The death and resurrection of agrarian reform

By Val G. Abelgas

Anti-CARP-rallyThe failed, yet much ballyhooed Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) passed quietly into the night last Monday, its death cheered by both farmers and landlords.

The farmers, who were supposed to be its beneficiaries, would not mourn the agrarian reform program’s death because, in the words of Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas chair and party list Rep. Rafael Mariano, it was a “total failure.” The program failed to address the problems of landlessness and poverty in the rural areas because it was obviously a mere deception on the part of the landlord-dominated government in cahoots with the big landowners.

The landlords, who were supposed to cease control of the lands they do not till, are only too happy that they now don’t have to resort to all sorts of deceptions to survive the program.

The government, as usual, says the program was a huge success and that it will continue distributing lands to the poor although the CARP has expired. And to justify the continued existence of the Department of Agrarian Reform that was created supposedly to implement the program and the law (Comperensive Agrarian Reform Law or CARL), the DAR was tasked to monitor the completion of the unfinished land turnover to farmers.

The country’s latest attempt to distribute lands to the farmers and end the centuries- old feudal system in the Philippines was doomed from the start and could not address peasant poverty and landlessness because, in the words of IBON Foundation’s Sonny Africa, “it was never meant to.”

Citing statistics from the Census and DAR, Africa said that after 26 years, “rural poverty continues to be widespread and millions of peasants still remain landless.”

Africa said CARP is “not about free land distribution to the tiller, which is the core of a genuine land reform program.” Instead, he said, CARP seeks to provide landlord compensation and require peasant beneficiaries to pay for land that they have been tilling for generations. Land reform under CARP is essentially a land transaction between landlords and peasants with the government acting as the middleman, he said.

“The revised CARP scope represents a concession to big private landed interests. The target was adjusted downwards to accommodate CARP exemptions. CARP allows landlords to retain five hectares of land and an additional three hectares for each of the heirs. PD No. 27 had a retention limit of seven hectares each. Landlords used these as a loophole, hurriedly subdividing their landholdings and coming out with multiple titles within the limits. Yet the scope of exemptions even broadened far beyond just retention limits,” Africa reported.

He noted that at least 60,000 hectares of land in commercial farms and plantations were exempted from 1988 to 1998 and these remain undistributed even as the deferment period has already expired. The Supreme Court later ruled in 1990 that commercial livestock, poultry and swine operations were exempt from CARP coverage.

Further, landlords also had the option to forego land distribution altogether through non-land transfer schemes, such as the infamous stock distribution option (SDO) established by President Cory Aquino in the same year the CARP was enforced. The SDO adopted corporate stock sharing instead of land distribution to peasants. Aside from other production and profit-sharing arrangements, the SDO’s leasehold arrangements supposedly guaranteed that, in farms under five hectares, the split of net produce between landlord-tenant would be 25-75.

In the end, the revised CARP scope in 1996 only covered 3.0 million hectares of private land. This implies that 43.7% of total potential private land for distribution – around 5.3 million hectares – was exempted outright from CARP, Africa said.

Another noted economist, UP Professor Dr. Raul V. Fabella said that the program was an utter failure, and instead of solving rural poverty and spur growth, CARP has left the country “with a huge new set of social and economic problems that would not have existed without CARP.”

Among the major flaws of the program cited by Fabella was the arbitrary five-hectare ceiling on land ownership, which, he said, virtually guarantees individual farms will be too small to be profitable. The failed program only created, Dr. Fabella said, an entire new class of underprivileged citizens – “the landed poor.”

The CARP was the country’s latest failed foray into agrarian reform. Numerous laws have been passed for this lofty goal — the Agricultural Tenancy Act of 1954, the Land Reform Act of 1955, the Agricultural Land Reform Code of 1963, the Agrarian Reform Code of 1971, Presidential Decree No. 27 in 1972; and recently, Republic Act (RA) 6657 or the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law (CARL) of 1988.

All these have failed. But that should not stop our leaders from pursuing agrarian reform because it is the key to fighting rural poverty and to spurring economic growth in the countryside, a necessary ingredient to the inclusive growth that President Aquino says he would focus on in the last two years of his administration. Congress can pass another agrarian reform law, hopefully learning from the mistakes of the past, but the national leadership should exercise political will to implement genuine agrarian reform.

It is worthy to note that CARP was born during the time of Cory Aquino, whose family is one of the biggest landowners in the country, and died during the term of the scion of that haciendero clan. That should give us a hint of why it was doomed to failure.



One Response. Have your say.

  1. Mac Flores, Jr. says:

    The lawmakers who dominated Congress belong to the political clans who own vast tract of lands that have been subjected to many land reform laws without satisfactory success to both farmer/tiller and owner as each claimed, because:

     It is obvious that through the years whatever LAND SIZE sharing agreed upon – is simply not enough to either side = GREED could be the culprit??

     If LAND SIZE is agreed upon for the sake of PEACE, it is also so obvious that both parties usually DISAGREE on the PRICE of the LAND for distribution and TERM of PAYMENT. = GREED could also be the culprit??

     If PRICE and TERM OF PAYMENT brokered by the DAR is agreed upon by both parties for the sake of peace, the implementation of land distribution is STOPPED by either party by going to the SUPREME COURT in threshing out some issues during the implementation. = DELAYING TACTICS + GREED???

     If the SUPREME COURT finally decided on the issue above, the DAR implementation is STOPPED again by APPEAL by either party or some kind of force majeure, if one may call it. = NO END IN SIGHT, NO MATTER HOW MANY LAND REFORM LAWS ARE CREATED??

    Some ask WHY is it that other countries are successful in their land reforms way ahead many years ago and yet the PHL is still a FAILURE in this regard.

    OR, why is it that land reform was successfully achieved in some areas of the PHL while in some part are NOT?


Join the discussion

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *