Waterloo for agrarian reform?


The Philippines still has a chance of meeting the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) of halving the proportion of people living in poverty by 50 per cent from 1990 levels if it resolutely carries out the right policies, National Economic Development Authority head Arsenio Balicasan said at a recent congressional hearing.

Balisacan’s brave hopes were dashed a few days later when the administration conceded that agrarian reform, one of the leading poverty reduction programs, will not be completed by the end of June 2014.   Agrarian Reform Secretary Gil de los Reyes said that the backlog of undistributed land stands at almost 700,000 hectares, 450,000 of which are private lands subject to compulsory acquisition.  According to him, it will take up to the end of June 2016 to complete the distribution process.

Going back on a Promise, Violating the Law

The latest land redistribution schedule not only belies the president’s promise to complete the process that he made to farmer leaders in the middle of last year.  It also violates the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform with Extension Law (CARPER), Section 5 of which explicitly states that the Department of Agrarian Reform “in coordination with the Presidential Agrarian Reform Council (PARC) shall plan and program the final acquisition and distribution of all remaining unacquired and undistributed land from the effectivity of this Act until June 30, 2014.”

Defending his revised schedule, de los Reyes said that his interpretation of CARPER was based on the opinion of the Department of Justice that land acquisition and distribution may be extended so long as the notices of coverage (NOCs) are distributed on or before June 30, 2014.   Yet one looks in vain for any provision in CARPER that would allow extension of the physical acquisition and redistribution of land covered by the reform.  What CARPER does allow for is the advanced implementation of land redistribution, not late implementation.   I was one of the authors of the CARPER Act, and we made sure there were no loopholes that would allow extension beyond June 30, 2014.

De los Reyes admitted that the DAR had only completed the “easy part” of land reform: the distribution of public land and voluntarily transferred private land.   Still to take place in the next few years, according to him, is the compulsory acquisition and distribution of the nearly 450,000 hectares of private land that big and medium landlords have hang on to with grim determination owing their being the best lands in the country.   Most of these lands are sugar lands in the Western Visayas and cash crop plantations in Mindanao.   So critical are the next few years that de los Reyes admitted that developments in this period will spell the difference between a “Waterloo” or a “Normandy” for agrarian reform.

The DAR chief’s announcement of a unilateral extension of land redistribution has added to the anxieties of small farmers and land reform advocates who are already alarmed by the streamlining of the Department of Agrarian Reform that is underway.  While the administration projects this as simply a “rationalization” of the DAR bureaucracy, many in civil society see it as the phasing out of the department.  Their interpretation is lent credence by the recent admission of Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala that the functions of the DAR will be divided between the Department of Agriculture and the Department of the Environment and Natural Resources.

Judicial Counteroffensive

Asked what was blocking completion of land acquisition and distribution according to schedule set by the law, the agrarian reform secretary pointed to technical problems associated with land inventories, land record discrepancies, and classification of lands.

It is hard, however, to conceal the real reason.

In many parts of the country, more and more cases of revocation of Certificates of Land Transfer (CLOAs) are occurring, the most publicized of which are in Quezon.   Indeed, there has been a 4.6% increase in the number of cases filed at the Agrarian Reform Adjudication Board between 2012 and 2013.  There is a judicial counteroffensive by landlords taking place, and it is likely to intensify as land reform finally focuses on the most productive private lands in the Western Visayas and Mindanao.  The struggle over Hacienda Luisita case is not the climax of agrarian reform.   The tenacity with which the Cojuangcos held on to the plantation might simply presage the intensity of the coming battle in the Visayas and Mindanao, where big landed families will use every legal loophole, along with coercion, to retain effective control of their lands.

Poverty, Corruption, and Agrarian Reform

The central challenges to the country are the radical reduction of inequality and poverty and the achievement of sustained and sustainable development.   The completion of agrarian reform is a precondition for both.  We must not allow the dazzling statistics on economic growth to blind us to this.

Also, while the elimination of the pork barrel is a critical step in the battle against corruption, unless there are major gains in the battle against poverty, of which land reform is one of the key weapons, the gains in the struggle against corruption will be evanescent since the poor will be constantly tempted to resort to patronage by the powerful in order to survive.  Patronage politics, recent events have shown, is one of the fundamental sources of corruption

It is not enough for President Aquino to not stay in the way of the redistribution of Hacienda Luisita.  If the battle against corruption and against poverty that he intends as his legacy is to be successful during the rest of his term and beyond, he must transcend his class background and prioritize agrarian reform.

