By ARTHUR L. ALLAD-IW
After the massacre of the farmers in Mendiola, the administration of then President Corazon Cojuangco-Aquino adopted in 1988 an agrarian program through the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law or Republic Act 6657. The law aims to distribute land to the landless as the farmers has been crying-out for a long time. Twenty years after, farmers claim that seven out of every 10 farmers are still landless. In Congress, particularly in the House of Representatives, various bills that aim to extend the implementation of RA 6657 (which is due to end in June this year) are still pending.
Since the adoption of RA 6657, I can point out several reasons why the said law failed to realize its objective for agrarian reform.
The Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) implementing RA 6657 is given least priority for government funding. Instead, the law defined that the fund for the program will come from what is to be recovered from the Marcoses ill-gotten wealth. Until now however, the government, through the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG), continues to be criticized for the slow recovery and back door negotiations with the Marcoses for the ill-gotten wealth. Assuming that the ill-gotten wealth will be recovered, will it not be best used to compensate the human rights victims of Marcos dictatorship as it was decided by the Hawaiian Court?
There are also substantial loopholes in the law which were incorporated by the landlords, who dominate Congress anyway. First, the retention limit provision that has assured lands for members of the landlord and his family. The landowner is assured to retain not more than five hectares and each child will be awarded three hectares provided that he/she is 15 years of age and is the actual tiller of the land. This provision already removes a big piece of the targeted lands for the “distribution.”
Second, the lands distributed to the farmers are not given to them free. These lands are paid for by the farmers in 30 annual amortizations at six percent interest per year to the Land Bank of the Philippines. Their failure to maintain amortization obligations opens the transfer of award to their relatives or to other qualified farmers. Of course most of the grantee- farmers will end up losing the land. Why? Though they are in possession of the land, they still need to look for capital for production – to cover their expenses in raising their products then deliver it to the market. The lack of capital makes them turn to loans. So they now have to raise funds for amortization and production as there is no government subsidy to speak of.
Third, landlords easily get away by transforming their lands into a “cooperative” or agro-industrial estate or real estate housing. A concrete example of a “cooperative” is the Cojuangco owned Hacienda Luisita. where land distribution was evaded by converting the hacienda ownership into a corporate cooperative. The same goes for those agricultural lands converted into agro-industrial estates geared for export.
These realities make the law or program fail to serve our farmers. And I believe that these issues should be addressed by a new agrarian reform law.
There are various bills pending favoring the extension of the CARP but are still subject to the limitations I mentioned above. And like the farmers, I believe it does not solve the agrarian issue if any law will still be adopted under the context of RA 6657.
However, recently there is a distinct House Bill 3950 which is an output of a national farmers’ conference. It aimed to answer the weaknesses of RA 6657, like distributing the land for free to qualified farmers – no more amortization; and tries to adopt support for the farmers. While it is true that the bill was crafted through the initiative of various farmers’ organizations nationwide, these farmers know it will go through rough-sailing in Congress.
In fact, they do not expect the landlord-dominated Congress to adopt the bill and give it to the farmers in a silver platter. They however very well know that only their sovereign and unified strength as a sector, can quench their thirst for land they can call their own. Maybe it is high time also for the legislators to consider HB 3950 and the people to support the farmers struggle incorporated in that bill too. May the spirits of the farmers massacred in Mendiola help them realize their dreams.#