Ipinaskil ni: tin | Abril 23, 2008

Solidarity: Rep Risa Hontiveros delivers speech on Agrarian Reform

Extend and Reform CARP Now!

Privilege Speech of Akbayan Rep Risa Hontiveros-Baraquel delivered 23 April 2008, House of Representatives

Ginoong Speaker, mga kagalang-galang na kapwa kinatawan, isang magandang hapon sa inyong lahat!

Mr. Speaker, I rise today on a point of personal and collective privilege. On Monday, April 21, 2008, fifty-five farmers from Barangay Baha and Barangay Talibayog in Calatagan, Batangas, began a journey that echoes the aspiration of hundreds of Filipino farmers – to be able to till their own lands, freely, without facing legal harassment from private land owners or companies, without encountering coercion, physical threats, or violence from the military or police, armed goons or armed rebels.

On Monday, on the first day of the last fifty days of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program, the Calatagan farmers began their “Lakbay Kalampag,” or Marching Noise Barrage, a 300-km walk from Calatagan, Batangas to Metro Manila, to denounce a sinister and underhanded attempt to reverse what should have been an agrarian reform victory in order to convert an agricultural land into a mining area. The Calatagan farmers face eviction from the land they are tilling, a 506-hectare land that was previously privately owned but was distributed to the farmers through 818 emancipation patents distributed to 318 agrarian reform beneficiaries in 1990.

In 1995, five years after the lands were distributed and paid for by the farmers, the heirs of the former owner of the land, Ceferino Ascue, illegally sold the property to Asturias Industries, a mining company. The farmers were not aware that the illegal sale took place. It was only in 2000, after ten years since they began cultivating the agriculturally productive area, that they discovered that the sale took place, and that the mining company is out to grab the land and convert it for mining. Asturias filed a letter of protest before the Department of Agrarian Reform, saying that the property was erroneously and maliciously covered under the agrarian reform program. Asturias wants to establish a cement plant in the area, and to bolster its claim, it fished out a 1965 Bureau of Mines findings that the area is ‘mineralized.’ Using the 1965 findings, Asturias obtained a Mineral Production Sharing Agreement (MPSA) with DENR and an Environmental Clearance Certificate (ECC) between 1997 to 1998 from DENR.

Thus began a legal campaign waged against the farmers by the mining firm in collusion with the former owners of the land and government agencies. DAR subsequently conducted an ocular inspection in the area and sustained the protest filed by Asturias. It claimed that the land was not primarily devoted to rice and/or corn production and that it was erroneously covered because the lands have become mineral by virtue of the MPSA and ECC that Asturias obtained.

By mimicking Asturias’ claim, DAR willingly violated its own mandate to support farmers. The truth is that the lands remain agricultural, with some of the farmers still planting rice and corn, while others made adjustments in their planting beyond rice and corn because of the lack of support for rice and corn production, natural changes in land fertility, and cropping patterns. The truth is that the lands remain agricultural; it was classified as agricultural when CARP took effect in 1988, while the MPSA was approved only in 1997. Even DENR Sec. Angelo Reyes said that DENR has not recommended the area be declared ‘mineralized’. Ironically, those who insist that the lands are ‘mineralized’ have admitted in the past that it is agricultural: Ceferino Ascue, in his tax declaration, classifies the area as agricultural, and Asturias, in its property application with the municipal government of Calatagan admits that the property is agricultural.

The case reached the Supreme Court, and unfortunately for the farmers, the High Court ruled in favor of the mining firm using DAR’s findings. It did not directly order the cancellation of the Emancipation Patents, saying instead that the proceeding is under the authority of DARAB. The farmers fear that this May, they would be evicted from their lands, thus prompting this long march to Metro Manila. Once here, they will protest before the DENR and Malacañang and urge the government to revoke the MPSA.

The Calatagan farmers are not the first to walk hundreds of kilometers to achieve agrarian justice. Last year, fifty-five farmers from Sumilao, Bukidnon, began a long walk to Metro Manila to demand their ownership of a 144-hectare property that was already awarded to them but was converted into an agro-industrial land. The Sumilao farmers began their struggle more than ten years ago. In 1995, the Sumilao farmers scored a victory when DAR issued certificated of land ownership to distribute the contested 144-hectare property. Their victory was short-lived, because at the behest of the land owner, Norberto Quisumbing, and with the help of a local politician, then Executive Secretary reversed the DAR decision and converted the property into an agri-industrial area. The farmers protested through a hunger strike that generated a public outcry in their favor. They scored another victory when then President FVR issued his famous win-win solution, in which 100 hectares would be divided among the 137 farmer beneficiaries, and 44 hectares would remain with Quisumbing.

But when the farmers returned to Sumilao, Quisumbing brought the case to the Supreme Court, which subsequently nullified the compromise agreement. Quisumbing then sold the property to San Miguel Food Inc. in 2002, which began constructing a piggery in 2007. The conversion was patently illegal, and it was obviously done to evade CARP. The farmers marched to Manila, and covered more than 1,7000 kilometers by feet.

