The Center for Agrarian Reform Empowerment and Transformation, Inc. (CARET) is a non-government organization that does organizing and capacity-building in agrarian reform communities and involves itself in policy advocacy work in peasant-related issues on both the national and local level. As such, CARET is part of the broad coalition of activists, advocates and farmers’ groups pushing for the extension of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law with reforms otherwise known as the CARPER bill. Having played a part in this initiative together with its partner national federation, the Pambansang Katipunan ng mga Samahan sa Kanayunan, we know that the struggle has not been an easy one. From the start, we have been beset by numerous roadblocks and faced formidable opponents both from the landed interests inside and outside the legislature and the extreme Left pushing for their revolutionary brand of land reform. But we have forged on with faith and determination, secure in the knowledge that we are doing so with the interests of the rural poor and the countryside foremost in our consideration. In June of this year, the Senate and the House of Representatives have finally enacted the CARP Extension with Reforms Law, thus heralding a new chapter in the agrarian reform advocacy and in the peasant struggle. What do we look forward to and what are we grateful for? The reinstitution of Compulsory Acquisition, is one big victory, often described as the heart and soul of agrarian reform, and the approval of the PhP 150B budget for land reform to operationalize the fresh mandate for distribution and ensure continued support services for the next five years. Since our partner people’s organizations (PO) are mostly those in distributed landholdings and face second-generation problems, with the exception of one PO still in the pre-land distribution stage, we are happy about the insertion of provisions that strengthen security of land tenure for farmer-beneficiaries. The provision mandating the indefeasibility of Certificate of Land Ownership Awards (CLOA) and Empancipation Patents (EP) one year after registration will help in the assertion of rights of our farmers in Bgys. Baha and Talibayog in Calatagan, Batangas, and our farmers in Rosales, Pangasinan facing displacement. The recognition of the legal personality of of agrarian reform beneficiaries in agrarian disputes (DARAB) and agrarian law implementation (ALI) cases ensures that the farmers’ voice will now be officially heard in official forums and will help solve persistent issues involving access to justice. Likewise, we think that the provision on the exclusive jurisdiction of the DAR in agrarian cases is an important step to resolve the multiple cases of ejectment being filed against tenants in regular courts. As we consider land use and food security as part of, if not central to, our policy advocacy, we welcome the prohibition on irrigated and irrigable lands from land conversion and hopes that it leads to the protection of food baskets and rice granaries in Central Luzon from development aggression and unfettered industrialization. It remains to be seen whether this can stem the biofuel boom currently threatening agricultural lands. We urge the passage of the National Land Use Act to work in tandem with CARPER towards sustainable, people-centered and just land use. Finally, inasmuch as CARET has fought for the rights of rural women from the start, with a gender unit ever since the organization’s inception, it is truly cause to celebrate that the advocacy of rural women and gender-responsive support services is highlighted in the CARPER law. These, along with the other reforms such as the removal of Voluntary Land Transfers as a mode of acquisition, the immunity from TRO of DAR in the implementation of LAD, the credit and initial capitalization subsidy for new and existing beneficiaries, the changing of the reckoning period for payment of amortization from receipt of award to actual occupancy, the removal of squatting as a case against ARB’s, the removal of aquaculture as a ground for exemption of agricultural lands, must be recognized and heralded. However, CARET deems it of utmost importance to address the problem of the attestation requirement, which in effect would make the attestation of landowners a prerequisite before farmers may be qualified as beneficiaries. The peril of this requirement is not difficult to foresee – it would be easy for landowners to delay the implementation of agrarian reform by refusing to make the attestation or questioning the list made by the Barangay Agrarian Reform Council. More insidiously, a landowner may use the attestation requirement as leverage to “force” farmers to agree to illegal, non-redistributive arrangements, or to select friendly beneficiaries, or to break a united People’s Organization by attesting some and refusing others. Our last undistributed landholding is located in Bayambang, Pangasinan, and the farmers won against CAT Realty, Inc. They succeeded in having the Conversion Order of CAT Realty revoked. Given the acrimonious relations between the corporation and the farmers, it would a struggle to get CAT Realty to accede to the attestation requirement. Perhaps the solution is not to come up with one penalty provision after the other to prohibit these practices by the landowner, as the legal system is still not a level playing field and access to justice still remains a problem. While it is good to have the penal provisions there, they must be supplemented with alternative modes of compliance so the DAR can proceed with redistribution even without the attestation. Hence, given this mix of reform-oriented amendments and one potentially-dangerous killer amendment, CARET sees the new CARPER law not only as having opened many windows of opportunity for the farmers, but also as having created new arenas of struggle for the peasant movement. And even as we continue to engage the government in order to influence policy-making, so too must we continue to strengthen the mass movement, contribute to grassroots empowerment and master the new terrain to clinch the gains in the next five years.


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