*Walden Bello, a representative of Akbayan in the House of Representatives, was one of the authors of RA 9700 or CARPER, the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform with Extension Law.

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  • Mang Teban

    What a laugh!
    Do you really think that your posturings, Party list rep Walden Bello, will be enough to present yourself with image of impartiality and independence of mind?
    Your partylist, Akbayan, is a partner in crime with the Aquino administration on matters of land reform. You have been elected by direct contributions and undue political influence of the Aquino sisters and your benefactor, P-Noy.
    Pwede ba? Tama na ang pagbabalatkayo.
    If you really want to show transparency, can you please publish here in Philippine Daily Inquirer in detail HOW YOU SPENT YOUR PORK BARREL (of 70 million pesos every year) since you started receiving it during GMArroyo’s regime until today?
    If your heart genuinely bleeds for the poor farmers and millions of families deprived by the Cojuangco clan (Peping & , then you would have had distanced yourself from the celebrity figures of that family, should you have not?
    Cut that crap that you were one of the authors of the CARPER. Did you really mean to end the dynastic hold of the affluent families over agricultural estates or were you just joking?

  • Jao Romero

    agrarian reform is a joke. how can it even succeed when majority of government officials are vast landowners themselves (or come from a family of landowners)?

    there’s no mechanism to help it even succeed. there’s no support after distribution. it’s doomed to fail from the start. is it even illegal to convert distributed lands for real estate? our zoning laws are a mess (or maybe not just followed) i see a lot of arable lands being converted to housing lots. lands are not being taxed correctly. idle lands should be taxed steeply, while lands devoted to agriculture should be taxed the least (or not even taxed at all). unoccupied real estate should be classed as idle land and should be taxed the most. it’s a real crime to let capital go to waste.

    how can you talk about reform when so many things are wrong in the first place? the LRA is a den of scalawags. one of the biggest names in the country is a real estate magnate. you can’t stop this giant from turning every piece of the country into real estate. there’s no place for agriculture in this “culture.” subdivisions and condominiums are selling like hotcakes. never mind if majority of the buyers are speculators. we’re fueling this bubble till it bursts!

    reform you say? reform? the Catholic Church is one of the biggest landowners in the Philippines. reform that!

    forget agriculture. you can’t even protect agricultural lands from being converted into real estate lands. there’s a real crime happening in the country. and it’s right in front of our eyes.

  • bgcorg

    Agrarian Reform is indeed an anti-poverty measure. But it is bound to fail if there is no effective system after land distribution that will make each small landowner, land beneficiaries of the program, use their now-owned-land for sustainable land uses. For example, tilling land for sugar requires machineries, intensive capital, fertilizer, irrigation, etc. Do crops have to be changed? Unless small landowners cooperatively band together, they cannot take advantage of economies of scale and may end up only pawning or selling their land. Human development defies theories. There is no effective mechanism that would continue productivity beyond ownership. Given that not all lands are distributed to beneficiaries at the same time, legislators or government in general had not set up the stage for successful transition from bondage-ownership-productivity-social upliftment-sustainable prosperity. Lawmakers and economic executors of programs have failed to make a connection. Maybe, instead of so much pork, a more significant use of funds to genuinely make an impact against poverty should have been embarked on, if not already foreseen. Political will is often cited as a good cause to sustain this impact; but, putting in the money directly for a good reason to alleviate poverty can do much more. This reminds me of the billions in the hands of congressmen and local government officials if by law, the RH Law would have been implemented. What a waste of the people’s money! We do not need condoms and contraceptives to end poverty. We do not need contraception that prevents the poor to realize how to responsibly plan families. We need social justice! The right reason for the right things.

