Rethinking Society Over a Cup of Coffee

3 March Speech of Rep. Risa Hontiveros on CARPER

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a question of personal and collective privilege.

Before anything else, I would like to mention the farmer leaders who are with us today. They, together with their 160 fellow farmers, marched to Manila to call on us, their representatives to finally enact House Bill 4077 and extend the funding for and reform the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program. Binabati ko sina Birhilda San-ahan and Quirico Ligmon from Sumilao, Bukidnon; Anita Nobleza from Banasi, Bula, Camarines Sur; Glenn Malaluan of Task Force Baha and Talibayog from Calatagan, Batangas; Kapitan Mario Patriarca from Brgy. Sastre in Gumaca, Quezon; Villamor Galangera from Odionga, Romblon; and Merceditas Santos of Task Force Masagana Recovery from Bulakan, Bulakan.

When we closed our session on December 17, 2008, a few days before Christmas and a few days before the expiration of the funding for land acquisition and distribution, we passed the monstrosity that is Joint Resolution 19 – now Joint Resolution 1. We failed to pass House Bill 4077, the law that would have guaranteed funding for land acquisition and distribution post 2008 and incorporated significant reforms. Instead, we took away compulsory acquisition and made agrarian reform optional.

AKBAYAN has said it before, and AKBAYAN will say it again: VOLUNTARY LAND REFORM IS DEAD LAND REFORM.

When I explained my NO vote to Joint Resolution 19 last year, I warned that in doing what we have done, we have managed to decimate an entire class. But we did not know at the time that the consequences of our actions would be felt so soon on the ground. And the decimation of the ranks of our farmers would come so rapidly.

Soon after the enactment of the Joint Resolution, the Department of Agrarian Reform issued DAR Memo 09-01804, which directs its field operations staff and personnel to, and I quote, “defer the processing of compulsory acquisition including those landholdings in the pipeline, and survey activities for CA until further notice.”

Those who voted YES to Joint Resolution 1 gave long-winded justifications on their vote. From our first Joint Resolution to the second, we said we were doing it to “perfect” the law, and give ourselves more time to study proposed amendments to the program.

Well, Mr. Speaker and colleagues, let us see what took place on the ground during this so-called “study period.”

In the island of Sicogon, under the Municipality of Carles, Iloilo, the powerful corporation Sicogon Development Corporation (SIDECO), which has been setting its sights on the beautiful island of Sicogon for more than a decade, rounded up all the villagers in late 2008 for a meeting. Ignoring the most basic concepts of law and human rights, it declared a “Huwes de Kutsiyo” and threatened physical harm and even death on those who dared go against the proposed Sicogon Island Resort Complex of SIDECO. This resulted in an orgy of violence, including the destruction of a training center, the razing to the ground of a shanty of a farmer-beneficiary, the demolition of the house of farmer-leader Amelia de la Cruz. Right after the declaration of “Huwes de Kutsiyo”, the remains of Thelma Padios, a farmer beneficiary from Sicogon, was discovered with multiple stab wounds and burns on her face and body, and her private parts desecrated

Lives, houses and livelihood were lost because the farmers were protecting 334 has. of the property declared by the Department of Agrarian Reform as agricultural land. SIDECO filed an exemption case, claiming the entire 800 hectares as theirs for the taking, to be made into a resort. To date, no resolution of the case by the Regional Director is forthcoming. Worse, in June 2008 last year, after we passed our first Joint Resolution, a Judge in Barotac Nuevo handling the injunction case filed by Sicogon against the DAR to prevent acquisition decided to archive the case on the curious ground that there is no reason to discuss the case because CARP had expired.

Shaken but with heads unbowed, one hundred peasant families voluntarily evacuated the island to seek refuge and protection from the government and the Catholic Church. Early this month, 312 farmers launched their “Exodus for Land, Life and Dignity” to condemn the oppressions they have suffered in the hands of SIDECO.

And indeed, in other areas in the Philippines, this Resolution is being brandished like a scythe, used as a weapon by resolute landowners eager to protect their crown jewels and grateful for this new policy regime of voluntary land reform.

In Ormoc, owners of big landholdings—which have already been covered under the CARP and even distributed to farmer beneficiaries- have become more emboldened by Joint Resolution 1 to harass farmers and deprive them of their rights. In Barangays Donghol and Mahayag, a former landowner blocked the main roads leading to the farms to prevent the farmers from transporting their produce to and from the millers and the market. Because of this, their families cannot eat nor sell their own palay and other crops. In other cases, the millers receive the palay and tubo from the farmers and then refuse to mill or even return these to the farmers. The former landowners assert that the lands where these were harvested do not belong to the farmers and cannot be theirs anymore, because CARP is already dead.

