Agrarian reform deadline: 41,500 hectares not yet covered

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – On the 3rd deadline to complete the distribution of lands to farmers, the Philippine government has yet to put more than 41,583 hectares of land under the agrarian reform program, according to the latest government data.

These landholdings still lack Notices of Coverage (NOCs), the documents that jumpstart the process of land distribution and officially puts parcels of land under the government's agrarian reform program.

Monday, June 30, was the last day the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) could issue NOCs, based on the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program Extension with Reforms (CARPER) law.

From January 2014 to June 30, the DAR was able to put 179,811 hectares of land under NOCs, DAR Undersecretary for Legal Affairs Anthony Parungao told Rappler. These hectares of land make up 22,845 landholdings.

The DAR accomplishment leaves a balance of 41,583 hectares or 4,665 landholdings still not under the agrarian reform program.

‘CARPER lives’

Lawmakers and executive officials say agrarian reform does not end with the June 30 deadline.  

“The implementation of CARP as amended will continue after June 30, 2014. CARP lives,” said Representative Teddy Baguilat, chairman of the House committee on agrarian reform.

He and other government officials stress that only the power of DAR to issue NOCs ends on June 30.

But there are movements to amend CARPER in such a way that allows the DAR to put landholdings under NOCs even after June 30, 2014. The amendment extends this ability of DAR for another two years – until June 30, 2016.

President Benigno Aquino III certified as urgent bills in the House and the Senate that would make such an amendment.

“Malacañang certified the bill as urgent but was still not passed on the last session days due to stiff opposition of representatives from the Visayas and Makabayan bloc,” said Baguilat, who co-authored the bill in the lower house (House Bill No 4296).

A Senate version of the bill, Senate Bill No 2188, was filed by Senator Gregorio Honasan II.

Baguilat gave assurances that he would work for the passage of the bill when the second session of Congress opens on July 28.

Facing the landlords

Despite calls for DAR to issue all pending NOCs by June 30, 2014, Parungao admitted they were unable to live up to such a demand. 

“We have always said, as early as 3 or 4 months ago, that despite our very best efforts, not all landholdings will be issued NOCs for various reasons,” he said.

The biggest cause of delay, he said, were the certification of the Land Registration Authority (LRA) of 1,200 land titles in Negros Occidental, the loss of documents in Leyte due to Typhoon Yolanda (international name Haiyan), and the incomplete database of land which should be put under CARP. 

“This is why we asked civil society organizations for the last 3 years to submit their own listings for validation,” he said.

With the amendment still waiting to be passed, the DAR will not be idle, he assured. 

DAR will focus in the meantime on processing all lands which have been issued NOCs, as well as all pending cases until they are successfully occupied by smallholder farmers. 

There are more than 500,000 hectares yet to be awarded to farmers in the form of Certificates of Land Ownership Awards (CLOAs).

“We can also continue agrarian justice delivery and support services activities,” he added.

But when the amendment is passed, a bigger challenge awaits DAR, said CARPER law co-author, Akbayan Representative Walden Bello. 

By DAR Secretary Virgilio delos Reyes’ admission, a bulk of the land still awaiting distribution, around 450,000, is private land.

“These lands are in the heart of landlord country, in the Western Visayas and Mindanao, and the ability of the DAR to distribute them, as Delos Reyes admitted, will be the acid test of agrarian reform,” said the solon during a June 6 speech.

New ‘revolutionary’ DAR chief needed

But some camps are calling for another plan of action once the amendment is passed: replace DAR Secretary De los Reyes with someone who can do a better job.

“The last 5 years have been 5 years wasted by a lumbering bureaucracy headed by an uninspiring, timid secretary for agrarian reform,” said Bello. (READ: Drilon doubts DAR will meet land distribution targets)

He blamed the Delos Reyes for always hiding behind the “excuse” of technical delays when the real obstacle to the fulfillment of CARPER is landlord resistance, an obstacle the DAR chief has no political will to overcome.

“Should he refuse to step down, I am appealing to the President to replace Secretary Delos Reyes. I want to remind President Aquino that a big part of his agrarian legacy depends on his agrarian reform secretary. Will that legacy be a rural Philippines marked by prosperity and equity, or will it be a countryside marked by even greater poverty and injustice?” he said.

Danny Carranza, secretary-general of Katarungan (Kilusan Para Sa Repormang Agraryo at Katarungang Panlipunan), said Delos Reyes is likely the worst-performing cabinet secretary in the current administration.

“Under Delos Reyes, the DAR has failed to accomplish even 70% of its targets annually,” he said.

If the CARPER extension is granted, the DAR aims to have distributed 694,181 hectares to more than 400,000 farmer-beneficiaries by June 2016.

This is not the first time that agrarian reform deadlines have not been met. CARPER is itself an extension of an extension of past unsuccessful agrarian reform programs.

The Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) was signed into law in 1988 during the presidency of Corazon Aquino and was supposed to be completed in 1998. 

But failure required the next president, Fidel Ramos, to extend it for another 10 years, until 2008. An allegedly rushed CARPER law was signed the next year.

Almost 3 decades after CARP, and under another Aquino, agrarian reform in the Philippines is yet to be completed. – Rappler.com 

Pia Ranada

Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. For tips or story suggestions, you can reach her at pia.ranada@rappler.com.

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