Rethinking Society Over a Cup of Coffee


As the year ended, congress gave the people a gift in the form of a paralyzed CARP. Representatives passed a resolution extending the life of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program for another six months. This time they cut its claws by excluding the compulsory mode of acquisition.

The resolution is said to give the House of Representatives more time to discuss and debate an “acceptable” form of the Program. They did not have time because they were busy crafting ways of extending the term of their boss. Of course there are several good people in Congress who genuinely bring the peoples voices in its halls but sadly, they are outnumbered by Gloria Arroyo’s followers imposing her whims and voice in the House.

What are these options then?

Option 1: Simple Extension

This is captured by a number of proposed bills, including the CUA bill. This position proposes a simple extension of funding for DAR, for between five and ten years. Most of these bills propose a level of funding similar to current levels. One, the CUA bill also contains a vague, but contentious clause on the use of DAR papers as collateral for bank loans; this provision is in response to the wishes of Malacanang but is one that is deeply opposed by many AR advocates and farmers groups.

Simple extension is the position favoured by DAR. A number of these bills contain clauses mandating specific allocations for support services rather than mere land acquisition. As well as being reflective of the DAR position, a number of AR advocates also take this position because of their view that it is the most politically feasible one within the current conjuncture of political forces. A number of advocates for extension with reforms also privately admit that “simple extension may be the best we can hope for”.

Option 2: Major Changes to CARP

A third position is advanced by Kilusan para sa Tunay na Repormang Agraryo (KTRA, or Movement for Genuine Agrarian Reform) On November 11, KTRA announced that it is filing a bill in Congress to be sponsored by Rep. Edno Joson of Nueva Ecija that aims to strengthen the land reform law by plugging all its loopholes that allow landowners to evade land distribution.

The draft bill contains the coalition’s 5-point demands that include among others the immediate distribution of large private estates within two years, the abolition of non-redistributive land reform schemes such as leaseback, voluntary land transfer and voluntary-offer-to-sell, the review and revocation of anomalous exemption and land conversion permits, the strengthening of support services for agrarian reform beneficiaries, and the re-inclusion of fishponds and pasture lands in the coverage of CARP.

This position would appear to hold much in common with the RCM position except it more explicitly prioritizes the distribution of large estates, and ensures coverage of fishponds and livestock areas; and, rather than permitting Voluntary Offers of Sale to DAR and permitting direct Voluntary Land Transfer to beneficiaries, it proposes to abolish such processes on the grounds that they are subject to frequent anomalies in terms of beneficiaries and corruption.

The KTRA position reflect the positions of some of the more militant members of RCM, which is hardly surprising since there is some overlap in membership; however KTRA also includes others that chose to remain outside RCM for a variety of reasons, including some who have only recently chosen to engage in the legislative arena or with legally mandated forms of agrarian reform.

As part of their campaign for the bill KTRA have vowed to “name and shame” the country’s largest landowners who have managed to retain their landownings over 20 years of CARP.

Option 3: CARP Extension with Reforms

This bill is the result of widely held and prolonged conversations among Peoples Organisations and NGOs engaged in AR work. The bill is proposed by Rep. Risa Hontiveros-Baraquel, Akbayan party-list representative and backed by a broad range of groups known as the Reform CARP Movement (RCM) for which Centro-Saka is the secretariat and with which Kaisahan and Saligan worked on drafting of the bill.

This bill seeks the extension of CARP with a minimum funding of 3.8% of the total government budget, or 38 billion pesos, and the completion of land acquisition over a period of seven years. Thirty per cent of the funds would be used for support services with a third of those funds for the provision of agricultural credit, as opposed to current legislation which does not specify the proportion of funds allocated for this purpose.

The bill also proposes that land covered under agrarian reform may not be sold for a period of thirty years except back to the DAR. In addition the bill closes various loopholes in the current law by making Certificates of Land Ownership Agreements (CLOAS) noncontestable after a period of one year and also by allowing proposed beneficiaries to claim their rights as interested parties in court and adjudication hearings. The bill also proposes to prevent stock distribution and leaseback schemes and declares that installation as agrarian reform beneficiaries that mean the “direct and physical distribution of land” to beneficiaries.

The bill also tries to overcome some of the delaying tactics of landowners by insisting on a one-time valuation of standing crops and by attempting to prevent harassment cases for fraud or non-payment of rent where these are related to completion of land distribution. A further provision also strengthens existing laws against land conversion from agricultural to other uses as a means of avoiding coverage by agrarian reform and provides for much harsher penalties for landlords who try to evade coverage.

The bill does not address the issuance of collective versus individual titles (collective titles having provided a convenient but often untidy short-cut for DAR). While the bill has provides for inter-agency coordination with other line agencies responsible for items such as roads, irrigation, marketing support etc. it makes no specific provisions for the responsibilities of those agencies, just as it makes no specific provisions for the collection of amortization payments by the land bank. This bill appears to address a number of the criticisms concerning implementation of the current agrarian reform program but for a number does not go far enough…

Option 4: Genuine Agrarian Reform Act (HB 3059)

Anakpawis (toiling masses), Bayan Muna (people first) and Gabriela Women’s Party (GWP) filed House Bill 3059 or the Genuine Agrarian Reform Act of 2007 on Nov. 13 2007. The declared intent of the bill is to break up land monopoly and distribute lands for free.

At first glance the coverage proposed by the bill is considerably larger than the proposals of others. The modes of acquisition, the bill proposes that the state shall expropriate all private agricultural lands exceeding five hectares and that all land and non-land assets of transnational corporations shall be nationalized. Not only does it propose to cover all military reservations, lands owned by educational establishments and areas of community-based forestry, and all undeveloped or idle lands including in such areas as export processing zones but it also covers all lands that have already been covered by the
Department of Agrarian Reform but have since passed into the hands of those not classified as beneficiaries.

The bill also proposes that the lands are made available to beneficiaries for free. Compensation is proposed to be the average of the tax valuations for the last three years with negotiated sums for “benevolent landowners”. The bill proposes an annual budget of 18 billion pesos in the first year and an annual increment of 2 billion pesos thereafter.

The proposals in the draft act will substantially change the current definition of “just compensation” and along with the provisions for nationalization of TNC assets and the proposals to broaden coverage they are most unlikely to gain much consideration by a Congress which remains dominated by landed interests and their allies. Even the bill’s own proponents recognize this saying “for the proposed land reform law to be approved by a landlord-dominated Congress requires something short of a miracle.”

In addition to the above bills there are various resolutions in the house seeking a review of CARP stating the view that agrarian reform has failed to address rural productivity and poverty. For the most part these bills are supported by landlords within the house and led by President Arroyo’s brother-in-law from Negros. However, Bayan Muna has also submitted a similar resolution before it moved on with its GARA bill.

(Note: this is based on a paper, "Agrarian Reform and Rural Development - Mapping the Terrain" by Arthur Neame)