  • tadasolo

    This one dimensional approach to addressing the land reform program the last 40 years is a total failure and continuing this program without analyzing its consequence is not in the best interest of the farmers and the owners. Nothing is more evident than the chronic shortage of rice and our notoriety in being the largest importer. I would imagine even if we transfer all the lands to the landless farmers from the so called big landowners we will still be importing rice and those farmers will still be poor and much more in debt without the capacity to plant crops. Why this is not being address by Mr Bello and his agenda is bordering on hypocrisy. We need to have a balance proposition wherein the landowners which are making the land productive and pay workers at livable wages with health benefits should be allowed to keep the land. The land reform program originally intended to remove the feudal arrangement of servitude has now evolve into a social and housing program to transfer land to somebody whose interest is not to make it productive but to get the land title in the hope of profiting for a greater profit later and selling it. The incentives and resources to support the new landowners are non existent and are doom to fail and besides anecdotal evidence indicates the recipients of the land reform in the past 40 years indicates the children are not interested in continuing the work of their parents. We need to rethink this policy rather than continue arguing a failed program on ideological grounds


      Who would be interested to farm when they see their parents break their back for nothing? Why did it happen? Because the supposed help were pocketed. Do you think that it was only this last decade that something like Napoles scam has happened? A true land reform would greatly answer the disparity between the poor and the rich. For the moment let the farmers own the lanfd thery till and later on they will learn that there is more benefit from farming big parcels of land and as such they have to form themselves into mini cooperatives.

      I am not a communist neither I am pro democracy. I don’t believe in total curtailment of freedom neither giving full freedom. We are still in the process of evolving as a nation.

      • Eustaquio Joven

        What we lose to corruption is peanuts compared to what we lose by paying landowners their just compensation. Solution? Scrap agrarian reform. The billions of pesos that will be saved thereby should be enough to help farmers get out of poverty and be able to produce the food this country needs.

      • TGM_ERICK

        So, we retain the farmers’ statusquo? Would it not be self degrading to them after the long years of struggle dismantking this kind of feudalism? I opine that this would create a greater problem. When Marcos forced the distribution of land there was not much support and the farmers themselves were not ready for such a change.

      • tadasolo

        You make sound like farming is “romantic” and I do not have an idea whether you grew around farming. Farming is hard work and to make ends meet you rely on mother nature and harvesting a crop could cycle once a year if your are lucky and now if you have to worry how to sell it to make a profit. Farming one acre of land is not going to make you money and farmers are reduce to living in poverty and heavily in debt to pay off the land. It is a cycle without any hope for those given a small area.It has not given us independence from importing rice especially with the idiotic government dysfunctional programs. We are better off educating our people with skills to migrate and become OFWs and are getting better at it. They are far more successful in sending money than spending our money on few farmers who will fail

    • Eustaquio Joven

      You are well versed on land reform, a rarity in the web country. Everything you said is true. It is land reform that Walden Bello is talking about. It’s supposed to the initial phase of agrarian reform; or one dimension as you put it. He is supposed to know this, but it appears that he doesn’t. Ironic though it may seem, it’s people like him who espouse land reform who are responsible for the pitiful plight of our farmers. The CARP “emancipated” the tenants from the landlords by instituting the leasehold system whereby, in effect, the farmers pay a fix rental to the land they till. This is suppose to encourage him to produce more. But how can he do this when the vital component of agrarian reform – support services – is denied him? Left to the mercy of loan sharks he goes deeper and deeper into indebtedness.

      Since almost everybody is aware of the Hacienda Lusita case, I shall use it as an example of how counter-productive and detrimental Agrarian Reform is to the country. Land Bank pays (out of our taxes) the Cojuangcos several billions of pesos as “just compensation” which the beneficiaries are supposed to amortize from the fruits of the land. Any farmer would know this is not possible in less than a hectare of rain-fed land. Rice farming even in an irrigated land is a big gamble with very little room for profit, if any. So? Is there any chance we can get back our money? NIL.

      • tadasolo

        Absolutely agree. The small plot of land distributed to farmers is reduce tremendously to make room for roads and housing for these farmers. It is a recipe for failure. I had a conversation with a part time farmer in Tanay Rizal how so called “brokers” or middlemen are buying wholesale the price paid directly to farmers at almost 20% its market price due to the fact they are prevented from selling it directly to either the market or consumers. A solution to this is for towns and cities to open have one day a week for farmers to sell their crops directly to consumers and call this FARMERS to MARKET day. You mentioned Hacienda Luisita. This project before it even gets started is bound to fail to produce any sustainable crop. Irrigation is non existent and to support these farmers will require not only paying the conjuangcos but investing in irrigation and support to 4000 farmers at a cost running in the 10s of billions of pesos and there is no guarantee it will succeed. I know a lot of us hate the Conjuangcos and Aquinos to give up this land but WHAT MANY DO NOT KNOW IS YOU AND I the TAXPAYERS will pay for helping a few farmers. What we need to ask ourselves as taxpayers is can we better spend the money on a program that will fail and will not help the farmers other than getting a title transfer


    All you have written Mr. Bello are the very reasons why I could not trust Pnoy. That sums it all why Pnoy is as corrupt as those under indictment right now. The clan has been fooling the people straight on their faces.

