MANILA, Philippines – Contradicting agrarian reform advocates, Agrarian Reform Secretary Virgilio de los Reyes said the proposed 2015 budget for his department – although half of the current year's budget – is sufficient to achieve land reform targets.
The DAR’s 2015 budget, P10.26 billion ($233.2 million)*, is half its budget in 2014 – P20.003 billion ($454.7 million).
The House of Representatives conducted on Thursday afternoon, August 7, its first hearing on DAR's proposed budget for 2015.
“The fact that these massive budget cuts for CARP are now being proposed completely contradicts President Aquino’s promise in his State of the Nation Address that his administration intends both to complete CARP before the end of his term, while addressing implementation issues that have long plagued the program,” said Trinidad Domingo of the Save Agrarian Reform Alliance (SARA).
The biggest cut was in the budget for compensating land owners whose lands were placed under the agrarian reform program. The 2015 budget for land compensation is P100 million ($2.3 million), down from its P5 billion ($113.7 million) budget this year.
The DAR had originally proposed a budget of P5 billion ($113.7 million) to compensate land owners whose lands were covered by the agrarian reform program. But the Department of Budget and Management brought down the allocation because of the availability of previous budgets.
“We still have remaining allocation from 2013 and 2014 which can be released for 2015. So our total available funds is actually P16 billion ($363.7 million). That is more than enough for what we need to cover in 2015,” De Los Reyes said.
Funds for support services also took a blow. The allocated funds for next year is P1.4 billion ($31.8 million) compared to the P6.5 billion ($147.8 million) allocated in 2014.
De Los Reyes explained that the cut is because the DAR can still tap support services funds from 2013 that remain unused which amount to P801.4 million ($18.2 million).
The land distribution and agrarian justice component is to receive around P95 million ($2.16 million) less than it did last year.
However, De Los Reyes said this was only a small deduction and the budget would still be enough to cover expenses.
The large amount of unutilized funds caught the attention of Representative Pryde Henry Teves of the 3rd District of Negros Oriental.
The funds could have been spent faster to bring vital support services to agrarian reform beneficiaries, many of whom do not have the capital to make their land productive, he said.
Teves said the DAR’s ability to provide support services is poor compared to the Department of Agriculture’s accomplishment, which showed that farm machines were turned over within the first 6 months of the fiscal year.
“If they can do it in the first 6 months, why can’t we do it? You should learn from the DA because they can do it effectively,” said Teves.
De Los Reyes admitted it was the sluggish pace of procuring the equipment that led to slow release of funds.
Agrarian reform advocates and farmers have blamed the lack of support services for the failure of agrarian reform to improve the lives of farmers.
Farmers who were awarded land but did not receive support in the form of credit services, farm machines, and farm inputs like seeds and fertilizer have resorted to selling the land because they could not make them productive.
But the DAR reported that it was able to distribute 1,020 farming equipment and extended loans to 9,819 agrarian reform beneficiaries as of December 2013. They also provided insurance worth P18.263 billion ($415.2 million) for more than 320,000 beneficiares.
Around 726,000 hectares have yet to be distributed to farmers as of June 30, reported De Los Reyes. Meanwhile, around 32,000 hectares have yet to be covered by Notices of Coverage (NOCs), the document that puts a parcel of land under the agrarian reform program.
The biggest backlog for acquisition and land distribution is in Negros Occidental, said De Los Reyes, which still has 100,000 hectares of undistributed land.
The main reasons for this are landlord resistance and the more complicated process inherent in distributing privately-owned land, said the DAR chief.
He explained that the landholdings left for his agency to distribute are the “hardest to cover because you need to check size and titles because you need to compensate them unlike in past administrations. They distributed lands that didn’t need compensation because they were government-owned or were voluntary given to the government.”
For the remaining months of 2014 and 2015, the DAR is set on its targets.
From January to June this year, the department acquired and distributed 56,124 hectares. For the rest of the year, it aims to acquire and distribute another 131,560 hectares.
For 2015, its target is to acquire and distribute 198,631 hectares to around 116,841 agrarian reform beneficiaries.
Next year, it also hopes to award 69% of the total potential agrarian reform beneficiares with Certified Land Ownership Awards (CLOAs), which functions like a land title.
Also charged with ensuring distributed lands become productive agricultural land, the DAR aims to increase yield per hectare in distributed lands planted with rice to 15% above the national average (3.6 metric tons per hectare).
Also by 2015, yield for corn should be 45% above the national average and yield for sugarcane shall be at par with the national average.
The lives of farmers awarded with land should also have significantly improved in 2015. For this reason, the DAR set a target that the annual income of farmers should be 13% higher than their income in 2014.
To critics who call him too timid and legalistic to get the job done, he said: “We’re doing everything within the law. We have to follow the law and sometimes that takes a long time. A lot of changes we have made, particularly in the processes by which we acquire land, I don’t think are timid.” – Rappler.com
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 email@example.com.