AGRARIAN REFORM 29 bishops urge Congress to extend CARP
By Norman Bordadora
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 01:42:00 04/03/2008
MANILA, Philippines—Twenty-nine Catholic prelates, including Manila Archbishop Gaudencio Cardinal Rosales and Cebu Archbishop Ricardo Cardinal Vidal, have asked the House of Representatives to immediately extend through legislation the 20-year-old Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP).
The CARP expires on June 10 this year.
The archbishops and bishops said 1.3 million hectares of land that could be eligible for distribution to tenant-farmers were still beyond the coverage of the CARP, which was passed by the first post-martial law Congress under the Aquino administration in 1988.
"We are writing to manifest our appeal to the honorable members of Congress, the urgency of passing a bill to extend the [CARP] and institute progressive reforms that would truly benefit our poor farmers who remain landless," the prelates said in a letter dated April 1. "[They are] barely able to eke out a decent living from one day to the next."
The letter was sent by the prelates to Apayao Rep. Elias Bulut, chair of the House committee on agrarian reform. The Philippine Daily Inquirer, parent company of INQUIRER.net, got a copy of the letter from the committee secretariat.
Only last week, Higaonon farmers in Sumilao, Bukidnon, were awarded 50 hectares of a 144-ha property that they had been claiming for more than a decade. (The remaining 94 ha will be taken from adjoining lands and distributed to the claimants under a Voluntary Offer to Sell scheme.)
The compromise agreement between the farmers and San Miguel Corp., parent company of the land owner, San Miguel Foods Inc., was principally brokered by Rosales.
"After 20 years, 1.3 million hectares of CARP-able lands remain undistributed, consisting mainly of large haciendas of those who have been resisting CARP from its inception," the prelates said in the letter.
"And poverty is still very much with us. Not because of CARP but because it has not been fully and properly implemented," they said.
The prelates suggested that the extended CARP mandate the direct and physical distribution of all agricultural lands instead of employing non-redistributive schemes.
One such scheme is the stock distribution option that was implemented in the Cojuangco family's Hacienda Luisita in Tarlac province. Under this option, the farmers were given, not land, but stocks in the firm that handled the vast sugar plantation.
The other suggestions of the prelates included an annual appropriation of P50 billion for the CARP and ensuring "strengthened credit and support services to farmer-beneficiaries."
Among the issues cited by critics for the failure of the CARP was the absence of sufficient credit support for some farmer-beneficiaries who, instead of tilling their land for their livelihood, ended up selling it for financial gain.
Ownership and production
The prelates said there had been studies that correlated agrarian reform and agricultural development: "Studies provide categorical evidence that agrarian reform translates into faster agricultural development, which, in turn, leads to sustainable economic growth."
They said land reform was in no way an obstacle to agricultural productivity.
"The experience of contract growing, cooperative farming, and similar arrangements in our country as well as in other countries demonstrate that there is no incompatibility between large-scale production and small-scale ownership of land," they said.
The prelates also said the implementation of the CARP by the Department of Agrarian Reform "leaves much to be desired."
"Add to this the perception of corrupt practices in the department, especially in many decisions on exemptions and conversions that farmers have questioned and remain unsolved," they said.
Monitoring and oversight
The prelates said these issues should be addressed, and suggested a "monitoring and oversight" mechanism by Congress.
"Civil society organizations have proposed practicable recommendations with regard to the loopholes of the law and the inadequacy and inefficiency of its implementation," they said, adding:
"These should and can be corrected, and the compliance with the law be subjected to the monitoring and oversight function of Congress instead of terminating a program that is a constitutional imperative and has been shown to yield real benefits."
According to the prelates, all are called to become responsible stewards of such natural resources as agricultural land.
"God has not chosen a select few to be stewards of His creation. All of us are called to be responsible stewards and must equally share with each other His bountiful blessings-the fruits of His creation," they said.
"As one in the body of Christ our savior, we are reminded of such responsibility and must not get tired of doing good deeds, especially to our poor sisters and brothers, in His holy name," they added.
The prelates whose names appeared on the letter were Jaro Archbishop Angel Lagdameo and Cagayan de Oro Archbishop Antonio Ledesma (president and vice president, respectively, of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines), Lipa Archbishop Ramon Arguelles, Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Oscar Cruz, Manila Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo, Cubao Bishop Honesto Ongtioco, San Jose de Mindoro Bishop Antonio Palang, Novaliches Bishop Antonio Tobias, San Jose (Antique) Bishop Romulo dela Cruz.
Calbayog Bishop Isabelo Abarquez, Masbate Bishop Joel Baylon, Legazpi Bishop Lucilo Quiambao, Kabankalan Bishop Patricio Buzon, Boac Bishop Reynaldo Evangelista, Infanta Bishop Rolando Tirona, Balanga (Bataan) Bishop Socrates Villegas, Dumaguete Bishop John Du, Antipolo Bishop Gabriel Reyes, Bacolod Bishop Vicente Navarra, Catarman Bishop Emmanuel Trance, Puerto Princesa Bishop Pedro Arigo.
Caloocan Bishop Deogracias Iñiguez, Bayombong Bishop Ramon Villena, San Fernando Bishop Virgilio David, Taytay Bishop Edgardo Juanich, Malaybalay (Bukidnon) Bishop Honesto Pacana and Bishop Teodoro Bacani.