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Call to sack land reform chief rejected

Bishops told to stop 'sowing panic' reporter, Manila

February 4, 2013

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The government on Sunday rejected calls by Catholic bishops to sack the Department of Agrarian Reform chief for his alleged failure to distribute land to farmers.

Agrarian Reform Secretary Virgilio de los Reyes continues to enjoy the "full trust and confidence of the president," a government spokesperson said.

In a January 24 letter to President Benigno Aquino, 84 Catholic bishops voiced their "dismay" at the president's lack of commitment toward genuine land reform.

They reminded Aquino of his 2010 election promise to speed up implementation of land distribution under an agrarian reform program which expires in 2014.

But Aquino spokesperson Abigael Valte said the government has so far distributed agricultural land to 169,000 agrarian reform beneficiaries. She admitted there were challenges in the process of acquiring and distributing land to farmers.

Reyes, meanwhile, said he wished the bishops would stop sowing panic. "The expiration of [the agrarian reform program] is not the end of the world, and I hate to say this to bishops," the agrarian reform chief said in a media interview.

He said the bishops were mistaken in thinking that the government would stop distributing land once the agrarian reform law expired. He said the government would continue processing and distributing landholdings beyond June 2014.

Reyes admitted that the 116,831 hectares already distributed fell short of the original 260,000-hectare target for 2012. But he added that the bishops have failed to appreciate efforts being made by the government.

For 2013, the government has appropriated funds for the distribution of 260,000 hectares of land to farmers, but Reyes said the actual target is between 160,000 and 200,000 hectares.

It is estimated that more than 300,000 hectares of land will still need to be distributed by the time the agrarian reform program expires in 2014.

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