CARP in the Simplest of Terms, CARP for the Deepest of Reasons

Monday, 10 November 2008 06:40

Speech delivered by AKBAYAN Rep. Risa Hontiveros on CARP.

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

As we resume session today, two points could not be clearer: one is that we only have 17 session days to go, and two, we need to pass the CARP extension with reforms law before December 31, 2008. The clock is ticking, and we must proceed cognizant of our vision and sure-footed in our step. 

The time for waffling and fence-sitting is past. The time has come to buckle down to work and deliver our deliverables to the Filipino people: one of which is an agrarian reform law that will ensure continuing funding for land acquisition and distribution after 2008 and incorporate crucial reforms to implement the law consistent with its spirit.  

It is time to talk about CARP without the fat, without the frills.  

I have four points. 

First. CARP is a duty, not an option. 

The call for a CARP extension law is not only founded on a moral imperative, but also stands on clear and solid legal ground.  

Nothing less than the Philippine Constitution in Section 4, Article VIII, mandates that “The State shall, by law, undertake an agrarian reform program founded on the right of farmers and regular farm workers, who are landless, to own directly or indirectly the land they till .” The same section adds that, “the State shall encourage and undertake the just distribution of all agricultural lands, subject to such priorities and reasonable retention limits as the Congress may provide xxx.” 

During the plenary debates in June, we heard so many suggestions, bordering on the absurd, to the effect that agrarian reform is an option and a prerogative of the legislature. They have said: “Agrarian reform is to be encouraged, but is not mandated.” We have also heard: “Support services must be focused on, and land acquisition and distribution may be deferred.”  

No, Mr. Speaker.  

The Constitution, by its express wording, commands the State to undertake – not only to encourage, but to encourage AND undertake – the just distribution of all agricultural lands. By clear implication, until all agricultural lands have been distributed, the work does not stop. The work cannot stop. We do not rest and say, this is ok for now. We will see what happens in the future. We will stand proud before our country and say that we are elected government officials, we shall follow the Constitution and give the people what is due them, let other interests be damned. 

As long as there is one landless farmer who meets the requirements to be a beneficiary but does not own the land he tills, we are committed to ensuring that there will be funding for the acquisition of land from his landowner and its subsequent redistribution to him.  

Second. CARP has worked more times than it has failed. 

Yes, we can talk about the bureaucratic inefficiencies of the Department of Agrarian Reform – AKBAYAN has always championed the cause of transparent and effective governance. Yes, we can talk about how poverty and iniquity in the countryside still continue to persist – our AKBAYAN farmers have similar experiences.  Yes, we can talk about the many gaps and loopholes in the existing law that impede the implementation of the program – AKBAYAN may have a tale or two or more to tell on that regard. 

But the truth of the matter is this: 

In the past twenty years, even with the major pockmarks that is Hacienda Luisita, Negros, Batangas, Masbate, Bondoc Peninsula, etc, 4.5 million farmers have full control of 7.2 million hectares of agricultural land by virtue of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program. As of 2007, 1,959 agrarian reform communities and special agrarian reform communities have been set up. True, this covers only 32% of agrarian reform beneficiaries, but it is a system that is by and large working and can be made expanded even further with effective implementation and political will.  

We have 4.5 million farmers whose lives are better off because of CARP. These 4.5 million farmers stand beside the millions more who still remain landless and echo the call of their brothers and sisters in the countryside for the speedy distribution of agricultural lands.  

1.3 million hectares is the remaining balance for distribution. AKBAYAN firmly believes that with the correct reform-oriented CARP law and proper implementation, these landholdings may finally be distributed.  

Third. There is a saying, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. If it IS broke but can be fixed, then we should fix it.  

Indeed, Mr. Speaker, we recognize the many gaps and loopholes of the existing law. These gaps and loopholes have translated into tragic stories oft-repeated and well-documented. We are not blind to cases of CLOA cancellation infesting  Isabela, livestock exemptions impeding land acquisition in Masbate, non-installation prevalent in Negros, conversions most pronounced in Batangas, corporate farming in Mindanao, criminalization rampant in Bondoc Peninsula, non-redistributive schemes like SDO and leaseback all over the country.  

That is precisely why our position has always been consistent – extend funding for land acquisition and distribution but introduce meaningful reforms that address historical injustices to the farmers.  

AKBAYAN stands strongly in support of the reforms in Consolidated House Bill 4077. There is much to be gained for our farmers if these reforms are adopted in the final version. For example, the provision declaring the indefeasibility of CLOAs and emancipation patents after the lapse of one year will arrest the alarming trend of CLOA and EP cancellations and strengthen the titles of the farmers over their land. We will continue to push during plenary other meaningful amendments such as tighter regulations on land conversion and the prohibition on non-redistributive stock distribution options.  

The point is simple. We do not throw the baby out with the bath water. 

We take a good hard look at what we have and see what holes need to be plugged, what gaps need to be filled. We make improvements and institute changes. We do not give up. Not when much has already been gained. Not when we can still look forward to so many more gains.  

Fourth. CARP is not a farmers’ issue alone. 

When last I took the stand to speak on the issue of CARP extension with reforms, I brought with me three stories from three lives – Benido Mahilom, the farmer from Bondoc Peninsula then languishing in jail for harvesting coconuts; Glen Malaluan, the boy from Calatagan whose family’s agricultural land is facing threat from a mining corporation; Jennifer Pagaspas, the young widow whose husband was killed because he dared lead the petition for leasehold.  

But these are not the only lives that agrarian reform impacts on. In the alleys of Sampaloc, Manila, Leonila Giray wonders how to keep up with the spiraling cost of imported rice, and how she can feed her family of six children. She falls in line under the heat of the sun for NFA rice and because it is never enough, supplements it with an unhealthy medley of MSG-laden noodles. Replicate this situation thousands of times over in urban poor communities all over the country and the picture becomes starkly clear. 

We are a nation going hungry, Mr. Speaker. We are a nation feeling the pinch of food insecurity and poverty, but whose agricultural lands are being slowly but surely being eaten away by rampant and unabated conversion, whose granaries are being turned into eco-tourism and industrial complexes.  

The call for agrarian reform is not a call for the farmers alone, but a call on behalf of the entire nation. It is not the clamor merely of peasants living off land, but of millions of Filipinos dying for food.  

Even Pope Benedict the XVI calls for real and meaningful land reform. The time is now. 

Mabuhay ang Pilipinas. Mabuhay ang magsasakang Pilipino. Mabuhay ang Kongresong maglilingkod ng tapat at magsusulong ng repormang agraryo. 

Maramang salamat po.


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