Arthur Neame works with the Socio-Pastoral Council. This article was published in the December 15, 2008 edition of the Business World, pages S/14 to S1/5. It is part of a larger work, Agrarian Reform and Rural Development –Mapping the Terrain, which he wrote for Evangelischer Entwicklungsdienst e.V. You can download the paper here .

The Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) commenced in 1988, with the objective of providing security of land tenure for small farmers.  It also aimed to provide support services to its beneficiaries in such forms as capital, marketing support and infrastructure. Today, some 20 years after CARP started, the Philippine countryside is still rife with inequities in access to and control over land, with the persistence of share-cropping, the sacada system and numerous landless for whom land ownership remains a distant dream.

The Department of Agrarian Reforms (DAR) claims to have covered 85 percent of the total targeted lands for distribution (most of which are largely public lands). According to DAR, the program has benefited an estimated 2.129 million farmer beneficiaries at a total cost of approximately PhP103.9 billion.

CARP Coverage

However, claims for DAR’s success vary widely and are also hotly disputed. Several groups with large constituencies of farmers and farm-workers believe that “it is most likely to be half of what the government claims (or even slightly below that)… if we factor in the few millions of hectares of private and public lands that mysteriously disappeared from official scope of CARP.”

In 1996, CARP coverage was decreased from 10.3 million hectares to 8.064 million hectares—the largest chunk taken out from public lands, with two-fifths of its original scope slashed. DAR’s coverage of private land was also decreased by close to 10 percent. Part of this adjustment was because of exemptions, including so-called cattle ranches, after the Supreme Court ruled in a case involving the Sutton estate in Masbate that “lands devoted to raising of livestock, poultry and swine have been classified as industrial.”  This, even though part of the estate was also farmed for crops such as rice and coconut. Still, most of the land removed from the program has remained unaccounted for. Jun Borras (2000) observed that “while it is understandable that CARP scope will constantly evolve during the implementation process, still, government owes the public a full explanation of the 1996 changes in CARP scope and the actual process and method taken toward these changes.”

The actual scope or coverage of CARP has also been in doubt because there is, as yet, in an age of GPS, no reliable and accessible database of land and its ownership in the Philippines. Neither has there ever been an effective cadastral survey of the country matched with the existence of valid documents of ownership!

Compulsory acquisition takes a backseat

When we look beyond the question of overall CARP scope and coverage further questions arise. By DAR’s own admission, the largest proportion of lands distributed (some 1.5 million hectares) comprised lands owned by the state or publicly owned institutions or those distributed under various programs in the 1950s and 1960s. The Certificates of Land Ownership Awards (CLOAs) under CARP only legitimized the possession of the land that de facto owners were tilling.

The next most significant coverage was of 517,494 hectares of private lands transferred through Voluntary Land Transfer (VLT). VLT is the direct transfer of land from landowner to beneficiary through an amicable agreement without involving the transfer of the land to the government. Formerly, it simply required the approval of the Barangay Captain and the Municipal Agrarian Reform Officer, and only later was the final approval from the DAR regional director required. Studies indicate that the VLT was rife with anomalies, with sales of land to non-tilling relatives, dummies and even children of the owners’ heirs.

A further means of land acquisition is the Voluntary Offer of Sale (VOS), in which landowners voluntarily agree to DAR acquisition of their lands. DAR officials have, in a number of cases, been accused of over-pricing the land, with one celebrated case being given a value of PhP1.4 million per hectare against an average of PhP18, 000 for non-rice and corn lands.

As a result of the focus on VLT, VOS and on the distribution of publicly owned lands, as of December 2004 compulsory acquisitions of land had only achieved 16 percent of the overall target.

Misidentification of Beneficiaries and Mother CLOAs

Misidentification of agrarian reform beneficiaries (ARBs) is also a perennial issue. In some cases, favored employees of the landowner or those seen as under his patronage substituted for priority beneficiaries (as set out in law). In other instances, local school teachers, barangay officials or relatives of DAR personnel have managed to be placed on the list of beneficiaries. Meanwhile, some landowners (sometimes working in cahoots with DAR officials) have been able to get potential beneficiaries to waive their rights to land through a combination of inducements and threats.

A further outstanding issue of CARP is that about 60 percent of the lands covered have been issued a collective title known as a “Mother-CLOA.” This means that there has not been a parcilliary survey to define the individual land area of each beneficiary. The impact of this on farmers is two-fold. Firstly they and their sources of capital are hesitant to undertake any long-term investments in the land because they are unable to be sure of their security on the piece of and they are farming.  Secondly, they often find themselves unable to make payments for the land to the Land Bank of the Philippines (Land Bank is the mortgage-issuer of the government) leaving them vulnerable to ejectment proceedings and depriving the CARP program of much-needed funds. This is just one of the reasons why Land Bank’s collections of CARP payments stand at a pathetic 20 percent of payments due.

Such issues of misidentification and lack of parcilliary surveys lead to the so-called
“second-generation problems” of agrarian reform, meaning that even if CARP were to cease to function tomorrow, there would still be host of land tenure issues requiring resolution for years to come.

Pawning and selling CARP lands

Another issue that bedevils the CARP program is related to land transactions undertaken by beneficiaries after they get their instruments of ownership. It has been estimated that land sales and pawning of titles or CLOAS by beneficiaries may be as high as 30 percent of all beneficiaries. A previous DAR study found that 80 percent of these transfers were in the form of outright sales or mortgages while the remaining were transfer of rights or leasing.

But there has been little breakdown of the reasons for these transfers; whether they be for the purpose of household consumption, for investment in new ventures or for sending relatives abroad for work. Yet another possible reason, which the history of land sales in Cambodia and India should alert us to, is the possibility that lack of access to health services and insurance is leading to high levels of distress sales of land. On the other hand, it is well known that agrarian reform beneficiaries have been tempted by the speculatively high prices offered to them by developers.

Overall accomplishment

CARP has many weaknesses: loopholes in the law, poor administrative capacity, corruption and the use of political influence, etc. Yet, many agrarian reform advocates contend that there have been some significant gains made in land acquisition by those who are supposed to benefit from CARP. Even the claims by those NGOs expressing the view that the accomplishment rate may be as low as 40 percent would still allow us to presume that there are roughly a million beneficiary households in possession of roughly two million hectares.

The question now is how to move forward, especially since the guarantee of future government funding for CARP ended in June 2008 with 84 percent of land for compulsory acquisition outstanding.  Unless addressed, the lesson learned will be that those opposing the correction of historical injustice and improved equity simply need to bide their time and engage in blocking moves for it all to go away.