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Caritas Philippines skeptical on agricultural land handouts

Landless farmers have been demanding the immediate distribution of agricultural land promised by President Marcos Jr.
Farmers protest outside the Department of Agrarian Reform office in Manila on Feb. 19.

Farmers protest outside the Department of Agrarian Reform office in Manila on Feb. 19. (Photo: Jimmy Domingo)

Published: February 22, 2024 03:06 AM GMT
Updated: February 22, 2024 07:14 AM GMT

Caritas Philippines has expressed doubt over the land reform program that promises to redistribute private and public agricultural land to landless tillers.

“Nothing is happening. Just promises,” said Jing Rey Henderson, head of communications and partnership development of Caritas Philippines, on Feb. 21.

“Despite World Bank aid for the implementation of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program [CARP] to redistribute agricultural land, farmers continue to till their land as tenants, not as owners,” Henderson told UCA News.

Since Feb. 19, hundreds of landless farmers from Negros Occidental in the western Visayas region and Batangas in the southwestern part of northern Luzon Island have been protesting outside the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) headquarters in the capital Manila to demand the immediate distribution of agricultural land as promised by President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. last year.

The protesters want the government to distribute 4,654 hectares of land once controlled by the late business tycoon Eduardo Cojuangco, said Lanie Factor, national deputy coordinator of Task Force Mapalad (TFM), a national federation of farmers, farm workers and individuals working for agrarian reform in the Catholic-majority archipelago.

The farmers “want Marcos to fulfill his promise quickly and not wait for 2028,” when his presidential term ends, Factor told UCA News.

The country cannot achieve food sufficiency unless farmers are freed from bondage, the federation told the government.

Over 500,000 hectares of private agricultural land is to be distributed, it said.

On Feb. 21, Father Robert Reyes, an activist priest supporting farmers' rights, conducted a Mass outside the DAR headquarters to show solidarity with the farmers.

“Farmers are the life of the land,” Reyes said in his homily.

The farmers vowed not to leave the premises until their demands were met.

Danny Carranza, secretary-general of Katarungan, a pro-farmers' body, praised Marcos Jr. for upholding the genuine land reforms initiated by his late father and former president Ferdinand Marcos, Sr.

“We laud President Marcos for trying to find a permanent solution,” Carranza told UCA News on Feb. 21.

“Indeed, the country has seen protracted agrarian reform implementation for 52 years since his father’s presidential decree ... and close to 36 years after the CARP,” Carranza said.

Carranza said the current agrarian issue “can be resolved if the government exercises political will.”

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