BACOLOD City – Thousands of farmers belonging to national peasant federation Task Force Mapalad (TFM) have expressed apprehension that agrarian reform would suffer a major setback under the Duterte administration amid the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR)’s dismal performance in land distribution and the agency’s recent issuance of an administrative order (AO) fast-tracking land use conversion.
“Though we are still confident that President Rodrigo Duterte is sincere in his desire to end the misery of landless farmers, we are afraid that his recent statement over his frustration in the DAR’s slow processing of land conversion applications and the issuance of the AO could send mix signals that the department’s priority now will no longer be land distribution but land conversion,” said Teresita Tarlac, president of TFM’s Panay-Negros Chapter.
DAR secretary John Castriciones recently issued AO No. 1, series of 2019, whose aim is to hasten the processing of applications for conversion of agricultural landholdings into non-agricultural use. The AO was issued amid Duterte’s frustration over the agency’s slow processing of land use conversion applications.
On Jan. 22, while in Lucena City, the chief executive warned DAR officials to fast-track land conversion or they would face dismissal. This Feb. 6 the President walked out of a Cabinet meeting as he again got angry over DAR’s sluggish pace in resolving land use conversion applications.
WORTHY OF DUTERTE’S ANGER
“There’s also good reason to get extremely angry about the DAR’s land reform accomplishment under the present administration because it is the lowest in history. And we hope that the President will likewise get angry for us and over the DAR’s failure to fast-track land distribution despite the fact that land claims are already on the agency’s table, only awaiting issuance to farmers of certificates of landownership award (CLOA),” said Tarlac.
“In many landholdings, including in Negros Occidental, all the DAR, with the Registry of Deeds (ROD), needs to do is generate and issue the CLOAs to the farmers to pull the administration’s land reform accomplishment up. All it needs is to lift a finger, not move heaven and earth to end the plight of landless farmers. But it isn’t doing an already easy task. Isn’t this equally exasperating and worthy of President Duterte’s anger and frustration?” she added.
TFM earlier called on the chief executive to start completing CARP in Negros Occidental, where land monopoly persists despite the nearly 31-year-old Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP). The group said the President, through the DAR, could start it by hastening the issuance of CLOAs to the province’s some 1,000 farmers working on 30 landholdings covering around 900 hectares, which are already ripe for CARP distribution but remain “parked” at the ROD.
“We still remember what President Duterte said in May 2016, days after he won the elections. He said he ‘despises oligarchs’ because ‘they get the fat of the land.’ Many of the agricultural landholdings where oligarchic landlords built their wealth are supposedly already in the hands of their tillers now, but remain under the control of hacienderos simply because the DAR and the ROD are not fast-tracking the issuance of CLOAs,” said Tarlac.
LOWEST IN CARP HISTORY
Data from the DAR show that the Duterte administration, in its first two years in office, had the lowest land distribution accomplishment since the Cory Aquino administration started CARP in 1986.
A total of 63,202 hectares of CARP-covered agricultural landholdings was distributed to farmers under the present administration from 2016 to 2017.
The highest land distribution accomplishment was recorded in the first two years of the Ramos administration. It was able to distribute to CARP beneficiaries a total of 679,341 hectares in 1992 and 1993.
The second highest accomplishment was during the first two years of the Estrada administration wherein a total of 269,427 hectares was distributed from 1998 to 1999.
This was followed by the administration of President Benigno Aquino III with 222,069 hectares from 2010 to 2011; by the Arroyo administration with 215,983 hectares in 2001 and 2002; and by the Cory Aquino administration with 114,259 hectares in 1986 to 1987.
The DAR is still left with at least 500,000 hectares of private and public agricultural landholdings that remain undistributed to landless tillers. About 20 percent or some 100,000 hectares of this CARP balance is found in Negros Occidental, known as the country’s bedrock of feudalism./PN