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Agrarian Reform Agenda: Uncertain under P-Noy’s Administration

Agrarian Reform Agenda: Uncertain under P-Noy’s Administration

Jan 14, 2012

Agrarian Reform Agenda: Uncertain under P-Noy’s Administration? by Carmina Flores-Obanil and Mary Ann Manahan

“No, we’re not going to. I think it would be irresponsible because I feel that continuing what we have here is the way to go. Sugar farming has to be; it’s the kind of business that has to be done plantation-style.” -    Fernando Cojuangco (when asked about Hacienda Luisita’s distribution), -    New York Times interview, March 14, 2010 “Kinausap ko yung pamilya ko, ang habol namin yung kapakanan ng aming mga kasamahan po dun at ilipat yung mga asset sa kanila. Ang problema lang po kung paano ililipat ng wala na pong utang dun sa mga aming kasamahan dun.” (I have already talked to my relatives, we are concerned about the welfare of the farmers there and we want to transfer the assets to the farmers. The only problem is how we will transfer the assets without passing on the debts that have been incurred.) - President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III, 9 February 2010

The statement of Fernando Cojuangco, businessman and cousin of President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III, on the proposed distribution of Hacienda Luisita which contradicts President Noynoy Aquino’s own position, and the president’s own misgivings about transferring his family’s landholding because of its debt problem raises doubts that agrarian reform will be thoroughly implemented much less completed under the new Aquino administration.  Further fanning such uncertainties was the sheer absence of reference to Hacienda Luisita, and to agrarian reform, during his inaugural speech. The truth is Hacienda Luisita remains (and will always be, until there will be a decisive action) the litmus test of President Noynoy’s presidency. It was his mother’s chip on the shoulder and his own “ghost from Christmas’ past”. If he will redistribute Hacienda Luisita during his first 100-days, this will deliver a very clear signal that his administration is serious about poverty alleviation and social justice. Doing otherwise would send a clear signal to big landowners that they can continue evading the program. His action or inaction for this “unfinished business” will be the clearest indicator of how agrarian reform will fare in the next six years. A Five-year Deadline for Land Distribution The Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program extension with reforms (CARPER) or Republic Act No. 9700, which was enacted last August 2009, provided government the much-needed time extension for implementing agrarian reform. However, it was very specific that the land acquisition and distribution (LAD) component of the program must be completed by June 30, 2014. It provided an exact schedule or “phasing” for LAD, specifically for the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR), the main agency tasked to immediately distribute large private agricultural landholdings (see Table 1). According to former Sen. Gregorio Honasan, former chair of the Senate Agrarian Reform Committee, the schedule provides a definite deadline and mandate for DAR to complete the LAD component of the program.

