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Filipino farmers slam tardy pace of agrarian land reform

Land and agrarian reform laws passed more than three decades ago remain largely unimplemented, activists say
Farmers and activists march toward Philippine capital Manila on June 6 to demand quick implementation of agrarian reform and distribution of land to beneficiary farmers.

Farmers and activists march toward Philippine capital Manila on June 6 to demand quick implementation of agrarian reform and distribution of land to beneficiary farmers. (Photo: Jimmy A. Domingo)

Published: June 11, 2024 10:58 AM GMT
Updated: June 11, 2024 11:59 AM GMT

More than 500 farmers marched on the streets of Philippine capital Manila to express their grievances over government’s failure to properly implement an agrarian reform scheme adopted 36 years ago.

Hundreds of farmers traveled from various provinces including Palawan, Rizal and Batangas, and gathered outside the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) headquarters in Quezon City of Manila on June 10.

The demonstrators called on President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. to immediately complete agrarian reform and distribute land to beneficiary farmers under the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) and other land reform laws.

The farmers’ protests received backing from several farmers’ and civil society associations in other parts of the country.  

Another major protest rally was held at DAR regional office in Negros Occidental province where the farmers made demands emphasizing the “discrepancies between the program’s goals and the reality experienced by farmers.”

“Land distribution is the main feature of redistributive land reform because it shows the actual transfer of power on the land, from big landlords or corporation to actual tillers,” Danny Carranza, secretary-general of Movement for Agrarian Reform and Social Justice (Katarungan), told UCA News.

“This means that tillers are empowered to decide, what to produce, when and how to produce, and to benefit directly from the fruits of his or her labor,” he added.

According to Carranza, the reason why the distribution of lands has remained in limbo up to now is because of the “resistance to land reform by big and powerful actors, and government's lack of political will,” among others.

“And the law gave landlords the escape route to evade agrarian reform such as the Stock Distribution Option,” Carranza added.

The stock distribution option allows them to gain compliance with the agrarian reform law by distributing stocks rather than actual land to the farm workers.

Rico Cajife, a former farmer organizer in the Eastern Visayas region, said that land distribution is important to the farmers “because it gives the poor the power to live with dignity.”

“The poor will be able to have a livelihood and ensure their food security,” he told UCA News.

Asked why the land distribution is in limbo 36 years after, Cajife echoed the same reason: “The power is in the hands of the big landlords and oligarchs.”

Dhon Daganasol, another Katarungan farmer leader based in Carigara town in Leyte province of the central Philippines, said land reform implementation is crucial for farmers.

“The distribution of land under CARP is necessary for the security of the farmers. If their land is not being acquired by them and being titled, there is a chance that it will be repossessed by the original owner,” Daganasol, a farmer since 1980s, told UCA News.

Daganasol’s family has successfully acquired the rights to their farmlands. He expressed sympathy for the farmers who are still struggling to get land titles from the government.

DAR-Eastern Visayas regional information officer Jose Alsmith Soria maintained that the distribution of land for agrarian reform beneficiaries has been ongoing in the region.

Marcos Jr. has committed to farmers to complete the distribution of all land titles to reform beneficiaries before his term ends on June 30, 2028, Soria said.

“We have about 29,000 hectares of land for distribution, with about 11,000 more agrarian reform beneficiaries to benefit in the Eastern Visayas region,” Soria told UCA News.

Farmers’ group Task Force Mapalad said that when Marcos came to power in June 2022, the government still had 173,340 hectares of land nationwide for distribution.

“Task Force Mapalad figures show that 30,936 hectares of CARP-covered lands have yet to be distributed in Negros Occidental, the biggest tract of CARP land in the country,” the group said in a press statement on June 10.

“Marcos Jr. administration must summon the political will and deploy the full force of the law in implementing agrarian reform in the province and the entire country,” the group added.

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