Business & Economy

Radical plan to give land for free to poor farmers

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A new agrarian reform program that seeks to distribute lands for free to farmers is emerging as the centerpiece of an agreement on radical social and economic reforms that will form part of a peace pact between the incoming Duterte administration and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP).

According to at least two sources, the more revolutionary form of agrarian reform would fall under the proposed Comprehensive Agreement on Social and Economic Reforms (Caser) that has been given the highest priority in formal talks that are to start in July.

No details of the new program have been presented. But one source said it would hew closely to the Genuine Agrarian Reform Bill (GARB) filed by militant lawmakers, led by incoming Agrarian Reform Secretary Rafael Mariano, in the House of Representatives.

While the existing Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) and Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program with Reforms (Carper) allow landowners to retain up to 7 hectares of their landholdings, GARB would provide no retention limit, which means owners of land covered by the program would have to give up their entire property.

GARB would allow “enlightened” owners of land to keep only 5 hectares. One source, interpreting this provision, said this referred to landowners who had no record of abuses against their farmworkers and were not known to resist agrarian reform.

CARP and Carper transfer land to beneficiaries through an amortization system, but GARB seeks to distribute lands for free.

 

No exemption

The bill filed by Mariano seeks to place all agricultural lands under agrarian reform without exemption. CARP allowed the transfer of shares of stocks to beneficiaries instead of land.

Critics of CARP said it was a loophole that spared big landholdings, like Hacienda Luisita owned by the family of President Aquino, from the program that his mother, democracy icon Corazon Aquino, began.

Exempted from CARP are banana or oil palm plantations by multinational companies; all public agricultural lands; lands that have been reclassified as commercial, residential or industrial; all agricultural lands approved for conversion; all lands that form part of reservations of state colleges; all timber and mineral lands and all private and public lands that have remained idle.

The bill also provides for the confiscation of “sullied” landholdings, or those found to have been obtained illegally. It says debts that beneficiaries of earlier land reform programs still owe the government would be written off.

Mariano, who has described CARP and Carper as dismal failures, has promised that as the head of the Deparment of Agrarian Reform (DAR), one of his priorities will be to review the implementation of CARP in Hacienda Luisita, calling it a “sham.”

 

Expand middle class

A glimpse into the program was offered when a back-channel team, sent by outgoing President Aquino in 2014, met with NDFP leaders, led by Communist Party founder Jose Ma. Sison, in The Netherlands.

According to a member of the team, who declined to be identified for lack of authority to talk to the media, a sweeping agrarian reform program could work as a catalyst for industrialization, too.

The source said turning farmers into landowners could create a bigger middle class that would further spur economic growth.

According to its webpage, the DAR had met 88 percent of its target to distribute some 7.8 million hectares of land covered by CARP.

From July 2010 to December 2013 under the Aquino administration, the DAR said it distributed 751,514 hectares, or 45 percent of its target.

Landlords continue to resist the program and some have filed lawsuits to prevent its implementation.

CARP has also been beset by land conversions, changes in classification of lands from agricultural to nonagricultural and dozens of cases of beneficiaries selling or pawning farms.

 

End to rebellion

Critics cite the reversal by the Office of the President of CARP’s coverage of hundreds of hectares of farms in Quezon province.

The new program is envisioned to bring a peaceful end to nearly 50 years of communist rebellion in the countryside that has left more than 40,000 dead.

One source describes the new program as the answer to the rebel demand for social justice and economic equality.

This could be best illustrated by the conditions of poor farmers, which the source saw for himself, in one town in Quezon just last year.

“The roads are cemented,” he said. “But you see the people living in cardboard houses … Then a Lamborghini (a $200,000 sports car) said to be owned by a high provincial official whizzes by on the concrete road.”

In one case also in Quezon, the source recalled how a landowner would let his cows graze “and whatever land the cows step on” becomes property of the landlord.

“You won’t wonder anymore why people are taking up arms,” the source said. Inquirer.net

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