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Filipinos are given land but can't set foot on it

Chaos surrounds government's land redistribution scheme

<p>Dorita Vargas was among 56 farmers who went on hunger strike in December (photo by Vincent Go)</p>

Dorita Vargas was among 56 farmers who went on hunger strike in December (photo by Vincent Go)

  • Joe Torres, Manila
  • Philippines
  • June 4, 2013
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Dorita Vargas, a 63-year-old widowed farmer from central Negros Occidental province, is yet to set foot on the five-hectare piece of land given to her by the government six months ago.

Vargas was one of 56 farmers who went on hunger strike in December to force the government to redistribute land to landless peasants under an ongoing agrarian reform program. When they accepted her request, she says that she was overjoyed.

“Unfortunately, bad luck has haunted us,” she adds.

The widow's plot remains completely surrounded by land which has not been redistributed. With heavy security imposed by landowners in the area, she and other beneficiaries of the government’s land redistribution scheme remain landless.

"We could not cultivate the five-hectare farm under our name because we cannot access it," she said.

On May 22, she sent a letter to Presdent Benigno Aquino thanking him for making good on his promise to award her a land ownership certificate following last year’s hunger strike.

She added: "Our dear president, what will we do with the CLOA [land certificate] if we do not physically control the land? We remain hungry and landless."

Vargas’ situation has reached the ears of Church leaders who today issued an “urgent appeal” to Aquino to deliver on his promise to distribute land to farmers, a key election pledge when he became president in mid-2010.

Manila Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo, chairman of the National Secretariat for Social Action, said that the current government had only distributed about 251,000 hectares by the end of last year out of a total 1.21 million hectares.

That leaves some 957,360 hectares to be distributed before funding for the program expires on June 14 next year, meaning the government would have to speed up the process by about 10 times to meet its target.

"With barely a year before [June] 2014, the situation is fast becoming untenable," Pabillo said.

Compared to past administrations, Aquino had been the “worst performer” on land reform, he added.

Meanwhile, peasants living on big landholdings which are supposed to be split up and redistributed say they will begin a week-long protest outside the Department of Agrarian Reform office tomorrow.

Antonio Flores, secretary general of the Peasant Movement of the Philippines, said the protest will show that after 25 years, the program has been a "total failure."

The government’s Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program was signed into law on June 10, 1988 by the mother of Aquino, the late president Corazon Aquino, two years after democracy was restored to the Philippines.

Flores said that since its introduction, the government's claim of distributing 4.4 million hectares of land has been a farce.

"Almost two million hectares of public land was sold by the government to poor farmers instead of distributing the lands for free," he said.

"Worst of all," added Flores, "many of these government-owned lands that were already paid for by farmer beneficiaries were repossessed by the government itself and were either sold or leased to landlords and private corporations."

The widow Vargas, meanwhile, said she has no plans to join the camp-out protest this week.

She said her only wish is for the president to fulfill his promise, "so that I can pass on to my children and grandchildren the land that we fought for and won."

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