Agrarian reform paralysed under President Aquino

The implementation of land reform under President Benigno Aquino III is “the worst since 1988”, according to the Save Agrarian Reform Alliance (SARA), a national coalition of farmers’ groups and NGOs, including FIAN Philippines, which are campaigning for the implementation of agrarian reform.

“The Aquino administration’s performance in land distribution is the poorest compared to his predecessors”, said Maribel Luzara, president of Hacienda Matias farmers, a case adopted by FIAN. “With only two years left before the agrarian reform program expires, his government will likely fail to distribute the remaining bulk of 1 million hectares of agricultural lands. These include big contentious landholdings controlled by the elite in the Philippines, including his family’s Hacienda Luisita”, said Renato Lalic, president of FARM-Luisita.

Anniversary of Land Reform

Hundreds of farmers are marking the 24th anniversary of the land reform law with indignation over the snail-paced implementation of the program. Mass actions by farmers started on June 5 with a protest at the Department of Agrarian Reform against Aquino for paralysing land distribution. Activities carried out on June 13 with a march on Malacanang by about 1,000 farmers from different provinces. Urban poor groups supported by FIAN Phillippines joined the march as a multi-sectoral protest for land rights and the right to food.

Since taking office, Aquino has not demonstrated any serious commitment to complete the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) which was enacted by his late mother, Corazon Aquino, and is now called CARPER. Moreover, the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) – the agency mandated to implement CARPER –  lags far behind of its official targets of distributing 220,000 hectares annually. This apparent lack of political will has fatal consequences for more than 1.1 million farmers who are still struggling for their rightful access to land. In the past years, peasant leaders have been killed by armed goons hired by landlords. Rural communities also face the threat of eviction from lands they have been tilling for generations as well as the reversal of decisions and land conversions. 

Poor implementation of land distribution law

In Bondoc Peninsula, coconut plantation tenants assisted by FIAN are facing the uncertainty of redistribution of Hacienda Matias, a 1,716-hectare coconut plantation they are entitled to own. Six-hundred-thirty-nine hectares have already been bought by the Land Bank. However, the DAR deferred the redistribution as a consequence of Administrative Order 07, released last year, despite a cash deposit made by the Land Bank for the property. The order prevents DAR from distributing lands with pending cases or legal protests instigated by landlords. Curiously, DAR Secretary Gil de los Reyes recently said AO07 could fast-track CARPER and announced that DAR is “still on schedule in acquiring and distributing lands”. In previous statements, however, DAR admitted that it would not be able to complete CARPER within the remaining two years. Such confusing statements heighten impatience and anger among farmers’ groups, who feel they are being fooled by the current administration. SARA members have called on de los Reyes to resign for being noncommittal to the concerns of landless farmers. 

FIAN calls government to respect its obligations

Access to and control of land is the key to the farmers’ ability to feed themselves and their families. The government clearly fails to protect, respect and fulfil their right to adequate food as it shows no sign of taking land distribution seriously. Members of SARA have condemned the government for being pro-landlord. However, farmer leaders have stated that there is still an opportunity for the current administration to turn the wheel around and erase its reputation as “the worst” performer in land reform. Recently Aquino said he was “committed to completing the land reform program as envisioned by the CARP law”.

FIAN and other SARA members are challenging the president to turn his words into concrete action. He should announce clear agrarian reform targets in his annual State of the Nation Address (SONA) in July, which he has failed to do in previous SONAs. They are challenging Aquino to show political will in immediately dismantling his family’s Hacienda Luisita after the Supreme Court in April ordered the redistribution of the estate to about 6,000 farm workers who have been supported by FIAN Philippines. Meanwhile, farmers groups nationwide are intensifying their campaign for genuine agrarian reform as time is running out.

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