Rough Sailing Expected for Genuine Agrarian Reform Bill


When the sessions of Congress resume on January 19, the progressive party list bloc in the House of Representatives would push anew for House Bill 3059 or the Genuine Agrarian Reform Bill (GARB). Anakpawis Rep. Rafael Mariano said they expect to encounter rough sailing when they push for the bill, but they are not afraid to lose. Mariano believes that the ensuing debate on the bill could put the long-standing demand of the peasantry for a genuine and thoroughgoing land reform program in the national agenda.

BY RONALYN V. OLEA
Bulatlat

When the sessions of Congress would resume on January 19, the progressive party list bloc in the House of Representatives would push anew for House Bill 3059 or the Genuine Agrarian Reform Bill (GARB).

In an interview with Bulatlat, Anakpawis (Toiling Masses) Representative Rafael Mariano said they would call on the House Committee on Agriculture and the House leadership to discuss the bill for a new agrarian reform program. The bill is being sponsored by Representatives from Anakpawis, Bayan Muna (People First) and the Gabriela Women’s Party.

“We expect a continuation of the deliberations and debates on GARB at the committee level. Maganda kung maitulak hanggang plenary,” (It would be good if the discussions reach the plenary.) he said.

Mariano, also chair of the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP of Peasant Movement of the Philippines), said House Bill 4077, which aims to extend the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) for another five years from 2009 to 2013, is problematic.

Enacted on June 10, 1988, Republic Act 6657 the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law of 1988, which aims to institute the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP), was supposed to be implemented for 10 years. Falling short of its targets, the Agrarian Reform Law was extended by the Ramos administration for another ten years. It expired for the second time this June 2008.

“Paano mo i-e-extend ang batas na nag-expire na?” (How would you extend a law that has already expired?) Mariano asked.

In December, the Senate and the House of Representatives adopted Joint Resolution No. 19, extending the 20-year old agrarian reform law for another six months. Joint Resolution 19 removed the compulsory acquisition scheme and deferred the acquisition of lands with pending notices of coverage, like the Arroyo lands in Negros.

Peasant groups denounced the resolution as ‘patently illegal, fatally flawed, grossly unconstitutional and morally bankrupt.’

Mariano said a mere resolution could not extend a law. “They must re-file the bill if they would want to re-enact the CARP. But the Congress must first tackle GARB.”

Mariano reiterated his position that the CARP’s extension would pave the way for more cases of land grabbing. He said the voluntary offer to sell and voluntary land transfer schemes stated in the joint resolution may easily be withdrawn.

He said that from January 1 to June 30, 2009, landlords may file for cancellation of certificates of landownership award (CLOA), or for exemption from CARP coverage or may apply for land-use conversion, among others, to fall within the provision of the said joint resolution deferring acquisition of lands with pending notices of coverage.

It would worsen the agrarian unrest, said Mariano. Land monopoly is the only status quo achieved by the said resolution, he added.

Why not CARP or CARP extension?

Mariano said that the extension or the re-enactment of CARP even in the form of a new bill is not the solution to the problem of landlessness.

Citing the 2008 accomplishment report of the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR), which covers the implementation of two agrarian reform programs, Presidential Decree No. 27 of former President Marcos and the CARP, only 3. 8 million hectares of land have been acquired and distributed. Mariano said that of these, 2.1 million hectares are private agricultural lands. This, he said, is insignificant considering the size of private agricultural lands.

In 1988, when the CARP was promulgated, Mariano said, there were 7.8 million hectares of private agricultural lands measuring 50 hectares and above. Citing data taken from the book “A Captive Land” written by James Putzel, Mariano said these big landholdings constitute 28.5 percent of existing private agricultural lands. These big landholdings, Mariano added, are owned by more than 7,000 landowners.

