Farmers bat for ‘genuine agrarian reform’

Anakpawis Partylist continues to push for the Genuine Agrarian Reform Bill in the landlord-dominated Congress.

By RONALYN V. OLEA
Bulatlat.com

MANILA – Marking the 28th year of the Mendiola massacre, hundreds of farmers marched toward the foot of Chino Roces (formerly Mendiola) bridge and demanded the enactment of a genuine agrarian reform law.

On Jan. 22, 1987, thousands of farmers calling for land reform were fired upon by government troops, killing 13. To this day, no one has been held accountable for the crime.

Carrying the same call, farmers said it is only proper to legislate a new law that serves the interest of the tillers, especially with the CARP extension with reforms (CARPER) having expired on June 30, 2014.

House Bill 252 or the Genuine Agrarian Reform Bill (GARB) filed by Anakpawis Rep. Fernando Hicap, himself a farmer and fisherman, is pending with the House Committee on agrarian reform.

Farmers shun what they call as the government's bogus land reform and pushes for the alternative Genuine Agrarian Reform bill. (Photo by Ronalyn V. Olea / Bulatlat.com)
Farmers shun what they call as the government’s bogus land reform and pushes for the alternative Genuine Agrarian Reform bill. (Photo by Ronalyn V. Olea / Bulatlat.com)

‘Break up land monopoly’

Randall Echanis,deputy secretary general of the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP), said that the ultimate goal of GARB is to “break up land monopoly” of the few elite.

The farmers who came mostly from Southern Tagalog and Central Luzon were one in saying that the the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) and its extension law have not resulted in the distribution of agricultural land to the farmers.

Farmers of the Hacienda Luisita, a sugar estate controlled by the clan of President Benigno Simeon Aquino III for more than five decades, have accused the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) for allegedly conniving with the Cojuangco-Aquinos in maintaining control of over 6,000 hectares of land.

Farmers from Hacienda Dolores in Porac, Pampanga, many of whom were beneficiaries of the CARP, are up against the alleged landgrabbing by the Ayala corporation.

Farmers from Hacienda Looc in Batangas, supposedly beneficiaries of CARP, are threatened to be displaced by real estate development projects by Henry Sy, the country’s wealthiest man.

Salient points

Every year, without fail, Teresita Arjona, demands justice for her husband Danilo, one of the victims of the 1987 Mendiola massacre. (Photo by Ronalyn V. Olea / Bulatlat.com)
Every year, without fail, Teresita Arjona, demands justice for her husband Danilo, one of the victims of the 1987 Mendiola massacre. (Photo by Ronalyn V. Olea / Bulatlat.com)
Echanis said GARB aims to address the land problem in the country through the free distribution of land to the farmers. CARP and CARPer required farmers to pay amortization for the land.

Data from the Land Bank of the Philippines show that only 9.7 percent of agrarian reform beneficiaries have already paid their lands in full. Only 14.5 percent have been paying and 75.8 percent have not been paying.

GARB, according to Echanis, would not pay compensation to landlords who acquired land through “violence, deception and other sinister means.” He cited the case of Hacienda Luisita, which was acquired by the Cojuangco clan in the 1950s through government loan with the condition that the land be distributed to the farmers after 10 years. Since 1967, the Cojuangcos have done everything to maintain control of the vast tracts of land.

Again, this is contrary to CARP and CARPER, which mandates payment of “just” compensation. Anakpawis said that from 1972 to 2008, local landlords received a total of P289-billion ($6.92 billion) in payments for 1.6 million hectares by virtue of the government’s land reform programs. Another P150 billion had been allocated for landlord compensation from 2009 to 2014.

No illusions

Recognizing that Congress is dominated by landlords, Echanis said the KMP and Anakpawis bear no illusion that GARB would be passed by the 16th Congress.

The bill, in fact, was first filed by the late Anakpawis Rep. Crispin Beltran in 2007. It was filed again by former Anakpawis Rep. Rafael Mariano in 2010 and then by Hicap in 2013. Public consultations were held in the past years but no committee report has been released.

Randall Echanis, deputy secretary general of Anakpawis, echoes the demand for genuine agrarian reform. (Photo by Ronalyn V. Olea/ Bulatlat.com)
Randall Echanis, deputy secretary general of Anakpawis, echoes the demand for genuine agrarian reform. (Photo by Ronalyn V. Olea/ Bulatlat.com)

Echanis said majority of the members of the House Committee on Agrarian Reform are landlords or with interest on land. Its chairman, Rep. Teddy Baguilat Jr., came from a landed family in Ifugao while the vice chairman, Noel Villanueva, is known to be a dummy of the Cojuangco-Aquinos renting out land in Concepcion, Tarlac, Echanis said.

Echanis said the filing of GARB is a political move, with the objectives of exposing the anti-feudal character of Congress and of the entire ruling system and echoing the demand of the peasant mass movement in the country.

Campaigns

Notwithstanding the absence of a genuine agrarian reform law, Echanis said farmers all over the country, through collective action, implement their own version of agrarian reform.

These included campaigns for the reduction of land rent, for the increase in the farmgate prices of agricultural products and for raising wages of agricultural workers.

In some areas, Echanis said, farmers have gone as far as occupying the land and implementing tillage campaign. This is true for Negros islands and even in Hacienda Luisita.

“It is the mass movement that pushes for the welfare of millions of poor farmers,” Echanis said. ()

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