Table 1. Schedule of Distribution under CARPER

Phasing

Land Category

First Phase – Start on July 1, 2009 and ends on June 30,2012 ·      All landholdings 24 has and above (which have been issued notice of coverage by December 10, 2008) ·      All lands under VLT (voluntary land transfer) and VOS (voluntary offer to sell)
Second Phase – Starts on July 1, 2012 and ends on June 30, 2014 ·      All landholdings 24 has and above (without notice of coverage) ·      All landholdings below 24 but above 10 hectares (which have been issued notice of coverage by December 10, 2008)
Third Phase – Starts on July 1, 2013 and ends on June 30, 2014 (will start only after 90% of the two previous phases have been achieved) ·      All lands below 10 hectares (in excess of the allowed 5-hectare retention
To be covered anytime and is not subject of any phasing schedule ·      Public agricultural lands
Source: Republic Act 9700 What is lacking from the phasing is the accountability mechanism should DAR fail to deliver, including measures that can be undertaken against the delaying tactics and resistance of landowners. The burden seems to be resting on the tenacity and ability of organized farmers, peoples’ organizations, civil society, and advocates pushing for the immediate and effective implementation of CARPER on the ground. Given the lackluster performance of DAR a year after CARPER was passed (and its historical performance), the prospects for completing the LAD component of the program seem grim. As of June 2009, DAR reported that it was only able to distribute 56,495 hectares of the 1,044,555 hectares of their remaining target. http://www.dar.gov.ph/pdf_files/planningservice_2009/2009%20ANNUAL%20REPORT_PDF.pdf) This is a measly five percent of the total target that needs to be distributed in the next five years or a mere 27 percent if the target (at least 208, 911 hectares should be distributed per year) will be divided equally into five years. (http://www.dar.gov.ph/pdf_files/stat_09/status%20of%20land%20distribution%20june%202009.pdf) In the same report, DAR was also able to implement leasehold in 12,296 hectares of agricultural lands that secured the tenure status of 5,740 agrarian reform beneficiaries (ARBs) in landowners’ retained areas and in areas which have yet to be covered under CARP.  The total area covered under leasehold is 1.698 million hectares benefiting 1.196 million tenant-farmers. DAR was also able to install 5,808 uninstalled ARBs in 6,954 hectares of agricultural lands. While these figures are a welcome development, the capacity of DAR to install beneficiaries remains under question. The lack of a complete picture on the total number of ARBs who await installment is sending the wrong signal and creating doubts about the agency’s ability to deliver on its mandate. Private agricultural lands are deemed as the “meat” of the program, with the remaining balance composed of the most contested landholdings in the Visayas and Mindanao. Implementation of the program in the Negros Island is already a big challenge, to say the least. Add to these the difficulty of implementing reforms in agrarian hotspots such as Bicol and Western Visayas, covering almost 34 percent of the balance. These are areas where landlord resistance is most severe and marked with intense agrarian-related violence and conflicts. With the next five years providing a narrow window of opportunity for reforms, the ability and political will of the new secretary of DAR Virgilio delos Reyes will be put to a test. Implementing Other Progressive Provisions The delay in crafting the implementing rules and regulations (IRRs) for CARPER was another setback in its implementation, in particular of its progressive provisions. There have been four IRRs issued so far, which were only finalized by November last year, making the implementation more routine rather than based on the progressive provisions of the law. The IRRs, which provide policy and operational directions on how certain projects will be implemented, include: •    Administrative Order No. 2, series of 2009 entitled "Rules and Procedures governing the Acquisition and Distribution of agricultural lands under RA 6657 as amended by RA 9700;" •    AO 3, Series of 2009 - Rules and Procedures governing the Cancellation of Registered Certificate of Land Ownership Awards (CLOAs), Emancipation Patents (EPs), and other titles issued under any Agrarian Reform Program; •    AO 4, Series of 2009 - Rules and Regulations implementing Section 19 of RA 9700 (Jurisdiction on Referral of Agrarian Dispute), and; •    AO 5, Series of 2009 - Implementing Rules and Regulations on Support Services Delivery under Republic Act No. 9700. Unfortunately, a lot of those involved in drafting the 2009 law, who are more knowledgeable where the progressive provisions are rooted, were not involved or were marginalized in the process of crafting the IRRS. This marginalization created wrong interpretations of the provisions. For example, the provision on support services provided for under CARPER provides: (1) an initial capital which is a subsidy for new agrarian reform beneficiaries (ARBs); and (2) socialized credit for all agrarian reform beneficiaries. However, debates ensued during the crafting of the IRR on Support Services because Undersecretary for Support Services Rosalinda
Box 1: Progressive Provisions in CARPER CARP was given a new leash for another five years and a funding of PhP 150 billion. Key meaningful reforms include the following: •    prioritization of large landholdings exceeding 50 hectares and 24-50 hectares for land acquisition and distribution; •    reinstatement of the “heart and soul of CARP”: compulsory acquisition the main mode of acquisition, and removal of the Voluntary Land Transfer (VLT), which  has been a mode for land owners to evade the program; •    upholding the indefeasibility of the Certificate of Landownership Awards (CLOAs) and Emancipation Patents, meaning once the land has been registered to the farmer, nobody can  claim that the land is not his or hers •    upholding the legal standing and personality of agrarian reform beneficiaries, meaning the courts cannot dismiss any land cases because the farmers’ do not have ‘legal standing’ •    removal of non-redistributive schemes like the Stock Distribution Option (SDOs) •    provision for an integrated support services with 40 percent budget allocation, and 70 percent of which are allocated for seed fund and startup capital for agricultural production of new agrarian reform beneficiaries, and credit facilities for existing ARBs and leaseholders •    recognition of rural women as agrarian reform beneficiaries, and provision on equal support services and consideration of their well-being; •    prohibition on the conversion of irrigable and irrigated lands and automatic CARP coverage of lands targeted for conversion if the conversion plan has not been implemented after five years; •    upholding DAR’s exclusive jurisdiction over agrarian reform-related cases. Source: Manahan, Mary Ann. “CARPER and the Continuing Struggle for Land” in Focus on the Philippines, June 2009.
