Romeo C. Royandoyan
Carmina B. Flores-Obanil
Mary Ann Manahan
As early as 2006, discussions were rife and heated on the fate and future of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program beyond 2008. CARP’s funding was set to expire in June 2008 under Republic Act No. 8532 . The discussions in civil society intensified after the German Technical Cooperation (GTZ now known as GIZ) working with the Department of Agrarian Reform had released a report assessing the implementation of CARP and peddling scenarios that could be undertaken by government. The report was biased towards the “clean break” scenario, where the land distribution component of the program would be discarded and the focus would just be provision of adequate support services to those who have received lands. But with almost 1.161million hectares of mostly private agricultural lands still undistributed, the proposition was severely criticized and became the spark that drew groups together to draft and push for a new and reformed agrarian reform law.
The Development Roundtable Series TWG on Agrarian Reform and Rural Development engaged this campaign and became one of the research arms of the Reform CARP Movement, a coalition of peasant organizations and agrarian reform and rural development advocates that pushed for the passage of a new, extension law. The DRTS later published a mapping of the positions of legislators, civil society organizations, landowners groups, academe and Church groups that was used in the campaign. RCM was mainly responsible for coming up with the draft law which was sponsored by Akbayan Representative Risa Hontiveros-Baraquel and with inputs from Senator Gregorio “Gringo” Honasan. It became the primary bill used by the Committee on Agrarian Reform in both Houses. In August 2009, one year and two months after the law expired, Congress passed Republic Act No. 9700 or the CARP Extension with Reforms law. The delay of the passage for more than a year was mainly due to the strong lobby of landowners and the landlord bloc in Congress. Unfortunately, the implementation of the agrarian reform program was at a standstill during those years.
A better agrarian reform program
It was very clear from the outset that CARPER was envisioned as a different and better CARP. While RA 6657 (Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law) had been loophole-ridden after pro-landowner legislators mangled the original draft in 1987, RCM together with other sectors like the Church, youth organizations, academic institutions and also individuals, lobbied and campaigned for the reform provisions contained in the proposed draft to be maintained. One of these reform provisions, in fact, was the removal of the stock distribution option in the new law.
RA 9700 better known as CARPER was passed with most of its reform provisions aimed at rectifying the loopholes and addressing problems that had hampered agrarian reform implementation in the past. CARPER not only extended land distribution implementation for five years and provided P150 billion funding for its implementation, but more importantly it declared that CARP is a continuing program that government must implement.
A Thirty-Four Month Deadline for Land Distribution
From the beginning, however, CARPER’s biggest challenge lies in how to complete land distribution before its five-year deadline in June 2014. This has become more urgent now because by August 2011, the Department of Agrarian Reform will only have 34 months or less than three years to complete land distribution. There is a very small window to complete land distribution especially if viewed against several factors.
First, the bulk of the remaining lands for distribution are private agricultural lands. These are private agricultural lands above 24 hectares, where relations between the tenants and landlords continue to be highly feudal and exploitative. DAR is up against the landowners who have successfully evaded land distribution for the last 22 years. These were the same landowners who have aggressively and unceasingly opposed CARP since its inception in 1988. Worse, the government oftentimes has accommodated the demands of these landowners to delay if not to avoid distribution.
A closer examination of the list of the top 20 provinces with the biggest number of undistributed lands will reveal that those in the list have remained the same over time. In 1997 (before the first extension law was passed), in 2005 (when talks of CARP expiration started) and at present, Negros Occidental and Camarines Sur have always been ranked as the top two provinces where owners have the biggest land acquisitions and where there remain the biggest lands for distribution. The other seven provinces included in the list of the top 20 provinces in the same period are Masbate, Negros Oriental, Leyte, Albay, Iloilo, Camarines Norte, Lanao Norte, and Lanao Sur. Meanwhile Sultan Kudarat, Cotabato, Quezon II, Cagayan, Camarines Norte were some of the provinces that were either part of the list in 1997and 2011, but not in 2005 or part of the list in 1997 and 2005, but not in 2011. Aside from the fact that the list of those with big balances for land distribution have hardly changed over the years, what is significant and worth noting is the fact that these provinces are also part of the list where the poorest families can be found. Negros Occidental, Camarines Sur, Leyte, Iloilo, Lanao del Sur, and Quezon are in the top 10 provinces with women in poor households, according to DSWD’s NHTS-PR report. According to the NSCB, the magnitude and share of Negros Occidental, Camarines Sur, Leyte, Iloilo, and Masbate in the total number of poor families and population in 2003 is quite high. The poverty situation in these areas can be explained by the fact that land transfer under agrarian reform had been quite slow compared to areas where agrarian reform had already been implemented. This has been further proven in several assessment studies conducted by Balisacan (2007), Gordoncillo (2008), and Reyes (1998). The technical working paper of the World Bank (2009) also posited that the modest impact of CARP on poverty and growth is mainly due to DAR’s inability to prioritize the acquisition of private agricultural lands through compulsory acquisition.
