Arroyo to bat for CARP extension

By Christine Avendaño
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 01:07:00 06/01/2008

WITH LESS THAN TWO WEEKS TO GO BEFORE the country’ Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) expires, President Macapagal-Arroyo is ready to certify as urgent a new bill extending land redistribution for five years, Presidential Management Staff Secretary Cerge Remonde said Saturday.

“The President will certify the bill as urgent now that the House committee on agrarian reform has passed it,” Remonde said in a phone interview.

Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel Jr., however, said certifying the bill at this late hour did not seem realistic and government officials had yet to explain and account for the funds they spent on land acquisition and distribution.

Pimentel said he did not think it would be possible to pass a CARP extension bill before its expiration on June 10 because the Senate committee on agrarian reform was still hearing the measure. The committee is headed by Sen. Greg Honasan who is linked to the administration bloc.

“As a matter of fact, Senator Honasan told me that it might not be possible to come up with a report and then have time left to debate that report in the next several days,’’ Pimentel told reporters after the Sulo Hotel press forum yesterday. “It looks bad at this point.”

Some senators are bucking the extension, arguing that the program was ineffective.

Speaker Prospero Nograles, on the other hand, promised his “best effort” in seeing the bill passed before Congress adjourns on June 13. But he said nothing would come of their efforts “if the Senate opposes CARP.”

But “no, it’s not dead yet,” he said in a phone interview.

He added: “If this is certified as urgent by the President, the Senate can adopt the House version if they will agree with [its provisions]. And then we can go into the bicameral conference committee.”

Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman, principal author and sponsor of the measure, said he wrote President Arroyo only on Friday to certify the measure as urgent.

Legislation is needed to continue the acquisition and distribution (LAD) component of CARP. The authors are seeking to extend the LAD by at least five years to cover the distribution of 1.1 million hectares of agricultural land.

Doubtful about Senate

Rodolfo Bueno, director of the Bureau of Land Acquisition and Distribution of the Department of Agriculture, was not optimistic the Senate would approve its version before adjournment.

In case Congress fails to pass the legislation, Bueno said the DAR would ask both chambers to issue a joint resolution authorizing it to use the 2008 budget for land acquisition and distribution.

“Hopefully, they can issue a joint resolution even just extending the implementation up to December while working on the bill for the rest of the 14th Congress,” he said later in an ambush interview.

“We just need the authority to spend,” he said.

The DAR hopes to distribute 300,000 hectares out of the 1.1 million hectares this year, according to Bueno.

Where did DAR funds go?

Pimentel said he was backing the extension, but lamented that DAR Secretary Nasser Pangandaman had so far failed to fully account for the disposition of the CARP funds.

He said he had asked Pangandaman to submit a report, but received only a two-page, incomplete document from him.

“My goodness, they can’t just send me a two-page letter, including the cover letter, merely stating ‘money received, money spent.’ I think it’s sheer foolishness,’’ he said.

“I want CARP to be extended, but in a reasonable manner. They shouldn’t use it to make more money. That’s not right,’’ he added.

Meanwhile, farmers from San Juan, Batangas, yesterday denounced Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita for issuing an order allowing the conversion of 124-hectares of agricultural land into an ecotourism estate.

Hypocrisy, not serious

In a statement, farmers belonging to Laiya-Ibabao Samahang Magsasaka (Lisamag), who are petitioning for distribution of the property, said Ermita’s order “betrays Malacañang’s hypocrisy and lack of seriousness” about the land conversion moratorium.

“To call for a moratorium while approving land conversion is patently hypocritical,” said Lisamag president Vicente Ayap. He claimed a conversion order was granted to Hennessy Development Corp. even though the company’s registration had been revoked by the Securities and Exchange Commission in 2003.


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