Most of the landowners in Ormoc have withdrawn their voluntary offers to sell their land. And those whose lands have already been distributed under CARP are gearing to reverse the gains in the past, saying assuredly even to the local police, “Kahit may titulo pa ang mga iyan, e wala na namang CARP. Wala na silang karapatan sa lupa,” as if the previously distributed lands have suddenly become fair game again.

In Davao, Joint Resolution 1 has facilitated the landowner’s circumvention of the constitutional mandate for the redistribution of land to the landless farmers. Former Supreme Court Justice Leo Medialdea’s 53-hectare Estate in Kiblawan, Davao del Sur has been identified for CARP coverage since 2003. However, the landowner allegedly opted to voluntarily offer the land for sale (VOS) to at least 30 potential farmer beneficiaries in order to veer away from CARP’s compulsory acquisition (CA) mode. Six years had passed and yet the VOS process has not been commenced by the landowner and neither has the DAR initiated the sale. Worse, with the issuance of Joint Resolution 1 by Congress late last year, the landowner is no longer interested to voluntarily offer the land to the farmers, and neither can the property be compulsory covered under CARP for lack of budget.

There are many more stories of the same plot. In Rizal, farmer-leaders receive texts from Provincial Agrarian Reform Officers, telling them that nothing they do can convince the DAR to continue redistribution of landholdings. In Pangasinan, MARO’s admit to the belief that CARP has expired and is beyond resuscitation. In Sorsogon, we have gotten word that landowners are now withdrawing their Voluntary Offers to Sell and Voluntary Land Transfers. In Bondoc Peninsula, survey activities are being halted, pursuant to the DAR Policy Directive, and the harassment and criminalization of farmer-beneficiaries are intensifying. In mauban, Catanauan and Gumaca, Quezon, criminal cases were filed against farmers and no action for the coverage of these landholdings has been initiated by the DAR.

As I speak, farmers from all parts of the Philippines are once again making their way to our chambers on foot, bringing with them the voices of the countryside that rings louder and louder each day with the indignation of the unheard and the anger of the righteous. Farmers from Sumilao and Banasi are walking on foot once more to stand in solidarity with other farmers of the country whose cases have not yet been resolved. The farmers in Calatagan once more make their voices heard, refusing to live in fear that their agricultural lands will be snatched away by a mining corporation.

Under our watch, the lives, land and dignity of millions and millions of peasants have suffered the most serious affront in twenty years. Under our watch, their ranks are being decimated, and lands rightfully theirs are being snatched from them. Under our watch, the gains of the agrarian reform program are being frittered away.

Our farmers want only one thing, Mr. Speaker: they want a new CARP law that truly reflects realities on the ground and is faithful to the mandate of the Constitution. Just last week, we created the Speaker’s Special Panel on Agrarian Reform. How do we explain to our farmers that, in answer to their travails on the ground, our solution is to create yet another layer in the bureaucracy, yet another Committee?

This Special Committee should not be used as an excuse to delay further the main task of this House that is to subject HB 4077 to a plenary vote. This committee, if the intention is to consolidate both proposals for a speedier passage of the CARPER bills should –as the Speaker announced in the media – work even during recess so that any perfecting amendments can already be incorporated and immediately subject the same to the plenary for deliberation and approval. Let me emphasize that the special committee should not be used to further desecrate the goals of the agrarian reform program.

I call on all of us today to stand on their side. I implore my colleagues who voted for Joint Resolution 1 to rethink the wisdom of what they have done on the night of December 17, 2008. Let us bring Compulsory Acquisition back to where it should be: right in the center of the agrarian reform program promised by the 1987 Constitution. The deadline of Joint Resolution 1 is once more approaching, and no plenary hearings have yet been set for House Bill 4077, this despite the fact that we justified the Joint Resolution as a means to better study CARP and debate it on the floor.

AKBAYAN continues to call for the passage of House Bill 4077 and the return of Compulsory Acquisition. Let us not be a passive observer to the struggles taking place on the ground, and by our inaction and callousness allow further violations in all contentious agrarian reform areas in the country.

For the farmers of Sicogon and for all farmers in this country – and indeed for a CARP Law with Compulsory Acquisition and responsive reforms -- AKBAYAN continues to stand.

Thank you.


My sentiments to the farmers. It's very difficult when you live in a country where the people are the last thing on the government's minds. It's always about them first and how they need to protect their assets.

We need to stand ground and fight for our rights. We can only take too much.


i agree, we are supposed to be a representative government but clearly congress has acted on their own selfish interest by extending CARP for another six months without the compulsory mode of acquisition.