Second, DAR’s record in distributing private agricultural lands has been historically disappointing. Since 1987, DAR has missed its own target. It was only able to meet its target for two consecutive years. This was in 2001, when DAR distributed 104,261 hectares vis-à-vis its 101,108 hectares target and in 2002, when it distributed 111,722 against its target of 110,917 hectares. Looking back, these were the same years when former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo lowered government agrarian reform target from 200,000 hectares to 100,000 of private agricultural lands raising fears among agrarian reform advocates and peasant organizations that land distribution would not be completed. Under CARPER, DAR’s performance hardly improved. As of December 2010, DAR reports show that 960,726 (out of the 5.1 million revised scope hectares) were still up for distribution. Counting from January 2011, DAR will have to target 320,242 hectares per year to complete land redistribution by 2014. On a per month basis, DAR should be able to distribute 26,686 hectares per month, a feat that will seem impossible given its current performance of only 12,667 hectares from January to June 2009 and 18,635 hectares from January to June 2010. DAR actually blames CARPER for its low 2010 LAD accomplishment saying that the delay in passing the law and implementing rules and regulations in 2009 and that CARPER lengthened the acquisition process by two months.
This inefficiency of DAR is not helped by a growing perception among ARBs, people’s organizations and NGOs that the DAR is inept and corrupt, which makes it more difficult to gain public support for agrarian reform.
Third, there is lack of interest and sense of urgency from the current administration when it comes to the issue of agrarian reform. Despite the fact that agrarian reform was a major issue hurled consistently at the President when he was still running for the presidency, agrarian reform was never mentioned in the inaugural speech and the first State of the Nation Address of President P-Noy. The agrarian reform was also one of the programs whose budget was slashed in 2010 to fund the priority programs like the conditional cash transfers, thus imperiling CARPER implementation. Again, this despite the fact that there are only four more years left during that time for the government to complete land redistribution. In fact, DAR seems to be operating in a “Hercules scenario”, a term coined in the 2005 DAR-GTZ report to refer to a political environment that was hostile to agrarian reform and rural development as reflected by declining budgets and the lack of political support from the President.
And then there is the issue of Hacienda Luisita, which has now been designated as the litmus test of the President’s commitment to agrarian reform not only because of the President’s familial interest but more so because Hacienda Luisita’s fate may well dictate the direction and fate of the agrarian reform program in the next three years. Unfortunately, the President refuses to take a decisive position on Hacienda Luisita. P-Noy could have ordered the immediate distribution of Hacienda Luisita after the temporary restraining order against land distribution lapsed in 2010; and again recently with the passage of the Supreme Court decision to hold another referendum on Hacienda Luisita, but he only gave the green light to the DAR and the Office of the Solicitor General to appeal the SC decision.. This sends a very strong signal to critics and anti-agrarian reform forces that agrarian reform is not a priority issue under this administration.
CARPER’s other reform provisions: Misunderstood and Unimplemented
As mentioned above, reform provisions form the bulk of the amendments that were included in the CARPER law. Unfortunately, many of these reform provisions had been mangled in essence when the implementing rules and regulations for the provisions were drafted. A good example would be the misinterpretation of the provisions on support services, specifically credit and initial capital subsidy. CARPER mandates that socialized credit be provided to existing agrarian reform beneficiaries, while it provides for an initial capital subsidy for new agrarian reform beneficiaries. When the DAR finally came up with the IRR for these provisions, the initial capital subsidy was reduced as credit and not subsidy for new agrarian reform beneficiaries. These provisions for support services would later be removed totally exposing agrarian reform beneficiaries to the possibility that they won’t be able to make their lands productive.
