, also gives us many reasons to aspire for more.

1. Additional Appropriation for CARP

The bill provides for an additional Php 100 Billion appropriation for the land acquisition and distribution (LAD) and for the other funding requirements of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP). Considering the spate of criticisms against the CARP and its implementation including such grave assertions as the abandonment of a “failed” program from some quarters, a proposed amendment (of RA 6657) extending added funding support for CARP is notable. We could only hope this springs from a sincere appreciation of the lofty principles that underlie agrarian reform and the high regard accorded to it by the State, as expressed in our Constitution.

However, the proposed additional appropriation is clearly insufficient for all of the funding requirements of the program. To be expended for a period of five (5) years, IDEALS acknowledges that the proposed additional Php 100 Billion, translating to an average appropriation of Php 10 billion per year, presents a considerable increase in appropriation for the implementation of CARP.[1] But the face amount of the appropriation is secondary to the matter of its sufficiency for program needs. In this regard, the Presidential Agrarian Reform Committee (PARC) Executive Committee, through a Resolution No. 2007-107-01 (dated February 5, 2007)[2], certified that Php 327,295,069,388.00 budgetary allocation[3]for the CARP is required to “complete” it. We have recommended that the said figures be given great weight, if not adopted by Congress, considering that the PARC (which includes the President) is the highest executive policy making body as far as CARP implementation is concerned. As it is, however, the proposed additional funding is less than a third of the PARC’s figures.

Still, there is nothing in the Substitute Bill that precludes further appropriations for CARP even as it, in fact, offers a mechanism by which any future funding needs may be addressed. Section 2 of the bill states that the Congressional Oversight Committee (which the bill also seeks to create) “shall propose additional appropriation until all agricultural lands are acquired and distributed under the agrarian reform program.”

2. Increased Share of CARP in the GAA

From the start, IDEALS has maintained that it is not enough that a law is legislated authorizing additional appropriations. The law must also incorporate means that would better ensure that funds would actually be available for the program on a yearly basis. At this stage of CARP implementation, the mechanism for yearly appropriations for government programs through the General Appropriations Act (GAA) must be emphasized and maximized.

In the substitute bill, yearly appropriations of no less than P5 billion from the GAA would be granted, assuring availability of funds for continuous CARP implementation. This is an improvement from the P3 billion guaranteed yearly appropriation through the GAA provided under RA 8532. We have long asserted, that at this juncture of program implementation, it would be best if all of CARP’s funding requirements be assured through the GAA so as to preclude funding instabilities that adversely impact on CARP performance. Accordingly, even as we view the provision on the increase in CARP’s GAA share as a positive development, we anticipate future challenges in relation to the program’s funding needs given the huge estimated CARP requirement. We must therefore continue to push that the annual budget of the CARP be better assured (through a further increase in the GAA share), especially in the face of the reality of depleting funds from sources of the Agrarian Reform Fund other than the GAA.

3. No Farmland as Collateral Provision

The bill excludes any farmland as collateral (FAC) provision, doing away specifically with the option of using the awarded lands to directly guarantee the payment of farmers’ loans taken from just about any financing institution. The vehement opposition to FAC is primarily grounded on the argument that the same would only lead to the reconsolidation of land and defeat the purpose of the agrarian reform program, which is to distribute land to the landless and stem rural poverty. Thus, by eliminating the FAC option, the bill effectively removes the FAC as a mechanism for landowners to get back the land in exchange for small loans, thereby taking advantage of the poverty of the farmers and the dismal dearth of post-distribution support services. The President and the Agriculture secretary have gone on record to express their support for FAC, so a substitute bill without it is truly a noteworthy accomplishment.

4. Incontrovertibility of the CLOA Affirmed

The bill declares the indefeasibility and imprescriptibility of the CLOA after the lapse of one year from its registration in the Registry of Deeds. This is extremely necessary in light of the multitude of CLOA cancellation and related cases filed before the DARAB and regular courts even after the lapse of one year. Because of this, the right of the farmers to own the land they till remain vulnerable. In Calatagan, for example, a mere Mineral Production Sharing Agreement entered into by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and a cement factory owner was deemed sufficient to defeat clean and fully-amortized emancipation patents granted a whole decade before and divest farmers of their valid right to the land. In CagayanValley, despite the generation of valid and subsisting CLOAs to the farmer-beneficiaries and the registration of these CLOAs with the Registry of Deeds, the Development Bank of thePhilippines or the previous landowner still sold the property to a private buyer who, in turn, filed a petition for CLOA cancellation that was subsequently granted.

5. Gender-responsive Support Services

The bill grants gender responsive support services – a long overdue tribute to the legions of rural women all over the country. The bill states:

The State shall recognize and enforce the right of rural women to own and control land or to receive a just share of the fruits thereof, representation in advisory or appropriate decision-making bodies and ensure the substantive equality between men and women as qualified beneficiaries. Entitlement to land of rural women is essential not only to the attainment of individual rights, self-empowerment, and economic survival of their families but also to the over-all rural development, democratization and food security of the nation.

However, while it is indeed imperative to ensure gender-responsive support services, the concrete demand of our rural women is for them to be recognized as agrarian reform beneficiaries CLOA holders in their own capacity. That is their main bone of contention and that is the issue that must sorely be addressed.

