Thursday, December 18, 2008


On Wednesday, farmers across the nation mourned as their elected representatives in Congress delivered the death blow to the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) by excluding mandatory land acquisition from its coverage, even as Congress extended it for another six months after the law creating it expires on June 30 next year.

In 1988, under the Aquino Administration, the post-Marcos Congress passed into law Republic Act 6657, otherwise known as the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law. CARP, as the program implementing the law was later on known, provided two modes of land acquisition: (1) compulsory land acquisition and (2) voluntary acquisition, through the Voluntary Land Transfer (VLT) and Voluntary Offer to Sell (VOS) schemes.

All proponents of CARP agree that compulsory land acquisition – and the concomitant distribution of acquired lands – is the heart and soul of the law. But with its removal Congress effectively handed down a death verdict. As Christian Monsod, counsel for farmers’ group Task Force Mapalad and former Comelec chairman, pointedly asked, “If you take out this mode, who will volunteer to distribute lands?”

By extending CARP for six months, hence preventing its early demise, congressional leaders would like to appear genuinely interested in preventing the program from lapsing into oblivion. But at the same time, however, they have served their ulterior motive to kill the program by removing the most politically-charged, but very important mandatory land acquisition provision of the law that could only truly make it a land reform legislation.

To be sure, CARP is not as revolutionary as the left would like it to be, but the compulsory acquisition of covered lands – aside from eliciting not only a few howls from the landed elite, but all kinds of serious opposition that even resulted in the lost of lives in some rural communities – has benefited several farmers already.

Based on Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) records, nearly six million hectares have been distributed to farmer-beneficiaries since the law came into effect. And according to Monsod, 640,000 hectares of the remaining 1.3 million yet to be distributed private agricultural lands are on the pipeline for distribution under the compulsory acquisition mode.

It is also a fact that CARP suffered from many setbacks. To cite just an example, wealthy landowners have found a way under the law itself to keep their massive landholdings by converting them out of coverage into corporate farms or, in complicity with Municipal Agrarian Reform Officers and Barangay Agrarian Reform Councils, unscrupulous ones are able to parcel out the lands to their children and even unrelated persons or dummies under the law’s three-hectare retention limit for every child. This is so despite the fact that said children are not directly tilling the parcels retained for them or managing them for farm purposes, as required by law.

A corollary aspect of land reform that needs to be addressed by government if it is serious in making land reform a success is the devotion of funds for support services, such as the development of farm-to-market roads, post-harvest facilities, potable water systems, and solar dryers.

Despite the worn out pronouncements from the government and politicians to provide these support services in a comprehensive agrarian reform program, our agricultural practices still remain largely antiquated. When I visited the predominantly farming city of Stockton in California last year, I was amazed by its advances in farming, which is highly mechanized resulting in efficiency and increased productivity. Most of the farms I saw along the road have their own processing and packaging plants for their produce. Of course the reliable roads that facilitate the transport of produce are a given.

Congressmen who strongly backed the moratorium on compulsory land acquisition are saying that CARP has not succeeded in its mandate. They claim that there is a need to review the law because it makes no sense to extend something that has not worked, hence the token extension.

Some of these congressmen, such as House Speaker Prospero Nograles is batting for corporate farming. Apparently, the argument is that with a three-hectare award to beneficiaries under CARP – smallholder farming – agricultural success that will jumpstart industrialization has not been realized. Landed lawmakers, like Sen. Juan Miguel Zubiri, are also blaming farmers for the failure of CARP by selling the farms awarded to them.

In rebuttal to Nograles’s argument, UP School of Labor and Industrial Relations professor Dr. Reneo Ofreneo cited a World Bank study which revealed that large-scale farming – which was tried in China (through its farm collectivization program), in Sub-Saharan Africa, India and Indonesia – has proven unsustainable compared to smallholder farming.

A study prepared by Saturnino Borras, Jr., Mary Ann Manahan, and Eduardo Tadem, which appeared in Philippine Daily Inquirer on July 5, 2008, showed that government has been lackluster in funding CARP and in fact, had mostly relied on Official Development Assistance (ODA), which is funding from foreign institutions. With the insufficiency of funding, farmer-beneficiaries are deprived of necessary support for successful farming, making the sale of their lands to commercial developers a palatable proposition.

For whatever its faults, CARP is a substantial step in land reform, especially its compulsory land acquisition and distribution scheme that made it possible for farmers to acquire the lands they till. It is readily apparent that those who oppose this are the landed elite who want to perpetuate the feudalist system of landholding or are driven by greed to retain their huge landholdings for huge profits while the farmers remain in bondage breaking their backs to produce food for our tables – a condition that will perpetuate the social unrest that has spawned in large part rebellious discontent against the government in the countryside.

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