Too, while CARPER provides clear funding for the program, the fact that the budget is still subject to the whims of the executive and legislative branches makes CARPER implementation vulnerable. The budget slash done in 2010 has negatively affected the program, making CARPER advocates regret the deletion of their original proposal that CARPER’s budget be automatically appropriated.
Recommendations for Policy Implementation and Executive Action
Given the urgency of addressing land distribution, the recommendations are centered on this:
1) There is need to speed up the distribution of private agricultural lands and ensure that the ARBs under RA 9700 or CARPER are awarded ownership especially those in sugar lands, coconut lands and other problematic landholdings measuring above 24 hectares. There are still provisions under CARPER that have to be pursued and protected including the support subsidies provisions, the ban on the conversion of irrigated and irrigable lands, equal support services to rural women and the legal standing of farmer associations without SEC registration. For these reasons, CARPER needs a three-party system or a tripartite of the CSO-Farmer/ARBs-DAR. The NGOs and CSOs enjoy the support of the farmers and agrarian reform beneficiaries and have the solid experience in organizing and mobilizing the rural masses. The CSO and NGO participation in the tripartite project does not mean surrendering organizational independence (and initiatives) to the DAR. The right to expose the failings of DAR remains an accountability tool of CSOs, NGOs and ARBs to ensure CARPER’s integrity outside of the tripartite project. But this tripartite project will make sure that the terms of engagement with the DAR and the Presidential Agrarian Reform Commission are transparent and democratic. The tripartite or partnership approach to achieve a high impact results is not new to Department or to ARBs and the NGOS. This had been employed before such as in the Task Force Sugarland Project and Task Force Visayas. All that is required is for the government to identify and engage these organizations and to provide them funds for social mobilization and training.
2) A database of priority landholdings for distribution in these 20 provinces is also a must. DAR’s current listing of the number of landholdings per province is not sufficient. Collaboration with organized NGOs and POs will help identify priority landholdings and consequently facilitate distribution. Too, such collaboration will help ensure that real agrarian reform beneficiaries will benefit from the land distribution.
3) DAR needs to step up. One critical requirement is for DAR to be transparent and accountable. Access to information that will allow the effective monitoring of key aspects of implementation, such as the budget and expenditures for land acquisition and distribution as well as for support services and credit facilities, the identification of target beneficiaries, and the status of disputes, must be ensured. Along this line, a set of guidelines on the access/freedom of information to agrarian reform documents can provide the much needed rules and procedures in the exercise of the right to information, especially of the ARBs. Access to information will also hopefully provide a counterweight to corruption within DAR.
4) The Congressional Oversight Committee on Agrarian Reform should take charge of and strictly monitor the implementation of the program. The COCAR should come up with clear accountability mechanisms for DAR and other CARP implementing agencies to ensure that the provisions of the law will be followed.
5) Implement the prohibition of the non- redistributive schemes such as SDO and leaseback arrangements which undermine the right of landless farmers and regular farm workers to own directly or collectively the lands they till or, in the case of other farm workers, to receive a just share of the fruits of these lands. CARPER is very specific that the main mode for LAD is compulsory acquisition and VOS. Specifically, P-noy needs to intervene in the Hacienda Luisita case. Agrarian reform is one area of governance that needs his direct intervention and leadership. P-Noy should give the farm workers of Hacienda Luisita a real fighting chance. It is well within his power to order the Department of Agrarian Reform to redistribute land in the hacienda in the spirit and under the conditions of CARPER. He cannot afford to stand on the sidelines on this issue. His social contract with the Filipino people calls for him to rise above his family’s interests that can hopefully signal his seriousness that he is on the right path towards Matuwid na Daan and that structural reforms are possible under his helm.
ARB Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries
CARP Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program
CARPER CARP Extension with Reforms
COCAR Congressional Oversight Committee on Agrarian Reform
CSO Civil society organizations
DAR Department of Agrarian Reform
DSWD Department of Social Welfare and Development
NGO Non-governmental organization
NHTS-PR National Household Targeting System for Poverty Reduction
NSCB National Statistical Coordination Board
PO Peoples’ organization
RCM Reform CARP Movement
SC Supreme Court
SDO Stock Distribution Option
TWG Thematic Working Group
Romeo C. Royandoyan