YESTERDAY, some 500 peasants from key farming areas in Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao converged at the Department of Agrarian Reform central office in Quezon City to kick off a 17-day peasants’ march for the completion and overhaul of the CARP. The demonstration will end on June 10, 2015, the 27th anniversary of the agrarian reform program.
The demonstration for CARP and against the “CARP killers” started with Holy Mass officiated by Manila Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo at the farmers’ campsite outside the DAR Central Office. Only after Mass did the farmers’ torch parade at the Quezon Memorial Circle begin.
During the activities, farmers ask for divine guidance in their continuing struggle to own and control the lands they have and their parents and grandparents have been tilling for decades.
They share their stories of poverty and hardships due to landlessness and expose attempts of landlord-politicians in the House of Representatives to water down House Bill 4296 that seeks to continue CARP.
HB 4296 is scheduled to be passed on third and final reading next month following President Benigno Aquino III’s marching orders to complete the CARP started by his mother, President Cory, in 1988.
The farmers’ march will also press the Aquino administration to implement asset reform by overhauling the implementation of the CARP and completing the distribution to peasants of all agricultural landholdings nationwide subject to the program.
The activity is namd in Tagalog, “Martsa ng Kanayunan: Pagkain sa Bayan, Lupa sa Magsasaka, Peasant March: Food for All, Land to the Tiller].” This “lakbayan” is organized by Sulong CARPER, a national multi-sectoral alliance led by peasants and religious groups.
The farmers say that their interest is being threatened by landlord-politicians’ attempt to continue their control over all remaining agricultural lands that should have long been distributed to CARP beneficiaries.
Recently, the Visayas bloc of lawmakers pressed for an amendment to H.B. 4296 that seeks to exempt from CARP coverage landholdings not yet issued with Notice of Coverage (NOCs) that are immediately adjacent to national highways and are rain-fed and non-irrigable.
Another proposed amendment to H.B. 4296 proposed by landlord-politicians in the House seeks to increase the retention rights of the legal heirs of a deceased owner of a private agricultural land subject to CARP but not yet issued a NOC.
House members want each of the heirs of the deceased landowner to retain a portion of the landholding similar to the size of the retention area accorded to the landowner via the CARP law.
Under the law, a landowner who dies after June 15, 1988 and whose land was issued an NOC is allowed to retain a maximum of five hectares of his landholding. But under the amendment, if such landholding was not issued a NOC before Jan. 1, 2015, each heir will retain five hectares. It further decreases the available agricultural lands for coverage to be distributed to landless farmers and unfair to other landowners under the equal protection clause of the Constitution.
“We hope that the authors of H.B. 4296 will not bow down to the selfish interests of their landlord-politician colleagues at the House. We hope that they can see the devil in the details of the amendments being pushed by the Visayan bloc. We hope that our allies in the House can ward off attempts of landlords to again circumvent CARP and kill the social justice goal of the program,” said Alberto Jayme, president of the Negros chapter of the national peasant federation of Task Force Mapalad, among the member-groups of Sulong CARPer.
The peasants’ march also seeks to gain more allies in Congress and bare attempts of influential landlord-politicians to dilute the social justice goals of the agrarian reform program.
This lakbayan is a continuation of a series of national and local actions that will push for the immediate passage of House Bill 4296 and House Bill 4375, the twin measures that peasants say will ensure the completion of the government’s land-to-the-tiller program, food security, and broad-based economic development.
HB 4296 seeks to renew the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR)’s authority to issue notices of coverage (NOCs) and provide adequate funding for support services to agricultural landholdings that have not yet been placed under CARP.
The House of Representative is scheduled next month to pass on third and final reading HB 4296 after President Benigno Aquino III, last March, gave marching orders to his allies in Congress to complete the CARP.
Meanwhile, HB 4375 seeks to create an independent Agrarian Reform Commission to review the actual accomplishment of CARP and investigate circumventions and violations of the CARP Law with a view to cause these landholdings to be redistributed to qualified beneficiaries.
HB 4375 already has a counterpart proposed legislation in the Senate. Senate Bill 2769 was filed by its author, Sen. Gregorio “Gringo” Honasan II, last May 18.
Today, May 26, Tuesday, protesting farmers will begin setting up camp outside the House of Representatives at the Batasang Pambansa Complex on Batasan Road in Quezon City where they will conduct various activities to press Congress to overhaul and complete CARP by passing HB 4296 and HB 4375.
More than 700,000 hectares of agricultural landholdings nationwide have not yet been awarded to farmer-beneficiaries of the CARP.
Based on April 15, 2015 data from the DAR, 15,391 landholdings nationwide with a total area of 164,156 hectares have not yet been issued CARP notices of coverage (NOC), the first of the many steps in acquiring and distributing lands to farmer-beneficiaries of the program.
A total of 8,756 landholdings with an aggregate area of 103,684.556 hectares or 57 percent of the nationwide NOC balance in terms of the number of landholdings are found in Negros Occidental, based on DAR data.
According to Sulong CARPER co-convenor and agrarian reform advocate Christian Monsod, who is former chief of the Comelec, the landlord-dominated Congress must “equally be blamed” for CARP’s underperformance in land distribution and productivity.
He said the program’s “underfunding” by Congress happened every single year of appropriations.
“The total budget as estimated by the government itself was supposed to be about P225 billion for 20 years, about 40 percent of which was compensation to landowners themselves. Only about P175 billion was appropriated For the five-year extension of CARP in 2009, the budget as provided in the law is P150 billion; the total provided is about P130 billion,” Monsod explained.
Monsod also said that the CARP’s underperformance could be blamed on the loopholes in the CARP Laws put by the landowner-dominated Congress that “watered-down” the program.
He also blamed big influential landowners whom he accused of engaging in “blatant criminal evasion and circumvention” of the CARP.
There are about one million to 1.5 million hectares of agricultural landholdings nationwide that became subject of CARP evasions and circumventions and thus are not effectively controlled by farmer-beneficiaries of the program, said Monsod.