LAST WEEK the President pitched once again for agrarian reform. “I’d like to be frank with you all. The law during my presidency is really the law. Let go of those properties again. I will force you to surrender the property once someone complains,” the President said in Cebu.
He also said land distribution should not be the end of it.It is equally important, he stressed, that beneficiaries are also given sources of livelihood like farming.
Indeed, land must be made productive and profitable for farmers. The prevalent situation since 1988 (when the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law was passed) has been a farmer being awarded his own land, but because of the lack of tools and know-how, the land becomes idle or is sold back to the original landowner.
For land reform to be truly beneficial to farmers, what is needed, especially in this time of high prices, is the strengthening of our farm sector with government providing all the help it can provide. The effectiveness of the agrarian reform law had been assessed. It was wanting. It lacked support services to empower farmers to better manage their land.
To empower farmers, support services must be provided such as readily available low-interest and long-term credit facilities; seeds, fertilizers, irrigation and other inputs; adequate drying and milling capabilities; market access; training and capacity-building; and full support of the Department of Agriculture, local government units and the Department of Agrarian Reform as partners-for-change.
Also, the principle of fairness and transparency must be applied to all stakeholders. There must be a settlement of all previous land acquisition as a confidence-building measure for the next wave of reformed lands. There must be just and prompt payment to all landowners for their land. There must be fairness and transparency in resolving disputes on land valuation and ownership.
Most of all, there must be strict regulation in the conversion of irrigated farmlands to mainly residential and industrial uses. These lands were irrigated for a long-term food rice/food sufficiency purposes, and the amount spent on this should not go to waste. Our rice insufficiency can be blamed in part on the mismanagement and unregulated conversion of our irrigated lands.