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.

Get Inquirer updates while on the go, add us on these apps:

Inquirer Viber

Disclaimer: The comments uploaded on this site do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of management and owner of We reserve the right to exclude comments that we deem to be inconsistent with our editorial standards.

  • jjammess

    Time to finish carp and move on. Its been too long. The philippines has to move on and focus on agricultural productivity.

    • tadasolo

      You know I agree with you based on the fact after so many years of carp we are importing more rice and the farmers although owners of the land are left to fend for themselves and their lack of resources and knowledge left most of the land unproductive and their children are more interested in working abroad than tending the land. Mr. bello keep ignoring this state with his empty leftist agenda. Why not have the original landowners keep the land and make them productive and hire the people with regulated wages. In most developed countries they hire part time workers during harvest and pay them good money. Carp has bern reduce to a housing program without regard to producing crops and make people independent. There is no way in the world the land distribution at Hacienda Luisita will produce anything close than it is now based on the current support to the farmers and the way they are reduce to being at the bottom of economic scale to market their produce

    • Eustaquio Joven

      Yes, it’s time we stop the grand deception. Land ownership through carp does not make the farmer less poor. It does not increase one’s net worth. What he owns is neutralized by what he owes in the form of land amortization Small landowners and “agrarian reform beneficiaries” are in equal footing. They are both dirt poor because the promised support services don’t come. Billions of carp funds are depleted because of the need for just compensation. Land reform serves only the leftist’s agenda of keeping peasants poor and discontented. Even if all the beneficiaries of Hacienda Luisita are farmers they will find difficulty in making the land productive while at the same time paying taxes and yearly amortization.

      Yes, let’s focus on agricultural productivity. How? Let our Governors and
      Mayors do the job. They should know what to do because the agricultural
      technicians have been devolved to them some 20 years ago. All they need is funding, which should not be a problem, The budget as well as the functions of the Department of Agriculture should be reduced to a minimum. Much of its functions and programs should be devolve to local government units as provided for in the local government code. Another source of funding is the savings from PDAF. There’s also the savings from carp, and land transfer in particular.

      A strong local government is also the solution to the Mindanao problem. Let every province and city deal with the problems of Christians and Muslims alike. They have common problems: poverty and government neglect. The best agency for this is the LGU. One amendment to the LGC should be the manner of devolution. Agriculture should be devolved to provinces and cities, not to municipalities. This will ensure better coordination and cooperation among municipalities. It will also drastically reduce the number of implementing agencies to watch for, with municipalities acting as guards rather than one to be guarded against.

  • marionics

    wala na yung sex for flight nito a

    nasapawan na

To subscribe to the Philippine Daily Inquirer newspaper in the Philippines, call +63 2 896-6000 for Metro Manila and Metro Cebu or email your subscription request here.

Factual errors? Contact the Philippine Daily Inquirer's day desk. Believe this article violates journalistic ethics? Contact the Inquirer's Reader's Advocate. Or write The Readers' Advocate:

c/o Philippine Daily Inquirer Chino Roces Avenue corner Yague and Mascardo Streets, Makati City,Metro Manila, Philippines Or fax nos. +63 2 8974793 to 94


editors' picks

May 29, 2015

Double standards

May 28, 2015

A yearly problem