Philippines, 28 February, 2014 — This was the message to the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) from progressive solons and lawyers and farmer-leaders from the Save Agrarian Reform Alliance (SARA) in a press conference today at Quezon Circle.
The now dire state of the national land reform program, they argued, was ultimately a result of DAR’s halfhearted commitment to act decisively for the interests of its primary constituency— small, landless farmers.
“The main problem facing CARPER [the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program] today is DAR’s lack of political commitment to implementing land reform on all agricultural lands, as provided by Article XII, Section 4 of the 1987 Constitution,” said Atty. Jan Perry Eugenio of the office of Rep. Arlene Bag-ao. “DAR has every possible legal tool to make agrarian reform work, including providing for shortfalls in the issuance of Notices-of-Coverage [NOC’s] to all lands targeted for redistribution by June 30, 2014, so the far greater danger is DAR’s apparent forgetting of its own constitutional mandate.”
“DAR’s unwillingness to effectively and rapidly complete the land reform program on all agricultural lands will enable routine violations of the agrarian reform law by allowing the 5-hectare retention limits set by CARPER to still to be transgressed by landowners, while endangering small farmers all over the country from finally owning the land they live on after June 30, 2014,” Eugenio added.
Eugenio was joined in his assessment of DAR’s inefficacy by Akbayan Rep. Walden Bello, a co-author of the CARPER law (RA 9700).
“The completion of agrarian reform program is above all a matter of strong political will, which has been sorely lacking in this administration’s DAR. Instead of rationalizing its slow process of distribution, DAR should fast-track the distribution of all farmlands in the country,” Bello said.
According to DAR’s own figures, there are 206,536 hectares of land still awaiting NOC’s as of February 5, 2014, and around 790,671 hectares still lacking Certificates of Land Ownership Awards (CLOA’s).
“Now more than ever, DAR must stop excusing itself for its dismal performance, and simply back its pronouncements with decisive actions,” Bello said. “DAR often refers to technicalities to explain away its lack of achievements, but it is duty-bound by the country’s highest law to give land to millions of farmers still clinging to the dream of finally owning the land that they till.”
Similarly, farmer-leaders from SARA expressed dismay over DAR’s continual lack of political commitment to promoting the rights of its farmer constituencies, as manifested in its inaction on several reported legal and human rights violations against rural communities.
“Farmers across the country are alarmed by DAR’s conservatism in its implementation of CARP,” said Trining Domingo, a SARA spokesperson. “Again and again, we have appealed to DAR to stop illegal demolitions and conversions of irrigable and irrigated lands, like that being done now by the Villar’s Vista Land in Plaridel. But instead, DAR Secretary Virgilio delos Reyes explicitly stated in Congress last February 5 that he does not see landlord resistance as a major problem.”
“DAR has no excuse whatsoever for failing to protect the rights of small farmers, and failing to effectively and quickly implement the land reform program,” she said. “We are calling on President Aquino to step in and order Sec. Delos Reyes to do his job.”
“We are profoundly dissatisfied with the performance of DAR under President Aquino. We will leave our farms and take our issues to Malacanang Palace next week on March 4,” Domingo added.
Some 300 farmers, farmworkers and rural women from Central Luzon and Southern Tagalog are expected to arrive in Manila next week on March 4 and camp out at DAR to pressure the government to make good their commitment to agrarian reform. #
Save Agrarian Reform Alliance (SARA)
Secretariat: c/o Focus on the Global South, 19 Maginhawa St., UP Village, Quezon City 1100