On Agrarian Reform issue.



Mr. Speaker, I rise on a question of personal and collective privilege.


            Para kanino ang repormang panakahan?


In the provincial jail of Gumaca, Quezon, there is a man in his early fifties who has been languishing in jail for more than three months. As the debates on the CARP extension bill raged on in these chambers, Bienvenido Mahilom shuffled noiselessly in his own steel chambers, waiting for the rest of the world to cast him a second look. He is neither murderer nor rapist – he is a farmer tilling the same plot of land his father and grandfather had tilled, and he was charged with nine counts of Qualified Theft with bail set at P180,000.00. He was, in the simplest words, charged with the theft of coconuts. He is a tenant in a coconut landholding in Bondoc Peninsula, and was charged for performing an act as natural to him as waking up every morning. In Quezon, there have been hundreds of arrests before his, hundreds of fathers and husbands and sons sent to jail in a frenzy of trumped-up charges of theft and estafa and trespassing filed by the landowners. As of December 2007, there have been a total of 295 cases involving 223 farmers pending in court.


In Calatagan, Batangas, a farmer’s eight-year-old daughter makes the long trek home from school everyday bewildered and conflicted. Angel’s mother and father are active farmer-leaders, generating grassroots resistance to the plan of a mining corporation to build a cement factory on their agricultural land. She was a sharp and inquisitive girl, and listened intently as her parents gently explained to her why they were doing what they were doing. In school, however, she discovers that a new subject had been created by school administrators. The name of the new subject is LAND CONVERSION. And in that subject, the teacher, day in and day out. talks about why a cement factory in their barangay would bring in jobs and make their lives better. At the same time, her parents wonder where should would go to school should the cement factory succeed in displacing them.


In Hacienda Batuan, Masbate, Jennifer Pagaspas rocks her 4-month-old child to sleep as she stares despondently into space. Her husband, Junrie, is one of two farmers killed on July 6 of this year. Before their deaths, they were warned by the farm manager not to continue with their petition for leasehold or they would be killed. In the morning of July 6, they were felled by several gunshots and multiple stab wounds. Jennifer will have to raise their 4-month-old child all by herself. The community is paralyzed and frozen with fear. This only means that the share tenancy system, already prohibited by law as being contrary to public policy, will continue in Masbate.


Madame Speaker, as we continue the next round of debates on the extension of the land acquisition and distribution component of our Agrarian Reform program, these are the stories that we need to hear.


Indeed, we celebrate the success stories of farmers and Bugkalot chieftains who had reaped the benefits of the programs and share in their triumph, but we must not forget those for whom the promise of a better life remains elusive. It is for them that the agrarian reform law was envisioned twenty years ago, it is for them that we must buckle down and get back to work to ensure that the gains of agrarian reform would not be lost, the gaps and loopholes be plugged, and meaningful reforms be introduced to truly give flesh and spirit and to the Constitutional mandate to distribute land.


What is clear, Madame Speaker – or rather, what should be clear to all of us lawmakers – is that the reforms we are to incorporate into our new law should be articulations of the hopes and dreams of our farmers in the countryside, and are born of the desire to truly address rural poverty and social injustice. They should reflect experiences on the ground, experiences of ordinary people represented by Mang Bienvenido, Jennifer Pagaspas and Angel Malalauan.


 And therefore, this House must take a strong position against so-called reforms that thwart the very premise of our agrarian reform program and increase the yoke on the back of our peasants.


The proposed inclusion of the farmland-as-collateral provision would wreak havoc on the objective of agrarian reform to ensure equitable distribution and access to land. There is a reason, Madame Speaker, why the present law imposes limits on the transfer or conveyance of lands distributed under CARP. It is to prevent landowners and wealthy corporations from taking advantage of the poverty of the farmers and the lack of support services from the government, and in order to reconsolidate lands back to them. This will clearly revert us back to the situation that prompted agrarian reform in the first place –  large tracks of lands are in the hands of a very few. Mrs. Arroyo said in her State of the Nation Address that “Ownership raises the farmer from his knees. Productivity will keep him on his feet.” If it is true productivity that is desired, it can only be done by granting access to credit via formal lending institutions to the farmers and increasing support services to them, without the necessity of putting up their lands for collateral. The mischief of allowing the mortgage of CLOA lands to any lender – whether bank or individual – is plain for everyone to see. It will revive the old umbilical cord between landowner and tenant, the same cord which the Constitution had sought to cut.


The proposal to spur corporate farming is likewise an anti-farmer reform. Its impact on the farmers would be loss of management control over CLOA lands, if not outright displacement. In many cases, allowing big corporations to enter in agri-business and forge joint ventures with farmers tilling the land is nothing but leaseback on a grand scale. In Agusan del Norte, through sheer machination, farmers were made to sign a leaseback agreement binding them to lease their land to a palm oil corporation at the reprehensible rate of P635.00 per hectare per year, for the next twenty five years.


Tangan po ang boses ng mga maliliit na magsasaka sa kanayunan, simple lamang po ang pakiusap at panawagan ng Akbayan. Sa pagpapatuloy ng debate hinggil sa repormang panakahan, isaalang-alang natin bago sa lahat ang kapakanan ng magbubukid. May malaking utang po tayo sa kanila noong Hunyo a-diyes nung hindi natin naipasa ang CARP Extension with Reforms. Bayaran po natin ang ating utang sa pamamagitan ng isang makabukuhang, makataong at maka-magsasakang batas na tutugon din sa pangangailangan ng sambayanan sa seguridad sa pagkain.


Mrs. Arroyo challenged Congress to find a path where justice and progress converge. Yes, we must find that path, but we must also ensure that it is a path where our farmers can hold their heads up high, where each farmer’s child can afford to dream that a better world is still possible, where farmers are empowered to stand on their own without having to carry the yoke of market-oriented reform proposals. It is a path that should lead to genuine and sustainable countryside reform, not only where rural poverty is stemmed but also where democratic space is widened.


There are many who claim to champion agrarian reform, and indeed they claim to fight for CARP extension with reforms. But the question is not whether or not reforms are in order, but whom these reforms should serve. We hear the stories of Mang Bienvenido – a tenant jailed for doing what he does as a tenant, the young girl Angel – living in constant fear of displacement by a cement factory, and being taught in school that this is a good thing, and the young widow Jennifer Pagaspas – whose husband died because he dared to dream he could cultivate his own land, and we have no doubt.


Ang repormang panakahan ay alay natin sa kanila at sa milyong milyong magsasakang naglalagay ng pagkain sa ating hapag.


Lest we forget, Madame Speaker. Lest we lose our way.


Maraming Salamat po.




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