    • Eustaquio Joven

      A defect in our eyes shows us that Cojuangco is the loser in the SC order to distribute the lands through CARP. How could it be when he was, in effect, recognized as the undisputed owner of the land? Has the farmers enough time to bid good-bye to the land they claim to be theirs from the start? Now they are duty bound to amortize it. Poor winners! And the government too stands to lose several billions of pesos for “just compensation” and for the development of the area for farmers who are bound to a life of poverty if they don’t go around the law and start selling their shares of the land as other ARBs before them did. Hindi lang corruption and dapat nating pag-ingatan, katangahan din.

      • TGM_ERICK

        It only goes to show how cunning the Cojuangcvoc are. If only they returned the farms in due time there wont be any problem like this. Though painful in our pockets, that is the just thing to do.

      • Eustaquio Joven

        Hahaha. I think your heart bleeds for the poor in the wrong way. Is it the Cojuangcos fault that the farmers fought with their teeth and nails rather than with their brains? They fought for land reform rather than for their lands, didn’t they? They probably think that they’d be so poor that the government wouldn’t even bother running after them for their yearly amortization. And yet you say that carrying the load for them is just the thing to do for our government? Would you say the same if it’s your own money? Please don’t get me wrong. I write against land reform… not for anything else.

      • TGM_ERICK

        Yes, I know you are against land reform. Nothing personal here for both of us. But in that HL case, it has started way back before 1972. So to just drop it like a hot potato so to speak would be unfair to the years of struggle thast the true owners put up.

        But after HL and this moment in time I am in agreement with you that land reform should take a back seat. No more land reform. Our lawmakers ahave to restudy it.

  • Gu3st

    mr bello, i’m just wondering where your pork barrel fund went for all these years… are you clean?

  • FireEngine

    Even if you successfully redistribute land to the landless, how in this day and age is it going to solve poverty? Okay you give farmer some land. In the meantime the government agency that should support him has little money because Napoles and some Senators used it to throw parties and buy girly bags, shoes, sports cars, and whatnot. So farmer ends up with some money and by blood sweat and tears ekes out a harvest. He sells his harvest in the global market filled with other farmers from other countries with more efficient government support and even huge subsidies. His produce is unsold and rots. He abandons his plot of land to look for opportunity in Manila and lives beside a railroad track somewhere.

    Face it, there’s no real money to be made in Agriculture these days especially with a government that is so useless and corrupt as it currently is and as it has been for the last 40 years. Maybe farmers had a shot during the time of Marcos, Cory, and maybe up to Ramos, but times and economies have vastly changed since then. Long gone are the days when entire populations can be supported on Sugar, Coconuts, Coffee, and Bananas. The way forward for us these days is industrialization and high tech. That is where the future is.

    • Eustaquio Joven

      How true. While at the NAIA I met a man who was on his way to Saudi to work there as a laborer, leaving behind his five-hectare irrigated land in Mindoro. Why? “I grew tired of working for loan sharks.” Yet Walden Bello still thinks that farmers will be freed from poverty simply by making them landowners. How sad! He should instead fight for a province and city based (not municipal) devolution of agriculture to LGUs. This will serve PDAF purpose of making equal the unequal, while reaching the Muslims in remotest barangays in the country through their elected leaders. If only pending cases against local executives are acted upon with dispatch by the Ombudsman… Include Neric Acosta and Proceso Alcala.

  • Eustaquio Joven

    I’ve always wondered who the authors of CARPER are. They should all be lined up and stoned by farmers, until they admit their fault. They are responsible for their miserable lives, and the bankruptcy of our government. Walden Bello, your comrades must be very proud of you. Surely, they will reward you with another term.

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