Peasant groups urge Catholic bishops: ‘Support GARB, not CARP’

“It is helpful that the bishops are voicing out their support for farmers. We appeal that they support GARB that proposes free land distribution and the nationalization of agricultural lands.”

By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
Bulatlat.com

MANILA – Peasant groups appealed to Catholic bishops to support the Genuine Agrarian Reform Bill, instead of pushing for the extension of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program.

The Anakpawis partylist and Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) made the statement in response to the recent appeal to President Aquino made by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines. At least 81 Catholic Church leaders have signed the appeal that says, “’give new life and glorious finish’ to the 27-year-old CARP by passing the twin measures House Bill 4296 and House Bill 4375 for the sake of Filipino farmers.”

“It is helpful that the bishops are voicing out their support for the farmers’ interests, and so we appeal that they support GARB that proposes free land distribution and the nationalization of agricultural lands, Anakpawis Representative Fernando “Ka Pando” Hicap said in a statement.

peasant-luisita-hli-dabet-eKMP chairman Rafael Mariano went as far as saying that the bishops are “committing a mortal sin” by appealing to Aquino and to the members of Congress to pass House Bill 4296 and House Bill 4375.

In their recent appeal to Aquino, the prelates said, “Not extending CARP and ensuring the gains of the program is tantamount to disenfranchising at least a million farmers of their right to own the land they till, equitably share in the fruits of their labor and find a path out of poverty.”

House Bill 4296 is seeking to extend the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) while House Bill 4375 seeks the creation of an Agrarian Reform Commission.

“We are drawing the line against the Catholic bishops who both wittingly and unwittingly supported the fake land reform. They have totally rejected our appeal for them to rethink their position on this anti-peasant CARP,” KMP said in a statement.

The group said farmer-leaders have officially submitted to the CBCP’s 107th Plenary Assembly in July 2013, an appeal urging “the Filipino peasantry including our Bishops, to unite and make a stand for a new, genuine and truly distributive land reform program… and, pray that our beloved bishops reconsider their position on the sham CARPER and to continue taking the side of the oppressed and exploited toiling peasants who have been struggling for genuine land reform.”

In their appeal to the CBCP, the KMP called CARP as “the longest-running and most expensive agrarian reform program in the world and is not meant to address the problem of landlessness and rural poverty. Enacted on June 10, 1988 during the administration of then President Corazon Cojuangco-Aquino, the law was crafted to exempt Hacienda Luisita and other vast haciendas in the country from land distribution.”

Mariano also said HB 4375 is a legislation that would institutionalize the criminalization of peasant leaders and their agrarian struggle. He noted that under the bill, “under the guise of apprehending violators of agrarian reform, a so-called Agrarian Reform Commission will have the power to urge prosecutorial authorities to file charges against farmers asserting their rights to the lands.”

He pointed out that the filing of fabricated criminal cases against farmers is already happening in Hacienda Luisita “by no less than the DAR.” He added, “The bishops’ are rubbing salt of injustice to the wounds of farmers who were incarcerated for asserting their rights to the lands.”

The peasant group feared that “with the blessings of the CBCP bishops, Congress would once again use the ‘tyranny of landlords and the tyranny of numbers’ to extend the bogus CARP for the third time despite its failure to distribute lands to landless tillers.”

No genuine land distribution

The peasant group said that CARP provided non-land transfer schemes, like the Stock Distribution Option (SDO) scheme in the Cojuangco’s Hacienda Luisita in Tarlac province, corporative scheme in Negros Occidental, leasehold operations, and leaseback arrangements.

These schemes “exempted vast tracts of landholdings of big landlords and agro-corporations from actual and physical land distribution to farmer-beneficiaries.”

Carp also established Agrarian Reform Communities (ARCs), which laid the ground for corporate intervention and control of agribusinesses over vast tracts of lands.

The KMP added that the CARP also automatically exempted from distribution the agricultural lands of educational institutions and military reservations like the 3,800-hectare Central Mindanao University (CMU) and the more than 70,000-hectare Fort Magsaysay Military Reservation in Nueva Ecija province in Central Luzon.

Citing figures from the research think-tank Ibon Foundation, it said that records show that from 1972, or from the time Presidential Decree 27 (PD 27) was enforced up to June 2005, government paid an average of P500,463 ($9,422.25) per landlord.

This was based on the total approved Land Bank of the Philippines (LBP) compensation to 83,203 landowners for 1.3 million hectares, amounting to P41.6 billion ($783.2 million, based on an exchange rate of P53.115 per US dollar) in cash and bonds.

The five-year extension of CARP or CARPER, (2009-2014) got a P150-billion (3.392 billion) budgetary allocation.

“The DAR’s figures of so-called accomplishments are aimed to deceive farmers,” Mariano said adding that the DAR’s figures did not reflect reversals and cancellations of so-called certificates of land ownership and included lands locked in agrarian disputes like Hacienda Looc and Hacienda Yulo in Southern Tagalog, among others.

“Land-grabbing in the form of land-use conversions intensified under CARP. DAR records showed that from 1979 to December 31, 2003, there were 2,885 approved applications for conversion involving 40,485.9124 hectares of agricultural lands, while the National Statistics Office (NSO), in 2002, cited that 827,892 hectares of agricultural land have been converted to other uses.”
‘Garb is what is needed’

Anakpawis Rep. Hicap said it is GARB that is needed to be passed. He said GARB pushes for free land distribution to farmer beneficiaries and also seeks for higher government farm subsidy.

Hicap said that for decades, farmers have been subjected to different exploitative relationship with the land owners. Landed families including the President Aquino’s clan enjoy lavish lifestyles, while the farm workers of Hacienda Luisita do all the hard work while languishing in poverty.

“Some of the provisions under the present land reform program entail the protection of the land owners. Just take the example of the 6,000 hectares Hacienda Luisita; even though it was subjected to land reform; Cory Aquino however prevented its actual and physical distribution to its farm worker beneficiaries by way of the Stock Distribution Option or SDO,” Hicap said.

He added that with GARB, all agricultural lands will be subjected to distribution. Other non-land transfer schemes such as the SDO, joint venture and among others will be prohibited to make sure that land owners will not have a chance to re-concentrate farm lands through dummy corporations engaging in agri-business schemes.()

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