Philippine bishops call for 'genuine' land reform law
Agrarian reform legislation under fire for not 'meeting the needs of farmers'
Priests, nuns and seminarians in the northern Philippine province of Tarlac join a demonstration to mark the 12th anniversary of a massacre of protesting peasants in 2004. (Photo by Dax Simbol)
The social action secretariat of the Philippine Catholic bishops has called on the government to implement "a genuine law and support services" for landless peasants.
Father Edwin Gariguez, executive secretary of Caritas Philippines, said the country's agrarian reform law should be replaced with a program "that truly serves the needs of farmers."
"Land distribution is not enough," the priest told ucanews.com on Nov. 16, the 12th anniversary of a massacre of 14 protesting farmers in the northern province of Tarlac.
Father Gariguez said land reform programs should "empower farmers to finance or run their own farm land without the intervention of middle men or traders."
Rights and peasant groups are urging the government of President Rodrigo Duterte to "to end impunity and the end of land monopoly" in the country.
"The distribution of land should go beyond the confines of a sham law," Antonio Flores, secretary-general of the National Peasants Alliance.
Flores said the country's agrarian reform law "is limiting the possibilities and ways on how to fairly distribute land to its rightful beneficiaries."
In 2004, farm workers in Hacienda Luisita, a 6,453-hectare estate owned by the family of former president Benigno Aquino, went on strike demanding the reinstatement of 137 labor leaders who were dismissed by management.
Some 1,000 police and soldiers fired into the protesting farmers, killing 14 people, including two children. At least 133 people were arrested.
Spokesmen of the estate claimed that the bloodbath was a "legitimate exercise of state power," adding that the strike was "illegal."
Cristina Palabay, secretary-general of rights group Karapatan, said the case "is one of the foremost examples of impunity" in the country.
"Justice also remains elusive to those who supported the struggle of farm workers," she said.
In April 2012, the Supreme Court ordered the distribution of 4,915 hectares of land but farmers opposed the manner of distribution via lottery that was implemented by the Department of Agrarian Reform.
"In spite of the fact that the Supreme Court has ruled in favor of the farm workers, the landowners continue to dispute the court decision and have driven out the farmers," Palabay told ucanews.com.
"There should be continued vigilance and assertion for genuine land reform," she said.
Father Gariguez said the church would continue to advance its advocacies for the "fulfillment of genuine land reform" and the "emancipation of the peasantry from landlessness and poverty."
He urged Catholics to support the plight of the farmers.
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