published in The Philippine Online Chronicles, Sunday, 29 June 2014
“65 years old na ako. Araw-araw nagbubungkal pa rin ako para sa pagkain. (I am 65 years old. I still till the land everyday for food),” said Nanay Leoning, a farmer from Brgy. Mapalacsiao, Hacienda Luisita, Tarlac. Her small parcel of land in the hacienda is currently under dispute following the distribution of Certificate of Land Ownership Awards (CLOAs) by the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) to farmworker-beneficiaries under the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP).
Last year, Nanay Leoning’s small parcel of land was raffled off and awarded to another farmer-beneficiary as part of the DAR’s implementation of the landmark 2012 Supreme Court decision ordering the distribution of 4,500 hectares of land to 6,296 farmworker-beneficiaries in Hacienda Luisita. “Mas masahol pa sa sabong ang ginagawa nila sa amin. Nangako sila ng pamamahagi ng lupa pero kami-kami ang pinag-aaway nila dahil sa iskemang ito’. (What they’re doing to us is worse than a cock fight. They promised to give us land but this distribution scheme is dividing us and turning us against each other).”
“My family and their families before them have been tilling and cultivating this land for decades, longer than when CARP was implemented. We cannot just give up our claim to it by a simple stroke of the ‘tambiolo (wheel-of-fortune)’. Pawis, dugo at luha ang puhunan namin sa lupaing ito (We have invested our sweat, blood and tears to cultivate this land),”
Nanay Leoning, like countless farmers and farmworkers in Hacienda Luisita and other vast farmlands in the country, is testament to the failure of the Philippine government’s land reform program.
CARP, or Republic Act 6657, was passed in 1988 by former Pres. Corazon Aquino as the centerpiece of her administration’s professed social justice legislative agenda. It was initially effective for 10 years and was extended for another 10. By its deadline in 2008, some 1.2 million hectares of agricultural lands remained undistributed to farmers. It was further extended through Republic Act 9700, more popularly known as CARP Extension with Reforms (CARPER). CARPER is set to expire on June 30, 2014.
According to DAR, from 1987 to June 2009, CARP had covered 2,321,064 hectares of private agricultural lands and 1,727,054 hectares of non-private agricultural lands, or a total of 4,048,118 hectares distributed to 2,396,857 beneficiaries. From 2002 to 2013, it said, it had already issued 67,577 notices of coverage (NOCs) for 628,745 hectares for complusory acquisition. An NOC mandatorily places an agricultural landholding under the CARP.
Further, the DAR said that, under CARPER, it had distributed 196,055 hectares of private agricultural lands and 209,151 hectares of non-private agricultural lands from July 2009 to December 2012, awarded to 210,586 beneficiaries. The DAR said that it is geared to distribute 5,635 NOCs covering 48,344 hectares by the June 30, 2014 deadline.
According to a study by think-tank Ibon Foundation, however, land reform and distribution in the Philippines had been on a steady decline since 1972, when then Pres. Ferdinand Marcos passed Presidential Decree No. 27 that created the DAR. During that time, fully-owned lands accounted for 63 percent of total agricultural farmlands. By 2002, the number had decreased to around 50 percent. The Annual Poverty Indicators Survey (APIS) of 2002 also reported that only 11 percent of families who owned lands other than residential properties obtained their land ownership through CARP.
In terms of post-Marcos regimes, the BS Aquino administration is now at the helm of implementing the longest-running, and least successful, agrarian reform program in the world – 26 years since the implementation of CARP and 41 years since Marcos’ PD No. 27. It comes as no surprise that despite protests and declaration from farmers that CARP had failed them, a haciendero president like BS Aquino is still now advancing the passage of yet another law extending the effectivity of the CARPER.
