President Benigno Aquino 3rd can help make farmer-beneficiaries in his family-owned Hacienda Luisita become productive so they can help solve the country’s food security problems, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the right to food, Hilal Elver, said on Friday.
Although Hacienda Luisita has been distributed to its beneficiaries, Elver noted that the government has not given them the needed resources such as seeds, water, credit and technological training to cultivate their land.
“How can they be self-sufficient in their land if they can’t [cultivate it]? Forget about the problems of fighting with the landlords. Even if they are in their land peacefully, they need to have [the skills],” she told a news conference in Makati City (Metro Manila).
Elver said some of the farmers from Hacienda Luisita that she interviewed were “not happy” because of lack of support from the government.
“I’m sure some of them are happy, but only the unhappy people came to us so I don’t know exactly what is the percentage of unhappy farmers. It seems to be general and common because I got lots of information on that,” she added.
Land reform is a “serious issue” in the Philippines, and there are many “powerful” landowners who fight against the law, Elver said.
Hacienda Luisita is a 6,453-hectare agricultural land in Tarlac City, capital of Tarlac province, north of Manila, that has been with the family of President Aquino for generations.
His mother, the late Corazon Aquino, faced similar challenges on implementing the Agrarian Reform Law on her own land when she was President from 1986 to 1992.
Under incumbent President Aquino’s leadership, about 5,000 hectares of Hacienda Luisita, which falls under the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program, were distributed to the farmers who were given a shares-or-land option.
These farmers-turned-landowners, however, were mostly “left on their own” without the proper resources and skills training to toil their land.
Elver believes that land reform should be a major focus of the government’s aim to address food security problems in the country.
In her preliminary observations and recommendations in the aftermath of her eight-day visit to Manila, Tacloban City and Luzon—the country’s biggest group of islands—the UN Special Rapporteur pushed for the passage of the Agrarian Reform Extension Law, as well as the Right to Adequate Food Bill and the National Land Use and Management Act.
The Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Extension with Reforms (Carper) “seeks the redistribution of land exceeding five hectares to landless farmers and farm workers who cultivate them.”
Elver said the objective of the legislation is “laudable,” but the “implementation of the law is hindered by various roadblocks.”
Carper has been pending for 25 years with huge tracts of land remaining in the “possession of the few” while farmers are either being harassed or criminalized.
In her report, the UN official noted that landowners often ignore notice of coverage for the redistribution of their land.
This means that farmers and farm workers who should be receiving their own land titles are “losing their means and source of subsistence.”
“This is a key element to ensuring food security and preventing social unrest in the Philippines and I would encourage the government to do all it can to ensure that this legislation is passed as soon as possible,” Elver said.
“Technical and financial support are also essential in addition to land entitlement,” she added.
According to the 2014 Human Development Index, the Philippines ranks 29th in terms of hunger incidence with an estimated 3.8 million households having suffered from involuntary hunger at least once during the last quarter of 2014.
This happened despite the fact that the Philippines is now a lower middle income country, ranking as the 39th largest economy in the world, the World Bank said in 2013.
Just recently, Bloomberg said the country will be the second-fastest growing economy this year, next to China.
Elver believes that what the country needs is “political will” to ensure the right to adequate food for all.
“I am convinced that the Philippines could reverse the current situation and make impressive strides in attaining food and nutrition security for everyone in the future,” she said in the report.