Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Land (In)justice

Republic Act No. 8532, which extended the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program funding from 1998 to 2008, expired in June last year.Because funding expired before land acquisition and distribution has been completed, Congress sought to extend its funding by issuing two consecutive joint resolutions which were intended to cover the periods July 1 to December 31, 2008 and January 1 to June 30, 2009. These resolutions were promulgated/enacted to ostensibly allow Congress ample time to act on proposed bills HB 4077 and SB 2666.

The Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law’s animus is derived from the highest law of the land. The 1987 Philippine Constitution clearly manifests that it is the State’s duty to “promote comprehensive rural development and agrarian reform (Article 2, Section 21)” and to “undertake the just distribution of all agricultural lands (Article 13, Section 4).” CARL is the legal basis for carrying out agrarian reform in general and the land acquisition and distribution process in particular. Four chapters in this landmark legislation directly address the LAD process.

There are three main modes of private lands acquisition, namely the Voluntary Offer-to-Sell, Voluntary Land Transfer and Compulsory Acquisition. CA implies that in theory, private lands can and are appropriated by the state despite landlord opposition. Both the VOS and VLT are schemes which operate in the environment of the State’s legitimate power to acquire landholdings. CARL nevertheless provides incentives for land owners to voluntarily sell their landholdings to the state with just compensation.

In the Jan 27, 2009 hearing of the House Committee on Agrarian Reform, DAR Secretary Pangandaman presented rough estimates of land acquisition accomplishments as of December 2008:

VOS – 598,519 hectares
VLT – 705,634 hectares
CA – 284,753 hectares

Since 2002 there has been a trend towards voluntary modes of acquisition, veering away from CA. LAD under CA has been painfully slow in the last ten years. This is testament not only to the slow and unwieldy bureaucratic process but also to the resistance of landowners.

DAR estimates that of the total LAD balance of 1.2 million hectares, eighty percent are concentrated in five provinces - Negros Occidental, the two Camarines provinces, and the two Lanao provinces.

On December 17, 2008 legislators signed the House Joint Resolution 19 (now HJR1). It extends the funding coverage of CARP for six more months to complete the acquisition and distribution of private lands while Congress mulls the pending agrarian reform bills. This extension is limited to holdings whose owners have already signified wanting to sell their lands through the VOS and VLT schemes. The resolution also continues funding for support services to agrarian reform beneficiaries.

The resolution has in essence stopped funding for LAD under CA. In January the Department of Agrarian Reform issued a memorandum circular which intended to stop LAD under the CA scheme since funding has essentially been stopped by the HJR 19. The resolution has lapsed into law on January 30, after President Arroyo chose not to sign it.

There are two vital components of land reform - state acquisition of lands and their distribution and also the provision of support to make agricultural production viable and sustainable. Both components are dependent on state action - or inaction. HJR 19 manifests the need for time to further assess various studies proposed by the academe and researchers for “appropriate amendments to the existing agrarian reform law.” The next six months should then be used for legislators to resurrect the CARP bill with extension and reforms.

Agrarian reform is key to not only laying the policy directive to ease inequality and poverty, a largely rural phenomenon but also to raise the country’s agricultural productivity, ensure food security and pave the way to rural modernization.

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