Pres. BS Aquino had already certified as urgent for the next Congress House Bill 4296 that seeks to extend CARPER until 2016. According to data from the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas, almost 95 percent of the estimated 900 million hectares of land covered by CARPER has not yet been distributed to farmers as of the second half of 2013. Seventy-five percent (75%) of these lands comprise of haciendas and hacienda-type farms located in 25 provinces in the country. DAR Sec. Virgilio delos Reyes himself admitted that at least 500,000 hectares with NOCs will remain undistributed by the June 30, 2014 deadline.
The most controversial land up for distribution is the Aquino-Cojuangco-owned Hacienda Luisita.
From 1988 to 2004, CARP allowed the implementation of a sneaky circumvention of land distribution in Hacienda Luisita through the Stock Distribution Option (SDO). The SDO declared Luisita farm-workers as “stockholders”, in effect re-concentrating the lands up for distribution back to the hands and ownership of the Aquino-Cojuangcos.
Through the SDO, the Aquino-Cojuangcos were able to re-organize Hacienda Luisita into a corporation, and in lieu of subjecting its lands to distribution, ownership of the agricultural portions of the hacienda were transferred to the corporation; and shares of stock, instead of land, were distributed to Luisita farmworkers. The unjust SDO was met with militant protests by the farmworkers resulting in the violent dispersal of their strike, now infamously known as the Hacienda Luisita Massacre, that killed seven strikers on November 16, 2004. Several other peasant leaders, activists and advocates also became victims of harassment and extra-judicial killings in the succeeding years.
Moreover, because CARP gives absolute premium to the right of landlords to so-called “just compensation”, the BS Aquino government had graciously disbursed a generous sum of Php471.5 million to the Aquino-Cojuangco family the 4,500-hectare supposedly distributed lands. This, even before any minimal land transfer to the tenant-beneficiaries could be completed.
The Aquino-Cojuangcos have cleverly maneuvered to exempt Hacienda Luisita from land acquisition and distribution over the years. Their most recent scheme was carried out on more than 350 hectares of agricultural land being disputed by Luisita farm-workers and the Tarlac Development Corporation (TADECO), the Luisita estate administrator . The Aquino-Cojuangcos cunningly declared that the said lands are not covered by CARP because they have been classified as a “residential area” in 1985 by the Tarlac City Council. Last December 2013, the DAR issued an NOC subjecting said lands for distribution. TADECO, however, disregarded the NOC and has since been employing all sorts of attacks intended to expel farmers who have been tilling the area since 2005 — bulldozing and setting fire to kubols (nipa huts), crops and even houses set up by farm-workers asserting their right to the land. The DAR, for its part, could not do anything and has ironically cited principles of the CARP in defense of TADECO, stipulating that NOCs do not necessarily mean automatic land acquisition and distribution.
Now, after 26 years, CARP remains a failure, an insult to farmers and a bogus land reform scheme. The extensions it had been given, including the CARPER, underlines its bankruptcy. Hacienda Luisita is not an isolated case but rather a prototype of the very antithesis of land reform. A similar “tambiolo system” is being implemented in Hacienda Dolores in Pampanga; Hacienda Looc in Batangas is being land-grabbed by business tycoon Henry Sy and Fil-Estate Lands; Haciendas Arloc and Ilimnan are being claimed by the governor of Negros Occidental. Likewise, farmers in these haciendas are holders and beneficiaries of CLOAs but they are still currently engaged in intense land disputes and struggles.
These land struggles intensified under the BS Aquino regime despite statements by DAR and Malacanang that claim otherwise. The fact is CARP’s failure is rooted in its very orientation. It is not about free land distribution, which is the core program of any genuine land reform. It is not pro-farmer because it gives primacy to landlord compensation by the state whilst requiring farmer-beneficiaries to pay for the very land that they have been tilling for generations. What it is, fundamentally, is an agreement and connivance between the government, landlords and big corporations, with the government successfully acting as comprador.
And CARP, CARPER or any so-called land reform especially under BS Aquino’s haciendero presidency is nothing but “promised” land to tillers, and a smokescreen for land-grabbing, land conversion, corruption and social injustice in favor of the “kamag-anak, kaklase at kabarilan”.