Quezon City, 15 May 2014 — The newest Congress bill supporting the continuation of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP)— as mandated by the 1987 Constitution— is an essential, though not yet sufficient, initiative for tackling the upcoming deadline of the program’s land distribution component on June 30, 2014.

Just as pressing will be a stronger concerted effort from executive government, including Malacanang, to address the Department of Agrarian Reform’s (DAR) deplorable performance record throughout the Aquino administration.

This was the message of the Save Agrarian Reform Alliance (SARA) on the eve of DAR’s overall expression for support for House Bill 4296. Filed by Reps. Cresente Paez and Teddy Brawner Baguilat, H.B. 4296 proposes amendments to R.A. 9700 (CARPER) to enable the continuation of land redistribution beyond June 30, 2014.

“There are less than two months left to go before June 30, but as we in SARA have stated, the ultimate problem with CARP now is not the deadline for CARP’s land distribution component, but DAR’s halfhearted commitment to act for the interests of small, landless farmers,” said Danny Carranza, secretary general of Katarungan, a nationwide farmer’s coalition.

According to DAR’s own figures, of a total of 1.1 million hectares of lands targeted for distribution between July 2010 to June 2013, only 360,464 hectares or only 32.8 percent of the annual targets were distributed to agrarian reform beneficiaries.

Moreover, DAR data also shows that the average amount of lands distributed under the current government has remained little more than 100,000 hectares per year— the lowest of the last five administrations.

In his 2012 State of the Nation Address, however, President Aquino unequivocally stated: “Before I step down, all the land covered by CARP will have been distributed.”

“Given DAR’s dismal distribution record throughout the Aquino administration, there is simply no way that the Department will be able to complete the redistribution backlog by 2016, even were H.B. 4296 to be made into law, in the absence of drastic measures by the Aquino government to implement structural reforms within DAR,” Carranza maintained.

One key concrete measure, said Carranza, would be the issuance of an executive order by Malacanang mandating the continuation of CARPER’s land distribution component until its completion, as well as various bureaucratic reforms with DAR.

“By itself, an amendment to the CARPER law will not address the root causes of DAR’s chronic underperformance throughout the Aquino administration,” said Jaime Tadeo, SARA spokesperson. “Contrary to its padded accomplishment reports, the present administration’s DAR has consistently failed to meet its yearly targets, and failed to protect farmers’ rights from illegal conversions and land-grabbing.”

Tadeo, a former Constitutional Commissioner, cited the case of his own farm in Plaridel, Bulacan, which has been subject to illegal land conversions due to the ongoing earthmoving activities by Lumina Homes— the newest arm of former Senator Villar’s Vista Land, Inc.

Despite Tadeo’s petitioning DAR to hold Vista Land liable for converting irrigated agricultural land (prohibited under R.A. 9700), DAR has still done nothing against Vista Land’s land-conversion drive up to the present. 

“We have lost complete faith in the DAR leadership, and appeal to Malacanang to release an executive order that will allow land reform to continue past June 30, while spearheading an overhaul of the DAR bureaucracy. It is time for President Aquino to become directly involved in the implementation of CARP, if he truly wishes to bring ‘inclusive growth’ to the rural poor,” Tadeo asserted.

“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,” Carranza said. “We are convinced  that a legal amendment alone will not reverse this failure, and are urging President Aquino to step in and order Sec. Delos Reyes to finally accomplish his duties to farmers.”

CONTACT: Mary Ann Manahan: +63.9062983206, [email protected]