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Philippines abandons land distribution to poor farmers

Critics accuse government of bowing to rich landlords

<p>Protesters vented their anger during protests in the Philippines capital. (Photo by Vincnent Go)</p>

Protesters vented their anger during protests in the Philippines capital. (Photo by Vincnent Go)

  • Joe Torres, Manila
  • Philippines
  • June 30, 2014
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The Philippines on Monday ended 26 years of agrarian reform with critics claiming the government had failed to redistribute land to many poor farmers as promised.

Agrarian Reform Secretary Virgilio de los Reyes admitted that the government had still not distributed 8,410 landholdings covering 78,303 hectares of land to farmers before the June 30 deadline.

He blamed the program’s failings on "complications" in his department's database, bureaucracy, missing land titles, incomplete addresses and incorrect classification of land.

Thousands of farmers marched in Manila to condemn what they described as a "bogus" program that violated the rights of farmers and killed some 664 peasants who were fighting for their land.

Peasant groups said the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program or CARP had been a failure with many wealthy landlords evading the redistribution of their estates.

“[CARP has been a] brazen deception because it merely replaced the feudal land rent and offered an opportunity to confiscate and cancel certificates of land transfer under the guise of so-called development, tourism, and other land-use conversion projects," said Rafael Mariano, chairman of the Peasant Movement of the Philippines.

He cited the case of Hacienda Luisita, a landholding owned by the family of President Benigno Aquino where peasants were offered stocks to a corporation that manages the estate.

"Proponents of CARP should stop giving people false hopes that it would lead to land distribution and breaking up of landlord monopoly," said Mariano.

CARP was enacted into law in 1988 with the return of democracy under the administration of former president Corazon Aquino, mother of incumbent president Benigno Aquino, who urged Congress early this month to pass a law extending the program for two more years.

Congress went on recess without approving the proposal of the president. Congressman Teddy Baguilat, chairman of the Committee on Agrarian Reform in Congress, however, said agrarian reform did not end on Monday.

Based on the government’s own data, there are 8.9 million hectares of private agricultural lands that must be distributed to farmers and landless peasants.

Data from the Peasant Movement of the Philippines show that in the past four years of the Aquino administration, 96 farmers who were demanding for immediate land distribution have been killed while some 568 others became victims of agrarian-related extra-judicial killings.

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