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Romancing the land

The Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) is unfinished business.

Two years ago, in June 2009, the Senate passed the bill extending for another five years the CARP or the government’s land acquisition and distribution program. The budget was P147 billion.

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The cry of the farmers and other CARP advocates at that time was Carper. The last two letters stood for “extension with reforms.” It’s been three years since the extension, and two years since President Aquino became President. The 5-year extension will run out in two years.

The CARP farmer-beneficiaries are marching again, from different parts of the country to Metro Manila, then on to Malacañang this weekend, coinciding with the CARP’s 24th anniversary. Time to again take stock of the land that its tillers and rightful owners hunger for. Land is, indeed, a hunger.

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The land will feed us, we always say. It is our mother. It will suckle and nourish us. It will give us strength and vigor. Generations who will inherit the earth will look upon it and embrace it with gratitude.

At a time when millions around the world, Filipinos among them, are without jobs because of economic crises, when industries are closing down, streamlining operations and using lean work forces, we think of the land.

But can jobless Filipinos really say, to the land we must go home again? We imagine them beholding the waiting vastness. We imagine the landless poor romancing the land, at last, and turning it productive for their communities and for the rest of us who must eat during hard times and good times.

But how sad that it is those who have the means who acquire farm lands that they can call their own, farms that they could turn into pieces of paradise where they could retire and produce healthy food for themselves, enjoy the pureness of the air, gaze at the trees and feed on the plants that yield flowers and fruits. These newbies love to call themselves farmers, weekend farmers to be precise. And why not? At least they are showing the art of romancing the land. I say this not in a pejorative sense but in appreciation of those who have learned the essence of land and slowly, yes though slowly, internalizing it.

Real, productive farming may be hard work, but it is also poetic, romantic, spiritual. Those who have known only poverty and debt because of so-called bondage to the land cannot say the same. No wonder many would rather go away and be second-class citizens in someone else’s country.

For the landless poor who have tilled the land for generations, the waiting continues. And the strong among them must continue to march in order to possess, at last, what had been decreed to be theirs. Why is it taking so long?

By 2014, CARP should be completed. President Aquino said several days ago that the agrarian reform program should be fully completed by the time he steps down in 2016. That is, 28 years after his mother, former President Cory Aquino launched this earth-moving program in June 1988. There are still about 900,000 hectares of prime agricultural lands to be distributed to beneficiaries.

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The Catholic bishops have given support to the farmers’ demands. According to the National Secretariat for Social Action (NASSA), the bishops’ social action arm, 5,200 farmers are now marching to demand the completion of agrarian reform. Contingents from Negros island, Mindanao and Luzon are expected to arrive in Mendiola this weekend.

Task Force Mapalad (TFM), veteran of nationwide farmers’ marches, is leading the landless farmers from 321 haciendas in Negros for the Carper’s completion. Not extension, mind you, but completion. This means that there should be no more dilly-dallying.

TFM leaders said the Department of Agrarian Reform had promised to distribute 32,000 hectares of land in Negros Occidental this year, but records show that Agrarian Reform Secretary Virgilio de los Reyes was only able to distribute 2,467 hectares from July 2010 to March 2012.

Alberto Jayme, TFM Negros president, was quoted as saying that De los Reyes “may have computerized the listing of the beneficiaries in the 6,445-hectare Hacienda Luisita but he has not even issued notices of coverage (NOCs) on big estates in Negros island and has not moved to reduce in a decent manner the huge backlog in land acquisition and distribution on the island.”

Jayme said that TFM supports President Aquino’s declaration that the campaign for reform did not end with the ouster of Chief Justice Renato Corona “but he should also personally push for the completion of Carper since social reform begins with dismantling large estates ruled by absentee landlords and making them productive at the hands of farmers.”

Negros farmers are pressing that the DAR issue NOCs for 104 haciendas in Negros Occidental, speed up the surveys of 77 haciendas in Negros Occidental, hasten the land valuation of 16 haciendas in the same province, and install landless farmers and workers in six haciendas.

TFM is challenging the President to push the reform program to its conclusion by distributing 1.093 million hectares of land that “has taken an eternity for the DAR and De los Reyes to give away.”

The promised land is waiting to be handed over.

Send feedback to [email protected] or www.ceresdoyo.com

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TAGS: CARP, CARP advocates, Carper, Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program, Task Force Mapalad
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