Soiled Program: The Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program’s Destined Failure

Notwithstanding CARP’s goal of land redistribution, full land ownership has continued to decline, owing to the intensification of tenancy and lease arrangements.

Philippine Collegian
Posted by Bulatlat
Vol. VII, No. 50, January 27-February 2, 2008

The right to land is one of the most contested rights in Philippine history. In a feudal society, vast land holdings translate to political and economic clout; to distribute land is to distribute power. Thus, landlords are unlikely to give up their holdings voluntarily or peacefully, making the peasant movement a violent struggle between the powerful and the powerless.

In a country constituted by a peasant majority, programs for agrarian reform is a cornerstone of every administration. Cory Aquino’s initial popularity was bolstered by promises to voluntarily distribute the 6,000-hectare Hacienda Luisita to the peasants. When it became apparent, however, that Aquino was actually stalling agrarian reform, 20,000 peasants marched towards Malacañang to demand that Aquino deliver more than lip service. Notwithstanding the peasants’ legitimate call, the military open-fired, killing 13 members of the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) in Mendiola on Jan. 22, 1987.

The resulting public pressure forced Aquino to make land redistribution a national priority. With the strong lobbying of peasant groups, former Cong. Bonifacio Gillego drafted House Bill (HB) 400 which incorporated the ideals of the peasant movement. The landlord-dominated Congress, however, was outraged and moved swiftly to water down HB 400. Despite the condemnation of peasant groups, HB 400 was amended and passed in 1988, creating the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP).

Year 2008, twenty years after CARP’s initial implementation, land remains beyond the grasp of the Filipino masses.

Landed interests

Mindanao is endowed with natural abundance; its lands and waters are profuse with a diversity of flora, fauna and minerals. Yet, it is this abundance that has damned the land to an array of interests including foreign powers, land-grabbers and the state, making its inhabitants one of the poorest in an already impoverished nation. And just as indigenous communities were driven out from their ancestral lands by settlers from Luzon, the land’s wealth was directed from the region to Luzon; Mindanao’s depressed economic condition was “exacerbated by internal colonisation” (Tadem, 1992).

Meanwhile, the Sumilao farmers’ 1700-km “March for Land” made headlines, directing attention to Mindanao’s decades-old predicament. At the heart of Mindanao is Bukidnon, where the friendly climate and fertile soil attracted the attention of landowners and transnational corporations. Subsequently, the native inhabitants in Sumilao, Bukidnon were evicted as their ancestral land was converted into a poultry farm.

After the implementation of CARP, the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) announced Bukidnon as the leading province for agrarian reform due to its “extensive land area” and the ubiquity of “land-tenure arrangements.” Included within the ten-year, three-phase coverage of CARP was the Sumilao farmers’ 144-hectare ancestral land.

Section 25 of CARP, however, allows the reclassification of agricultural land to commercial, residential, industrial, and ecotourism parks, effectively exempting the land from redistribution. Landowners promptly took advantage of the land use conversion, with DAR approving an average of 95 percent of the conversion applications, according to think-tank IBON Foundation. The Sumilao property was reclassified from agricultural to agro-industrial, notwithstanding that prime and productive agricultural lands are excluded from reclassification or conversion. The land was later sold to San Miguel Foods Inc. (SMFI) owned by Danding Cojuangco, who owns over 30,000 hectares – the greatest amount of accumulated land in the country.

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