Bistoyong’s had interpreted that initial capital was not a subsidy despite the clear stipulation under the law that it should be.  It took several discussions including the explanation of CARPER champions Rep. Edcel Lagman and former Rep. Risa Hontiveros-Barraquel, before such misunderstandings were resolved. Reenergizing the Bureaucracy Clearly, given the limited amount of time, the five-year extension period should not be “business as usual” for DAR and other CARP implementing agencies. While substantive measures have been secured through a new CARP extension law, the effective, equitable, and efficient implementation of CARP is equally, if not more, important. One critical requirement is for DAR to be transparent and accountable. Doing research on CARP issues has been very difficult with the lack of access to information in DAR’s custody. For instance, DAR has been very restrictive on information on land conversion applications and approvals. Access to information must be ensured to allow the effective monitoring of key aspects of implementation, such as the budget and expenditures for land acquisition and distribution as well as for support services and credit facilities, the identification of target beneficiaries and the status of disputes. It is also hoped that access to information will provide a counterweight to corruption within DAR. To build trust in DAR’s capacity to make agrarian reform succeed during the extension period, DAR must start confidence building measures that have been long overdue. In the adjudication of cases, it must show immediate result in land acquisition and distribution flashpoints and languishing high impact cases, such as the Hacienda Luisita, Cojuangco and Floirendo cases. Resolving these cases, in favor of the beneficiaries would serve as litmus test of DAR’s commitment to finish land acquisition and distribution. DAR and DENR need to issue the notice of coverage to all remaining landholdings to start the coverage process, and eventually complete land acquisition and distribution.  While DAR claims it has issued notice of coverage to all the remaining balance, a recent survey of land tenure improvement cases reveals that the department has been slow in implementation, particularly in the process of coverage. These cases involve 42,651 hectares of private agricultural lands that have yet to be distributed to 11,315 organized farmer beneficiaries. The cases involve CARP coverage problems (60 percent), installation cases (20 percent), agrarian law implementation cases on conversion, exemption, and inclusion/exclusion (15 percent), and the remaining five percent comprise other CARP implementation issues such as subdivision and relocation. If the rules on coverage will be strictly followed, DAR only needs sixty (60) days to complete the process of coverage. Most of these cases started the coverage process in 2004. Political and Economic Will It cannot be overstated that the agrarian reform challenge facing the country today is how to complete the CARP’s land acquisition and distribution (LAD) phase, ensure economic viability and political empowerment of beneficiaries, and usher a lasting era of social justice. What has made CARP implementation difficult in the last 20 years is the fact that it has never been a priority of the previous post-Marcos administrations, from President Corazon Aquino’s until GMA’s.  It was Cory Aquino’s centerpiece program (but now even Fernando Cojuangco is saying that her deceased aunt and former President did not declare it as a centerpiece program) but it had been riddled with loopholes, beginning with Hacienda Luisita’s exemption from coverage. A lot of political will is therefore needed to finally complete the mandate given to the government under the law and to combat the tactics of landowners who have evaded the distribution of their landholdings under CARP in the last 20 years. For CARP to finally see its completion, the program needs not only government’s political but also its economic will. A program merely paying lip service to social justice and has been bogged down by contradictory economic policies is doomed to fail in fulfilling the mandate of the Constitution. The much needed DAR-DA-DENR convergence is therefore a welcome development. Dubbed as the “countryside development czars”, Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala, Agrarian Reform Secretary De los Reyes, and Environment Secretary Ramon Paje recently made a commitment to synchronize and complement their respective agencies’ efforts under the “National Convergence Initiative”, which aims to provide continued “support, faster and more effective services for the benefit of small farmers, fisher folk, agrarian reform beneficiaries, uplanders and indigenous peoples, and other rural folk.” There had been other convergence efforts before that failed. The challenge therefore under P-Noy’s administration is to ensure that such convergences work and becomes a platform that facilitates the real and meaningful participation and involvement of the rural sector. The extension period of CARP is a narrow window of opportunity for the country. There is no other time but now for President Aquino to rise to the occasion and finish what his mother had started to do and could not finish. What better way to do this than to begin in his own backyard. His swift action will truly give flesh to his own words, when he referred to the people as his “boss”—“Kayo ang boss ko, kaya’t hindi maaaring hindi ako makinig sa mga utos ninyo” (You’re my boss, I cannot afford not to listen to your demands). - FOP References: http://noynoy.ph/blog/2010/02/09/noynoy-hacienda-luisita-distributed-to-farmers-by-2014/accessed July 21, 2010. http://www.da.gov.ph/newindex2.php?pass=News_events/2010/jul/jul07_2010c.html, accessed July 21, 2010.    (Published in Focus on the Philippines July 2010: http://focusweb.org/oldphilippines/content/view/442/52/)

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