The march renewed interests in agrarian reform. They got the support of the Catholic Church, which facilitated another compromise solution. An agreement was reached, and after waiting for more than decade, the Sumilao farmers finally reached the end of their quest.

Farmers walking to Metro Manila, laws being twisted to evade agrarian reform, landed political dynasties using their position to evade CARP – these stories still dominate agrarian reform in the country. Why do farmers need to walk for miles to get a piece of land that they, according to law, rightfully own? Agrarian reform is in the Constitution, hailed as a centerpiece program for development, and yet large landed companies, political clans, and other landed interests find it easy to mangle the law and twist our political institutions just to evade CARP?

In less than 50 days, CARP will expire. And yet, more than 1 million hectares of private lands remain undistributed. Among these undistributed lands are properties owned by President GMA’s husband, Jose Miguel Arroyo, in Negros. The President said eight years ago that the 1,000-hectare Arroyo land would be put under CARP. But with CARP about to expire in less than 50 days, three out of six of the haciendas included in the Arroyo lands are still undistributed. Worse, they have been converted or subdivided to evade CARP: Hacienda Bacan was converted to agro-industrial use for the production of ethanol; Hacienda Grande was subdivided and titled to several corporations, individuals, and foundations, and; Hacienda Paraiso was subdivided into parcels of five-hectares each, a sly if not silly attempt to evade the law.

The non-distribution of the Arroyo lands demonstrate the single-most important reason why the promise of agrarian reform is still unfulfilled – the lack of political will on the part of the government. It has allowed land owners to deploy various tactics, from land conversion and legal harassment to threats of violence, to evade CARP.

With the imminent shortage in rice, land reform has become all the more important. President GMA herself has recognized how years of land conversion has compromised our food security, and has imposed a ban on land conversion. But this ban is not enough – the climate conducive to land reclassification and conversion is still present, as evidenced by what is happening in Calatagan. The impunity enjoyed by the elite is still there, as seen in the case of the Arroyo lands in Negros.

AKBAYAN joins Filipino farmers in calling for the extension and reform of CARP. The remaining days of CARP is not enough to ensure that lands would be given to landless farmers – we need to extend the program and we need to reform it to address loopholes in the law that have claimed lives and caused sufferings to many farmers.

This afternoon, the Committee on Agrarian Reform voted on a substitute bill that consolidated several bills that seek to extend and reform CARP. The presence of farmers was overwhelming, and in a surprising move, the committee approved the substitute bill. Among the reforms included in the substitute bill are 1.) the funding and extension of land acquisition and distribution, 2.) strengthening gender parity in the program and recognize women as program beneficiaries and mandating gender-responsive support services, 3.) recognition of the exclusive jurisdiction of DAR in AR-related cases, 4.) the reinforcement of legal standing of farmers in legal cases, and 5.) the indefeasibility of CLOAs and emancipation patents.

The committee decision is a small victory for farmers who thought that landed interests and anti-CARP solons would block the deliberation of the bill in every step. AKBAYAN expresses its gratitude to the committee for its quick response to the appeals of the farmers. We are happy, too, for the support given by Speaker Nograles, who personally committed his support to expedite the bill’s passage.

AKBAYAN must state, however, that despite the hasty deliberation on the substitute bill in the committee, there are other reforms that must be included. The first is the prohibition on land conversion of irrigable and irrigated lands, a crucial reform in light of the imminent rice crisis. This should be a non-negotiable, otherwise land conversion would remain as the land-owners’s preferred tool to evade CARP.

Another reform that Congress must push for is the prohibition on other non-redistributive options. Agrarian reform is premised on land ownership; social justice is compromised unless farmers own the land they till.

We also need to equate “installation” to the actual, physical, peaceful and continuous possession of awarded land, with the government ensuring security and success, so that the physical safety of farmer beneficiaries are protected.

Lastly, greater budgetary support for land acquisition and distribution must be given to CARP and extension of credit and support services for farmer beneficiaries, including collateral-free loans and capability-building projects. We need to give greater budget to agrarian reform to accelerate the program. We need to credit facilities to ensure that agrarian reform would lead to rural development and the emancipation of farmers from deep poverty.

The Committee decided to give to the plenary the decision to whether or not to allow farmland-as-collateral as part of the new program. AKBAYAN expresses its strong opposition to this proposal, as it would only give land-owners a chance to get back and consolidate properties that have already been distributed. It also condones the refusal of the State to fulfill its obligation to deliver support services to farmers.

Mr. Speaker, today, as the farmers of Calatagan, Batangas, of Negros, and Sumilao and continue their struggle for social justice, they would be carrying hopes that Congress would be listening to their appeal. The substitute bill is not yet perfect, but we, members of Congress, have the opportunity to put ourselves in the shoes – or tsinelas – of our farmers, and walk with them as they push for a more meaningful agrarian reform in the country.

Mr. Speaker, the clock is ticking. Let us reform and extend CARP now!


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