Filipino Farmers to Aquino: Make Land Reform a Development Priority
Philippines, March 2014 -- With less than four months remaining before the upcoming "death" of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP)'s land distribution component on June 30 2014, 300 farmers from the Save Agrarian Reform Alliance (SARA) today trooped to Malacañang Presidential Palace, calling for a drastic acceleration and overhaul of the implementation of the land reform effort.
Their main demand: President Aquino must personally step in to save CARP from the chronic underperformance and lack of political commitment manifested by the present Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR), the program's chief implementing agency.
"CARP is on the verge of death at the hands of the present DAR," said Jaime Tadeo, SARA spokesperson. "Contrary to its padded accomplishment reports, the present administration's DAR has consistently failed to meet its yearly targets, failed to provide support services to its beneficiaries, and failed to protect farmers' rights from illegal conversions and land-grabbing."
According to DAR's own figures, of the total 710,000 hectares of lands originally targeted for distribution between July 2010 and June 2013, only 360,464 hectares or 51 percent of the annual targets were distributed to agrarian reform beneficiaries.
But even DAR's claims of success remain suspect. In its 2013 accomplishment report, DAR reported that it fully redistributed the 4,099 hectares of Hacienda Luisita— even as it continues to neglect the physical installation and delivery of support services to Luisita's farmers.
"With a DAR so inutile in fulfilling its duty, it is time for President Aquino to become directly involved in the implementation of CARP. PNoy himself must realize that he must do for agrarian reform what he did for the country during the trial of former Chief Justice Corona, if he truly wishes to bring 'inclusive growth' to the rural poor," Tadeo said.
Despite the Philippines' celebrated growth rates in 2012 and 2013, there is now widespread agreement that recent economic growth has failed to benefit the rural poor.
No less than Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Arsenio Balisacan asserted during a January 16, 2014 speech: "We are aware that recent economic growth, at least in the Philippines, has yet to be felt by the poor, particularly small farmers."
Yet, as a 2013 SARA report on the state of agrarian reform discovered, the persistence of rural poverty is clearly linked to the lack of effective implementation of land reform and failure to deliver integrated social services.
Indeed, as of 2011, the top 15 provinces with the highest land redistribution backlogs, such as Negros Occidental, Camarines Sur, and Masbate were also among those with exceedingly high provincial poverty rates— far above the national average of 25.2 percent in 2012.
"Agriculture is still the most neglected sector of our country, and hundreds of thousands, if not more than a million, farmers' families suffering from poverty will continue to be left behind unless PNoy orders DAR to immediately fast-track the distribution of remaining lands, and give farmer-beneficiaries the full support of the government," said SARA leader Trinidad Domingo.
"We have lost our faith in the DAR leadership, and appeal to President Aquino to place land reform as one of his priority development agendas. This is not only his promise to all Filipino farmers and his constitutional duty, but it should also be an essential part of his administration's goal of ending rural poverty in the country," Domingo asserted.
In his 2012 State of the Nation Address, President Aquino unequivocally stated: "Before I step down, all the land covered by CARP will have been distributed."
"The future of small farmers now rests in PNoy's hands," said Tadeo. "He can either let CARP die in his administration, ending the hopes of millions of farmers who still dream of owning the lands that they till. Or he can breathe new life into Philippine agriculture and rural development by making CARP among his highest priorities."
Tadeo, Domingo, and other SARA leaders pledged that they would continue to return in greater numbers in the remaining months before June 30, until Aquino would make good his 2012 promise on land reform.
Save Agrarian Reform Alliance (SARA)
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