Complete the emancipation of landless tillers
Land is a common denominator of man, the birthplace of both the filthy rich and the wretched poor. Land is also the great divide of humankind, the landlord’s haven and the tiller’s bondage. As man’s common resting place, land equalizes princes and paupers, the powerful and feeble, the famous and anonymous.
The insatiable quest for land underlies the history of wars and armed conflicts from prehistoric warriors to present-day combatants. Domestic land disputes mark litigations and jurisprudence. The curse of the landed gentry is the acrimonious quarrels among heirs and kin over a decedent’s landholdings.
Volumes of legal treatises have been written, numerous statutes enacted, and countless judicial decisions rendered on land disputes, titles, acquisition, ownership and possession.
Even as I write, there are two controversial bills on agrarian reform pending in the House of Representatives. House Bill No. 4296 proposes another extension up to June 30, 2016, of the Land Acquisition and Distribution (LAD) component of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law (CARL), by authorizing the Department of Agrarian Reform to continue issuing notices of coverage and accepting voluntary offers to sell from landowners. The other is HB 4375 creating the Agrarian Reform Commission to independently investigate violations of the CARL and the Carper (Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program Extension with Reforms under Republic Act No. 9700).
The Constitution has elevated agrarian reform to a state policy. It provides that the state “shall, by law, undertake an agrarian reform program founded on the right of farmers and regular farmworkers who are landless, to own directly or collectively the lands they till or, in the case of other farmworkers, to receive a just share of the fruits thereof.”
President Cory Aquino made agrarian reform her centerpiece program. Landlord-legislators in the 8th Congress tried to transform the centerpiece into a centerfold by stripping off the salient provisions of HB 400, the original bill instituting a Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP), with denuding amendments. The worst example is the “stock distribution option” (SDO) in lieu of land distribution, which made landless tillers stockholders of Hacienda Luisita Inc. What the beneficiaries would own under the scheme were not parcels of land as mandated by the Constitution but scraps of paper issued by the corporation dominated by sugar barons.
Despite the improvident approval of this “killer amendment,” the CARL is still a milestone social justice legislation to emancipate landless tillers from bondage and give them adequate support services and impartial agrarian justice.
Much belatedly, the Supreme Court in HLI vs Presidential Agrarian Reform Council (2011) struck down the SDO as neither a viable nor legal mode of land distribution. It confirmed that the only two modes are compulsory land acquisition and voluntary offer to sell under the Carper. This ended the then 23-year aberration which sanctioned “stock to the tiller” and negated “land to the tiller” in gross violation of the Constitution.
Agrarian laws impose timelines in the acquisition and distribution of agricultural lands, not to put an end to a continuing program but to compel implementers to expedite the process of land coverage for transfer to qualified beneficiaries, and to wield political will.
Since the deadlines expired without the DAR completing the LAD, two extensions had been previously made: by RA 8532 that extended CARP funding when it expired in 1998, 10 years after the CARL’s effectivity, and the Carper when the first extension expired in 2008. Another extension as proposed in
HB 4296 is necessary because after the expiration on June 30, 2014, of the second extension, the DAR admitted that 694,784 hectares covering 73,283 landholdings with 373,717 agrarian reform beneficiaries remain for acquisition and distribution as of Dec. 31, 2014. Of these, 158,698 hectares consisting of 13,342 landholdings are located in Aklan, Antique, Capiz, Guimaras, Iloilo, Negros Occidental I and Negros Occidental II, some of the dominant areas of resistance to the CARP.
Empirical studies by UP Los Baños, Asia Pacific Policy Center, Philippine Review of Economics, German Cooperation Study, World Bank, Asian Development Bank, former Neda director general Cielito Habito, and incumbent Neda Secretary Arsenio Balisacan have validated that agrarian reform beneficiaries, compared to nonbeneficiaries, have increased productivity, better incomes, enhanced self-reliance, improved standard of living and reduced rural poverty. Verily, without the imperative extension, thousands of expectant beneficiaries would be denied the same opportunity for a better life.
There is no overriding reason for some blocs of lawmakers to oppose the extension of the LAD because this is only ancillary to a binding legislative determination in 1988 for the enforcement of a nationwide agrarian reform program under the CARL, which was amended by Carper to cover all agricultural lands regardless of tenurial arrangement and produce. The inclusion in the CARP of the resisting landowners’ estates was a fait accompli 27 years ago.
The hacienda owners in Negros and Panay cannot continue resisting coverage simply because the timetable has lapsed, which deadline is extendable by congressional action. Congress has extended the LAD twice before and a third extension to complete the program is logical, reasonable and constitutional. The DAR’s lack of zeal and the landlords’ contrived opposition must not prejudice beneficiaries.
Land acquisition is not confiscatory. Just compensation is paid to the landowners who can then liberate locked-in capital in land for industrialization. Relevantly, the CARL is titled “An Act Instituting a [CARP] to Promote Social Justice and Industrialization.”
As long as agricultural lands exist for proper coverage, land acquisition and distribution must continue unhindered to accord fullest fealty to the constitutional mandate of distributing land to landless tillers.
Edcel C. Lagman is a former representative of the first district of Albay.
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