“Naiiwan ang malalaking ito, nandiyan ang maraming in-exempt sa CARP coverage,” (These big landholdings are still intact, most of them are exempted from CARP coverage.) he said. This means, Mariano asserted, that very few private lands been distributed through the CARP’s compulsory acquisition and distribution.

Mariano said the DAR failed to identify how many of the 50 hectares and above landholdings have been distributed to the farmer-beneficiaries.

“Even if you extend the CARP, supposing the DAR report is correct, 5.5 to 7.5 million hectares of private agricultural lands would remain outside the CARP coverage,” he explained.

Genuine Agrarian Reform Bill

He said the peasants are demanding for a genuine and thoroughgoing land reform program.

The progressive party list bloc, Mariano said, sides with the class interest of peasants in advancing their demand for land ownership. He said the GARB is a response to this demand, with free land distribution as the central goal and with the objective of dismantling land monopoly.

“Hindi pwedeng sabihin na ang mga nagtataguyod ng GARB ay anti-agrarian reform. Pro-agrarian reform, genuine pa nga, fundamental pa nga. Hindi nito sinasagkaan ang land acquistion and distribution,” (Those promoting the GARB could not be accused of being against agrarian reform. On the contrary, we are for agrarian reform, which is genuine and fundamental. The GARB does not place obstacles to land acquisition and distribution.) Mariano said.

Akbayan Party List Representative Risa Hontiveros-Baraquel accused Anakpawis, Bayan Muna and Gabriela Women’s Party as siding with the landlords when the latter voted against the CARP’s extension.

“Sobra at lampas pa nga sa hinihinging palamuting reporma ng Akbayan ang nilalaman ng GARB,” (The provisions of GARB go beyond what is being asked for by the token reforms of Akbayan.) he added.

He said that their call is for free land distribution within the framework of a genuine and thoroughgoing land reform program. They are not for defending CARP, which is bogus.

Land ownership

Mariano said that under the GARB, farmer beneficiaries cannot sell the land they would acquire.

He said this prohibition aims to protect farmers. “We want to remove all factors that would lead to the re-concentration of land to the landlords.”

Mariano said some groups have assailed Anakpawis because the GARB, which it promotes, does not award full ownership of land to the farmers.

Mariano said, “The attributes of land ownership are there. If you remove the land rent and the amortization, farmers would enjoy the full benefits of their produce. Under CARP, the CLOA may be taken back if the farmers fail to pay the amortization.”

See garb-vs-carp
Rough sailing

Mariano admitted that the struggle for the enactment of GARB is encountering rough sailing.

He said further, “Hindi ba kayo takot na matalo? Pwedeng segundaryo na iyon. Bakit si Chief Justice Puno hindi siya takot na nasa minorya siya kahit ang posisyon niya ay posisyon ng malawak na masa, ung sa Neri petition. Tayo pa rito, talagang minoryang minorya ang progressive party list representatives.” (Are we not afraid to lose? That is secondary. Even the Chief Justice was not afraid to take the minority position in the Supreme Court when he took the position of the broad masses in the petition filed by Romulo Neri.)

It would be remembered that the Supreme Court upheld the right of former National Economic Development Authority Executive Director Romulo Neri to invoke executive privilege in refusing to answer questions by the Senate regarding his conversations with President Arroyo regarding the National Broadband Network contract with ZTE of China. During the deliberations on the petition by Neri in the High Court, Chief Justice Reynato Puno voted with the minority and issued a dissenting opinion.

Mariano said many anti-people bills filed at the Lower House have been delayed due to the people’s strong opposition.

“Kung may isang tunay na reporma sa lupa na nakapanukala, hindi agad magagawa ng landowners na ibasura basta-basta iyon ng walang substanyal na debate. At Yung debate na iyon ang pwedeng maglagay uli sa pambansang adyenda talaga ng pangangailangan sa isang tunay na repormang sa lupa,” ( The landlords in Congress could not summarily trash even a genuine agrarian reform bill without substantial debate. The ensuing debate could put the need for a genuine agrarian reform program in the national agenda.) he said.

