Agrarian reform remains a Filipino dream #2

(3rd Update) Only voluntary land transfer in 6-month CARP extension


by CARMELA FONBUENA, abs-cbnNEWS.com/Newsbreak | 12/17/2008 7:39 PM

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Congress on Wednesday approved a joint resolution extending for another six months the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP). However, only voluntary land transfers—not compulsory acquisition of private lands—can be undertaken in the six-month extension.

The decision excludes around 700,000 hectares of private agricultural lands or around 64% of the remaining 1.1 million hectares still to be distributed. Pro-farmer legislators said Congress had effectively killed CARP.

In a tumultuous last session day for 2008, the House of Representatives ended up adopting Senate Res. 19 or the “joint resolution extending the coverage of the agrarian reform program for a period of six (6) months for private agricultural lands whose owners have offered their lands under the voluntary offer to sell (VOS) and under the voluntary land transfer (VLT), and for the Department of Agrarian Reform to continued its support services to beneficiaries of lands that have already been acquired and distributed as of December 15, 2008.”

The lower House chose to adopt the Senate version after it failed to reach an acceptable resolution “palatable to all.” The House of Representatives adjourned at 11:15 pm after voting to adopt the Senate resolution.

The Senate, which adjourned at 7 p.m., voted 14-0 in favor of the resolution. One abstained and one inhibited.

Nograles’s failure

Before the session, the congressmen had a closed-door, all party caucus to discuss the extension of CARP. While they “overwhelmingly” voted in favor of extending the CARP without compulsory acquisition of lands, the pro-farmer congressmen fought it out in the plenary.

The result of the all-party caucus contradicted the position of the House leadership. House Speaker Prospero Nograles on Tuesday filed a joint resolution seeking to preserve status quo of CARP.

CARP’s extension, including compulsory land acquisition, is among the priority bills set by President Arroyo.

“I have fought long and hard to extend the life of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law but even as Speaker, I only have one vote. This is not an easy job especially because both the pros and the antis have strong and valid arguments in support of their respective positions,” Nograles said in a statement late Wednesday night.

“Nonetheless, we will use the six-month extension to craft an entirely new land reform law which would answer the needs of the times considering the global economic demands, without causing prejudice to the welfare of the Filipino farmer,” Nograles added.
The pro-farmer congressmen fought it out in the plenary. Leftist congressmen and Cagayan de Oro 2nd District Rufus Rodriguez walked out of the session hall when the leadership agreed to put the joint resolution to a vote without allowing Anakpawis Rep. Rafael Mariano to interpellate.

“Our debate this evening will set the template on future discussions in land reform. Do we not set the template so that in the future there will be no more compulsory land reform?” argued minority floor leader San Juan Rep. Ronaldo Zamora. “I think we are doing this the wrong way.”

“We are perpetuating a situation where we are excluding a very important mode of acquiring lands. That is the score today. That could be the score six months from now,” said Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman, one of the authors of a House bill seeking to extend CARP for five years, including its land acquisition and distribution (LAD) component.

Lagman described the extended CARP as an “emasculated” version. “If there is no more compulsory process, I fear that there will be no more who will volunteer their lands [for sale],” Lagman added.

But Cebu Rep. Pablo Garcia said the joint resolution is the best option for the farmers because there’s not enough time to pass the CARP bill.

“We would have lost all three modes of acquisition. Half a loaf is better than none. We have two of three modes of acquiring lands,” Garcia argued.

Favoring landlords

The joint resolution effectively favors landlords who refuse to subject their properties to CARP.

“This resolution is devoted to the landlord. It is limited to those agricultural lands where landowners have volunteered to sell or agreed to voluntary land transfer,” explained Lagman.

“It’s a virtual interment of the program. It buries the program,” said Lagman. “It is completely diluting, if not killing, the heart and soul of the program. I might as well have the program lapse. It is actually a burial of the program.”

