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Agrarian reform at the crossroads

Mar. 02, 2013 at 12:01am
Farmer-groups and activists have recently staged rallies and demonstrations calling for the resignation of the Agrarian Reform Secretary Virgilio “Gil” De Los Reyes for his alleged underperformance and incompetence. Critics put the good secretary to task for his supposed “dismal record” as head of the agrarian reform department. According to them, the secretary himself admitted that the department redistributed only about 25 percent of its target of around 180,000 hectares for the entire year. What puts his critics on pins and needles is the secretary’s own admission that DAR will not be able to redistribute the remaining LAD inventory, around 321,974 hectares of land, by the end of CARPER on June 2014.

The decision by the farmers to resort to protest actions is understandable. More than two decades after the passage of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law (CARP) in 1988 and its extension law, the CARPER which was promulgated on August 7, 2009, many farmer-beneficiaries have yet to be given their certificates of land ownership award.  They are apprehensive that DAR will not complete the redistribution of all “CARP-able” agricultural lands by the time CARPER ends in 2014 and leave them out in the cold. To allay their fears, the secretary explained that Sec. 30, R.A. 9700 would show that farmer-beneficiaries can still obtain their CLOAs even beyond 2014 provided that cases remain pending on June 30, 2014. This means that these pending cases will be allowed to proceed to their finality and be executed even beyond such date. According to the secretary, the department is working double time to issue Notice of Coverage, which is the initiatory process for the compulsory acquisition of private agricultural lands, before 2014 so that even as Carper expires, these can still be executed.

In its Report entitled “For the Record: Report on the state of Agrarian Reform, January 2013” dated 4 February 2013 which came out as an answer to the issues being hurled by its critics, the department clarified that around 76 percent of lands distributed from 1972-2012 involved government-owned lands (GOL/KKK lands and settlements) or lands distributed through voluntary modes of acquisition. These types of lands were easier to acquire because they were less contentious and less tedious to acquire and redistribute. In contrast, according to the Report, the remaining lands subject to redistribution at present are the “more difficult, more tedious and more contentious. These include problematic cases because of technical and legal complexities, like titles that require judicial reconstitution and inaccurate technical descriptions in titles.

I am aware that the Secretary De Los Reyes’ critics question the accuracy of this report by DAR. It should not be difficult to get to the bottom of the facts but it can only be done in an atmosphere of dialogue and mutual respect.

Undoubtedly, at the start of agrarian reform in 1988, most of the lands slated for redistribution were those covered by voluntary coverage. It can be expected therefore that as the program winds down, the more difficult cases would be left at the tail end of the program. Without belittling their accomplishments, Secretary De los Reyes’ predecessors easily achieved their targets because they had the good fortune of dealing with easily acquired lands; those voluntarily surrendered by their owners and government lands.  But this is not the case for Sec. De los Reyes who has to deal with the more complex, tedious and contentious cases under his watch.

As already explained, the bulk of the remaining lands for redistribution, which are subject to compulsory coverage, are the contentious ones. It does not require a lot of explanation to say that landowners who are subject to compulsory coverage are more or less unwilling to part with their landholdings. They will not therefore allow the farmer-beneficiaries to take their landholdings sitting down. It is safe to assume that they would use their resources, legal or otherwise, to thwart any and all attempts by the farmer-beneficiaries and the DAR officials from implementing the law.

I personally know Secretary De Los Reyes. A determined man who believes in a faith that does justice, he will leave no stone unturned until he accomplishes his goals. With his impeccable credentials and track record as an agrarian reform specialist and advocate, I am sure President Aquino cannot hope to find a more capable man. Nor can the President find one more willing to tackle this difficult task knowing that he has to work within an imperfect system in order to accomplish an imperfect end.

That the redistribution of agricultural lands in the country is nearing completion can be felt with DAR’s recent announcement that around 6,212 farm workers will receive parcels of land from the partitioned 4,335 hectares sugar plantation in Hacienda Luisita. This after years of protracted litigation where finally the Supreme Court, in a landmark decision, ordered the distribution of the hacienda to the farmer-beneficiaries with corresponding just compensation to the Cojuangco-Aquino. Needless to say, the agrarian reform chief is tasked to ensure that the final distribution of this land is implemented in accordance with the Supreme Court ruling and the agrarian reform law. Already, questions have been raised against the approach of DAR on this distribution. The solution however is to address those questions and not to change horses in the middle of the river.

Agrarian reform is a social justice and economic development issue of the highest importance to the country. Let us work together to get this done.

Facebook Page: Dean Tony La Viña Twitter: tonylavs
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