He said the Congress must now start with the debate on HB 3059. If 1/5 of the members of the Committee [on Agriculture] votes for the bill, then the committee must report this to the plenary. If the chairman of the committee cannot sponsor the bill, Mariano said, he or she could let the authors defend the GARB.

Mariano said, “We are willing to answer all questions during the interpellation. We will not do what they did to us last December.” Mariano was referring to the refusal of the House leadership to accommodate his questions during the deliberation of Joint Resolution No. 19, prompting him and the other members of the progressive party-list bloc to walk out of the session hall. “They denied me my duty to speak as a representative of the peasants.”

Mariano said the primary factor in the deliberation of the GARB is the strong mass campaign for a genuine, thoroughgoing land reform program.

The arenas of struggle

Mariano said that peasants in the countryside continue to achieve victories in their determined campaign for genuine agrarian reform. These include the lowering of land rent, asserting their right to remain in the land despite threats of eviction, increasing their share in the produce, increasing the wage of agricultural workers, among others.

He said many farmers decide to till the land even as the DAR’s hands are tied. He cited as an example the farm workers at the Hacienda Luisita in Tarlac. More than 1,000 hectares of land have been planted with rice and vegetables by the farmers themselves.

Even if the deliberations on HB 3059 have not yet started, the farmers have long been asserting their right to till the land, Mariano said. “The Congress must recognize this.”

“Ang kilos ng magsasaka hind nakabatay kung maipapasa ba ang HB 3059. Mali iyong akayin mo sila sa parliyamentaryong pakikibaka lang. Paglilingkurin mo dapat itong laban na ito sa praktika ng magsasaka. Kongkretong ekspresyon siya at alingawngaw ng kahilingan ng magsasaka,” (The movement of peasants for agrarian reform is not hinged on the passage of HB 3059. It is wrong to confine the peasants to the parliamentary struggle alone. The parliamentary struggle should serve the practical struggles of the peasants. Their struggles are an expression of their just demand.) he said.

Mariano said, referring to Malacañang’s allies in Congress, “Anong ikinatatakot ninyo may bilang nga kayo. Anong ikinakatakot ninyo, debate? Ito ang malaon nang hinihingi ng masang magsasaka. Eh di tingan natin kung tutugon doon o hindi.” (What are you afraid of when you have the numbers? Are you afraid of a debate? This has been a long-standing demand of peasants. Let us debate on whether this bill responds to this peasant demand.)

Mariano said the full-blown plenary debates would provide opportunity for farmers to voice out their demands. He said the farmers would see that the progressive party list representatives side with their class interest and that their interest is constantly undermined and opposed by the landlords in the House of Representatives. The debates, he said, would also expose the clear and sharp difference between the position of progressive party list representatives and that of Akbayan and the landlords.

Mariano said the landlords in Congress would attempt to water down the bill during the period of amendments. He said, “Anuman ang mangyari, magsasaka na ang huhusga.” (Whatever happens, it would be peasants who would decide.)

He said further, “The House of Representatives is the house of the people, that is what they say. Who are the people? The landlords? Patutunayan nila.(Let them prove it.)”

Anti-farmer bills

Mariano revealed that other members of the House of Representatives have filed ‘anti-farmer’ bills.

Mariano said these include House Resolution no. 737 authored by House Speaker Prospero Nograles. The resolution seeks to allow 100 percent foreign ownership of land.

The peasant leader also said Nograles and six other representatives filed a bill promoting corporate farming.

These proposals, Mariano said, fall within Malacañang’s proposal to allot two million hectares of land for agribusiness. He said China and Qatar are particularly interested in exploiting the country’s agricultural lands.

Mariano said that the Arroyo government is adamant in restructuring the agriculture sector to suit neoliberal globalization. “Food security is further undermined.”

Mariano called on the people to remain vigilant and to oppose the said bills. (Bulatlat.com)

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