BM’s Reply to PDI’s Editorial

The Opinion Editor

Philippine Daily Inquirer

Dear Editor:

In the news article “Party-list solons clash over CARP” published in page 6 of the Inquirer’s June 13 issue and the subsequent editorial titled “Unparliamentary? ” published on June 16, what was quoted and highlighted were our personal reactions to Akbayan party list representative Risa Hontiveros-Baraquel ‘s wild accusation that we colluded with the landlords in Congress on the issue of agrarian reform. Unfairly left out from the reports were the more important issues that we raised on the floor in Congress regarding the substantial differences between proponents of the government’s bogus agrarian reform law like Akbayan, and those who, like us, are pushing for a more genuine program.

It is of public knowledge that since its inception, Bayan Muna has consistently rejected the government’s Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) as a betrayal of our farmers’ just demand for genuine agrarian reform. Since we reject CARP itself, then we naturally oppose its extension. Only a malicious mind would label our well-established stand as a product of collusion with the landlords in Congress.

As early as 1988, the principal author of the CARP law in the 8th Congress, Rep. Bonifacio Gillego, already declared agrarian reform dead after the landlord bloc maimed and mangled his bill. Today, his worst fears have been confirmed. After 20 years, CARP has neither broken the prevalence of land monopoly in the country nor emancipated the peasantry from poverty and feudal oppression. Instead, CARP has deceived and oppressed the peasants through tokenism and the reconcentration of land ownership.

Unfortunately, the CARP extension bill (HB 4077), which is being pushed by the Arroyo government in connivance with groups like Hontiveros-Baraquel ‘s Akbayan, does not address CARP’s fundamental defects. Both CARP and HB 4077 lead to the further indebtedness of farmer-beneficiarie s, maintain the limited coverage of the existing program and worse, allow landlords to continue using the law itself to evade land distribution through notorious stratagems like land-use conversion, stock distribution options, corporative schemes, leasehold arrangements, and contract growing, among others.

The Arroyo government and Akbayan want Congress to extend a program that basically converts poor tenant-farmers into mortgage holders burdened with a 30-year debt serviceable at 6% interest per annum.

Surely, this runs contrary to the principle of social justice and the emancipation of peasants. In fact, thousands of emancipation patents and certificates of land transfer have been revoked because of the poor peasants’ failure to pay the amortization. Many more CARP lands have been illegally sold or re-mortgaged.

How can Akbayan and Hontiveros-Baraquel accuse us of colluding with landlords when we have, in fact, been pushing for a more comprehensive and radical agrarian reform measure under House Bill No. 3059? At the heart of our proposal is the redistribution of land through state expropriation that will undergo due process. The farmers shall receive the land free. The state will pay the landowners. Only if the land is sullied, meaning illegally acquired, will confiscation be in order.

Furthermore, owner-beneficiaries should till the land and will be prohibited from selling or transferring it except to their heirs who should also be willing to work the land. This is to ensure that the land will be used for the purpose for which it was given.

Akbayan and the landlords are united in saying our Genuine Agrarian Reform Bill (GARB) or HB 3059 is a “mere stewardship program.” This grossly distorts and weakens the universally- accepted concept of “land to the tiller.” Akbayan’s idea of giving land reform beneficiaries the right to sell and transfer the land will encourage farmers to sell or mortgage, not to till, the land.

Their charges that GARB is unconstitutional and confiscatory is a gross misreading of our measure and a pro-landlord interpretation of the Constitution which explicitly allows the state to exercise its power of eminent domain in the national interest. This would logically include the pursuit of social justice through genuine agrarian reform.

For these reasons, we deemed it proper to move for regional hearings to determine our farmers’ views on both proposals. This was the first time that such regional consultations on the CARP extension and GARB were done, contrary to Rep. Baraquel’s claims that such hearings had already been held. Again, to ascribe this to our collusion with landlords is downright absurd.

Akbayan and its representative’ s statements were not only irresponsible and unparliamentary but worse, baseless and malicious accusations meant to gain media mileage for the extension of the bogus CARP at our expense. Thus, we were compelled to take to the floor in Congress and are writing this letter to set the record straight.

Representatives Satur Ocampo and Teddy Casiño

Bayan Muna Party-List

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