In a press conference in Quezon City dubbed as a grand reunion of CARPER forces, or those who advocated for the passage of Republic Act 9700, otherwise known as the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program with Extension and Reforms, Akbayan Representative Kaka Bag-ao said the Aquino government has the exceptional opportunity to leave “a legacy like no other.”
“President Aquino is in a unique position to succeed where others have failed miserably. More than anything else, the complete distribution of agricultural lands to the farmers under his tenure will cement his image and reputation as the president of meaningful change,” Bag-ao said.
Bag-ao said the President must use his enormous political capital and the people's goodwill to complete the program.
“Given the strategic position of the agrarian sector, such an investment is judicious. It will provide our people food security, contribute in job creation and boost our local economy. It will also dispel all criticisms that the government favors landlords over and above the interest of the ordinary farmers,” Bag-ao explained.
CARPER, important social reform
The partylist lawmaker, who is also the lawyer of the Sumilao farmers reminded the public of the political and social significance of CARPER which she called as probably the most important social reform won by social movements under the “reform-deficient Arroyo administration.”
“Despite the strong opposition of the Arroyos particularly in Congress to junk the bill, we persevered. We must learn to cherish our victories and protect it from those who want to weaken it,” Bag-ao said.
“CARPER like other progressive laws is not perfect; yet, we must be constantly reminded that without it, farmers in the countryside will have a hard time to harvest crops intended for food production. Inflation will rise if we rely on imported rice to feed our families. The law’s constituency is not only our farmers but also the entire nation,” Bag-ao added.
Obstacles and Bottlenecks
The groups also challenged the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) to dismantle all the obstacles and bottlenecks that are preventing the complete implementation of the agrarian reform program.
“While CARPER was signed into law under the previous Arroyo administration, the government was actually anti-farmer. GMA left numerous barriers and devised schemes which could undermine if not impede the full implementation of the law,” Bag-ao said.
The lawmaker pointed to the government’s biofuel program, saying it might affect CARP and the country’s food security.
“We have received information based on the research and field studies done by our partner rural organizations that prime agricultural lands are being converted into biofuel feedstock production. In some of the documented cases, agrarian reform beneficiaries run the risk of being relocated or working for low wages,” Bag-ao explained.
Republic Act 9367 otherwise known as the Philippine Biofuels Act was passed into on 2006 under the term of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
Bag-ao asked President Aquino to carefully study the impact of the government’s biofuel program. “I hope the President will rethink this program. Masyado na maraming hinaharap na problema ang implementation ng CARPER at mga magsasaka gaya ng cancellation ng mga emancipation patents (EPs) at certificate of land ownership awards (CLOAs).”
Bag-ao also drew attention to the Hacienda Luisita case, which is now pending before the Supreme Court. Rumors are circulating that the high tribunal is set to decide the case this week.
“We hope our justices will rule in favor of the HLI farmers. The high court must nullify the stock distribution option (SDO) in Hacienda Luisita and distribute the lands,” Bag-ao said.
The lawmaker said the high tribunal must show its independence on the issue free from the “dictates of landlords”.
“Walang ibang pagkakataon para ipakita ng Supreme Court ang kanyang independence kundi ngayon, as farmers commemorate this month the agrarian reform law. The court must rule in favor of land distribution. The farmers deserve no less,” Bag-ao said.
The CARPER was passed into law on August 7, 2009. It has a life span of five years to complete the deficit of the original agrarian reform program.
Two years after its implementation, according to the DAR’s 2009 accomplishment report, 997, 728 hectares of agricultural lands remained undistributed. ###