6. Exclusive Jurisdiction of DAR over Agrarian Cases Emphasized; Re-institution of the Referral System relative to cases filed before regular courts that are most probably agrarian in nature; Recognition of the Legal Standing of Identified Beneficiaries and/ or their Associations in cases concerning their rights under the CARP.

The bill emphasizes the exclusive jurisdiction of the DAR over cases that are agrarian in nature. It relatedly re-institutes the referral of cases involving a farmer, farmer or tenant by the prosecutor to the DAR once there is an allegation from any of the parties that the case is agrarian in nature. This is necessary given the number of cases being filed in regular courts and being taken cognizance of by the same, which should actually be within the exclusive jurisdiction of the DAR.

The bill also recognizes the legal standing to ARBs and identified beneficiaries before judicial courts. Over the long years of CARP implementation in the country, countless agrarian reform beneficiaries and/or their associations have lost entitlements pursuant to the CARP as their standing to pursue or defend cases involving their landholdings is invariably ignored and/or struck down. This is truly incomprehensible given that they actually stand to directly gain or lose depending on the outcome of these cases (e.g. conversion, exemption cases).

What this bill lacks, however, is a response to the rampant problem of criminalization of AR cases, wherein landowners file harassment suits of qualified theft, estafa, malicious mischief and the like against tenants seeking to petition for agrarian reform. In theBondocPeninsularegion in Quezon alone, a total of 295 cases against 233 farmers have been documented. In most of these cases, farmers face warrants of arrest in the middle of the night, and are made to pay hefty amounts of money as bail. We contend, therefore, that the provision in the Unity Bill staying the warrant of arrest pending determination that the case is not agrarian-related should have been retained.

7. Creation of a Joint Congressional Oversight Committee to monitor CARP implementation

The bill creates a Joint Congressional Oversight Committee to monitor CARP implementation; in particular, land acquisition and distribution. Certainly, if implemented properly, it can be a tool for transparency and accountability.

It is also well to reiterate that this Committee has a very important function of proposing additional appropriation for CARP until all agricultural lands are acquired and distributed under the agrarian reform program. As stated, the current level of appropriation for the program is too low compared to official estimates of the CARP funding needs. Thus, the Committee’s role is crucial in relation to the question of further government support for the implementation /completion of agrarian reform.

8. Critical Gaps

Despite the gains that the bill presents, there are many gaps in the proposed measure that need to be addressed, if what is sought is a law truly responsive to the issues confronted on the ground.

The bill is completely silent on the issue of land conversion, when two decades have managed to demonstrate how unabated land conversion has wrought havoc on land rights and food security. There remains the need to enact a law that offers greater protection against indiscriminate and/or irresponsible conversion of agricultural lands to non-agricultural uses, particularly with regard to issues such as the non-negotiability of irrigated and irrigable lands, the automatic reversion to agricultural lands of converted lands that have not been developed within five years, the immediate coverage under CARP through compulsory acquisition of lands where the terms of the conversion order had been violated.

In Laiya, Batangas, for example, despite the fact that the landowner had completely failed to develop the property and violated the terms of the conversion order, and despite the fact that the petition to extend the period of development was filed a whole two years after the expiration of the conversion order, the land continues to be beyond the reach of the farmer-beneficiaries and one legal tactic after another was employed to ensure that it remains that way.

IDEALS also joins the clamor of civil society organizations to prohibit non-distributive schemes such as stock distribution options and such schemes as leaseback and similar arrangements. We believe this will ensure that by “distribution of agricultural lands,” the direct and physical distribution thereof to beneficiaries is actually carried out. Clearly, history has adequately demonstrated the mischief of these schemes.

In Agusan del Norte, for example, the landowner-corporation sought by various means of deceit and subterfuge to make the farmers sign an addendum to a lease agreement that would peg the annual lease rental at P635.00 per hectare/per year and keep it locked that way for the next twenty five years. It is difficult to imagine an arrangement more onerous and unjust. Certainly, the story of the Hacienda Luisita farmers in Tarlac need to be revisited as well as a classic example of how stock distribution options merely operate to reconsolidate the large landholdings and defeat the basic principles of agrarian reform and social justice.

All these narratives from our farmers in the countryside, and many more that remain untold, impel us to continue in our assertion of genuine, sustainable and farmer-oriented reforms. The substitute bill is a step forward in the right direction, but given the massive reversals of gains over the past years, nothing short of big strides are in order.//

[1] The appropriation for CARP under Republic Acts 6657 and 8532 translates to a mere Php 5 billion per year average appropriation for the years 1988 to 2008.

[2] Resolution Approving the General Policies, Proposed Plans and Budgetary Projections for the Implementation of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program Beyond CY 2008.

[3] Breakdown:

Land Tenure Improvement = PhP 241,099,609,420.00

Agrarian Justice Delivery = PhP 8, 153,626,861.00

Program Beneficiaries Development = PhP 78,041,833,107

Total = PhP327, 295,069,388.00

AR Dialogues No. 3-08 / May 15, 2008

You May Also Like

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *