This statement is written by the facilitators of the National Engagement Strategy (NES) in the Philippines, Timothy Salomon and Arjay Barrios. Read the statement on NES Philippines website here.
On the 33rd Anniversary of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) this 10th of June 2021, the National Engagement Strategy Philippines calls out the Duterte Administration and the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) for their all-time low performance in land acquisition and distribution (LAD). We demand that the Administration and the DAR to explain to landless farmers and farmworkers nationwide its dismal performance of approximately 28,000 hectares of private agricultural lands distributed annually compared to previous administrations– 67,488 hectares for Aquino, B; 64,057 hectares for Arroyo; 72,898 hectares for Estrada; 139,933 hectares for Ramos; and, 90,723 for Aquino, C annually. At this rate, the government will complete the CARP in 20 more years given the current balance of 561,131hectares with Notice of Coverage (NoC) and 5 more years if we include landholdings without NoC and with pending cases. For more than 3 decades of the implementation of the CARP, it is high time that this administration takes significant strides towards fulfilling its campaign agenda and its official policy to complete agrarian reform by 2022 or before the term of President Duterte ends.
We recognize the accomplishments of the DAR in the distribution of public lands, but we challenge it to shift its focus to the acquisition and distribution of private agricultural lands. The DAR knows for a fact that many public lands fall within forestlands and ancestral domains. In several cases, the DAR has failed to implement safeguards to prevent environmental degradation in forestlands converted to agricultural and non-agricultural uses, and to prevent conditions of conflict between farmer-beneficiaries and indigenous cultural communities/indigenous peoples. The distribution of public lands also feigns accomplishment as it diverts attention away from inaction in implementing compulsory land acquisition in private agricultural lands. Such inaction allows hacienderos and oligarchs to resume business as usual as the DAR allows landless farmers’ claims to languish. Further, several cases persist where farmer-beneficiaries are landowners only on paper, but have waited for decades to physically occupy and till their land due to delayed installation and the refusal of the landed elite to vacate CARP-covered landholdings. Where in these can we see the Duterte Administration’s “Tapang at Malasakit”?
We have heard the President himself talk tough on breaking land concentration among hacienderos and on breaking the oligarchy. We therefore challenge the administration to use its popularity and machinery to fast-track the acquisition and distribution of private agricultural lands.
We also call on the DAR to prioritize landless farmers and farmworkers in the distribution of agricultural lands. We support efforts in naming titles under both husband and wife as a measure of gender equality considering that only 29% of Agrarian Reform beneficiaries (ARBs) are women. It is important that other Filipino citizens also be provided land particularly Balik Probinsya beneficiaries, overseas Filipino workers, former combatants, agriculture graduates, DAR employees, but we wish to remind the DAR that the CARP was primarily instituted to distribute land for landless farmers and farm workers.
We recognize the mandate of government to issue individual titles to ARBs, which the Support to Parcelization of Lands for Individual Titling (SPLIT) Project aims to accomplish through the redocumentation of Collective Certificates of Land Ownership Award (CLOAs) towards its parcelization to individual CLOAs. Given this, the DAR must stay true to the objectives of the CARP to provide secure tenure rights to ARBs over their land hence we stress that the provision of adequate and appropriate support services is integral to ensuring the tenure security of farmers and are able to enjoy the benefits from cultivating their land. Records of the DAR show that only 53% of ARBs were able to avail of at least one form of support service while approximately 33% were able to receive a comprehensive set of support services. We, therefore, call on the government to provide comprehensive support services addressing the multi-faceted aspects of farming, including, but not limited to social amelioration, access to capital/credit, farm inputs, pest management, capacity building, social protection, post-harvest facilities, infrastructure, linking to markets, among others. This is to ensure that the SPLIT project will not further expose ARBs to economic vulnerabilities. Such support services would best be channeled to farmers’ cooperatives who can closely guide ARBs towards improving their livelihoods at scale.
We point out the distinction that accomplishment in the SPLIT must not be claimed as new landholdings distributed to ARBs as lands parceled have already been previously distributed as collective CLOAs.
With the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, we direct attention to our food front liners, Filipino farmers. Quarantine measures have been protracted bringing major difficulties in agricultural production and trade. These conditions have driven farmers to poverty as their income is vulnerable at both ends as their sources of income are challenged by high costs of production and at the point of sale, fall to the mercy of middlemen, while at the point of expenditure, households suffer from compounded markup costs for goods and services. No wonder some farmers decide to give away, if not throw out, their produce while consumers in urban areas mourn food that could have nourished their bodies at a time when a pandemic is in full swing. As a result, some farmers are enticed to lease out their lands, which due to poor incomes from farming make them desperate to accede to unfavorable arrangements.
The passage of the Rice Tariffication Law (RTL) promoting the importation of rice has led to an unfair market for local rice producers. This is further exacerbated by the absence of effective regulatory mechanisms over imported rice resulting in the flooding of imported rice in the local market shrinking the market for local rice. This comes as no surprise that the local rice industry cannot compete with imported rice because rice farmers abroad are highly subsidized by their governments while rice farmers locally do not receive comprehensive support. We, therefore, call on the Duterte administration to suspend and review the RTL subject to a thorough assessment of its effects on rice farmers and consumers nationwide.
Attention must also be directed towards unabated land-use conversion and development aggressions against farmers. Offers to sell agricultural lands have been abundant especially during the pandemic and these coincide with unregulated and unauthorized prior destruction of irrigation facilities. This leaves farming unprofitable if not impossible for damaged areas. The rule of law in agricultural lands is put to question as developers and landowners are free to buy out farmers’ lands as long as the plunder of farmlands and water resources are not caught. In some cases, decisions on premature conversion pre-pandemic were reversed during the pandemic by officers in the DAR with alleged conflicts of interest with developers and landowners. It bears merit to emphasize that our farmlands and water resources are finite and that their destruction leads to permanent loss to the nation’s food security. To address these, DAR is urged to repeal the administrative orders (AOs 1 and 6 of 2019) that seek to hasten the conversion process. DAR must strictly carry out and implement Sec. 65 of RA 6657 or the CARP as amended that provides that failure to implement the conversion plan within five years from approval will mean that the land will be automatically covered by CARP.
Amidst all these threats, farmers still fight for their land rights, which during these times have been especially dangerous. Hacienderos and businesses continue to be emboldened to illegally resist agrarian reform and to wield the law to criminalize the legitimate claims of ARBs. Three hundred eleven (311) land rights defenders including farmers, farmworkers and fisherfolk have had to pay the ultimate price in the Duterte Administration. We call on the government to take urgent action to investigate and prosecute perpetrators of violence against farmers. Inaction, or to delay any action, on holding perpetrators accountable is tantamount to the refusal to implement the rule of law.
Finally, we cannot afford the youth to abandon farming– this is the single greatest threat to our food security. We emphasize that we can encourage the youth to take up farming if only we are able to provide ‘land to the tiller’ and to make farming dignified and decent work.