‘Unconstitutional’

Akbayan Rep. Ana Theresia “Risa” Hontiveros voted no to the joint resolution saying: “I cannot, in good faith, sign my name on a resolution manifestly unconstitutional and grossly illegal.”

She said that compulsory acquisition is the “heart and soul of the agrarian reform program” and that the Constitution “commands the State to undertake the just distribution of ALL agricultural lands.”

She then challenged congressmen in the Negros bloc to voluntarily offer their lands to be covered by CARP and distribute their respective lands in the six-month period of the joint resolution.

No compulsory land acquisition

There are three land acquisition and distribution modes under CARP.

The first two, which were approved by Congress through the joint resolution, are voluntary land transfer, and voluntary offer for sale.

Congress did not approve the third mode–compulsory acquisition–even if the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) has issued notices of coverage for these lands.

The decision means a total of 478 notices issued by DAR, which covers about 700,000 hectares of land nationwide, will not be covered by the extended CARP. The 700,000 hectares comprise around 64% of the 1.1 million hectares of land that are yet to be distributed under CARP.

Lagman also said the resolution without compulsory acquisition is an indication of what will happen to CARP after the new extension expires in June 2009. “This is a preview of what would eventually happen,” he said.

‘Delicate Move’

The initial moves to extend CARP without land acquisition and distribution (LAD) was hit by former DAR Undersecretary Jose Mari Ponce.

“That’s a very delicate move. What’s the use of implementing CARP without the LAD,” he told abs-cbnNEWS.com/Newsbreak in an earlier interview when asked about the possibility that CARP would be extended without the LAD.

He said the 1.1 million hectares still to be distributed “are private agricultural lands” that are “the heart of CARP.”

These are the contentious lands,” added Ponce.

Aside from LAD, CARP has two other components—the support services and agrarian justice.

‘Band-aid Solution’

The Calatagan farmers assailed the six-month extension as a “band-aid solution.” This statement came before the removal of the compulsory land acquisition in the joint resolution.

“We did not come here for a temporary remedy to what we are seeking. We want to reform and extend CARP, not a six-month palliative measure,” a statement of the Task Force Baha-Talibayog quoted farmer Dante Rasdas.

Rasdas is among the nine Calatagan farmers who walked five days from Batangas to join the hunger-striking farmers at the gate of the House of Representatives. Some of them are on their 17th day of hunger strike. Six Catholic bishops have joined them, although most of them are on hunger strike in their respective dioceses.

The Calatagan farmers are fighting it out with businessman Ramon Ang of Asturias Industries over farmlands in barangays Baha and Talibayog in Batangas province.

“Non-extension of CARP will have a great impact in our case as we already have filed a petition for coverage of our contested land in barangays Baha and Talibayog,” said Virginita Malaluan, spokesperson of the Calatagan farmers.

“This is not the substitute we want for our farmers. The last time we had the extension last June 2008, there was barely no increase in the Notice of Coverage between June to December this year. What can another six months do?,” added Jane Lynn Capacio, executive director of Kaisahan.

This sentiment was shared by Manila Auxillary Bishop Broderick Pabillo, who joined the farmers in the hunger strike.

“Nothing will happen in the next six months. What will be the effect of this? In June, when they first extended CARP, the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) did not take action. It’s likely that the situation will be the same. DAR will be toothless,” Pabillo said.

No excuse

Former Agrarian Reform Secretary Butch Abad, who was once a congressman himself, rejected the explanation of House Speaker Prospero Nograles that the six-month extension would give the legislators a breathing space to debate on the extension of CARP.

“That’s not an excuse. They’ve had all the time to consider amendments. The effect of simply extending it by six months is it will stall CARP. DAR will not move. In the end, it puts the farmers at a disadvantage. They should allow CARP to continue operating,” Abad said.

Abad visited the striking farmers on Tuesday.

SOURCE: ABS-CBN News Online, only-voluntary-land-transfer-6-month-carp-extension

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