Arthur Neame works with the Socio-Pastoral Council. This article was published in the November 24 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 .

A common misconception is that it was the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) itself that  expired in June 2008. However, the Department of Justice’s Opinion No. 9, series of 1997, established that CARP is a “continuing program” and does not end until its “original scope and mandate” has been completed. Part of that “scope and mandate” is its land acquisition and distribution target, which still has a backlog of 1.3 million hectares.

Actually, what expired was Republic Act 8532, which amended Republic Act 6657, or the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law, to extend and replenish (with another P50 billion) the Agrarian Reform Fund (ARF). So, technically (and legally), what expired in June 2008 was not CARP per se but the funding for the program.

Differing positions

The solution is the immediate passage by Congress of a law providing funds for the CARP. This is not as simple as it seems, considering the composition of Congress and the diverse positions of peasant and AR groups on CARP.

Supporters of agrarian reform (AR) have differing assessments as to what is politically achievable under the current dispensation.  Positions are shaped by what they or their constituents deem acceptable, ideologically, politically or economically. In addition there is a distressing factionalism among many AR supporters. This derives from the historical origins of the groups or from personal differences or issues of trust among group leaders. A further source of factionalism relates to efforts by groups to gain concessions from DAR in return for support for DAR positions. This combination of ideological, historical and personal biases has led to the emergence of at least four positions with regard to the furtherance of agrarian reform following the expiry of funding in June 2008.

Simple Extension

One position proposes a simple extension of funding for DAR, for between five and ten years. Most of the bills propose a level of funding similar to current levels. Some contain clauses mandating specific allocations for support services rather than mere land acquisition.

One, bill, sponsored by Representative Junie Cua, contains a vague clause on the use of DAR papers as collateral for bank loans; this provision is in response to the wishes of Malacañang but is one that is opposed by many AR advocates and farmers’ groups.

Simple extension is the position favored by DAR. A number of AR advocates also take this position because of their view that it is the most politically feasible one at present.

CARP Extension with Reforms

Another bill is proposed by Akbayan partylist Representative Risa Hontiveros-Baraquel and backed by the Reform CARP Movement (RCM).  This bill seeks the extension of CARP with a minimum funding of 3.8 percent of the total government budget, or 38 billion pesos, and the completion of land acquisition over a period of seven years. Thirty percent of the funds will be used for support services with a third of those funds for the provision of agricultural credit, as opposed to current legislation that does not specify the proportion of funds allocated for this purpose.

The bill also proposes that land covered under agrarian reform may not be sold for a period of 30 years, except back to the DAR. This is to prevent (often pressured) re-acquisition of land by its former owners as well as prevent speculation by putative beneficiaries. In addition, the bill closes various loopholes in the current law by making Certificates of Land Ownership Agreements (CLOAS) non-contestable after a period of one year and also by allowing proposed beneficiaries to claim their rights as interested parties in court and adjudication hearings.

The bill also proposes to prevent stock distribution and leaseback. It tries to overcome some of the delaying tactics of landowners by insisting on a one-time valuation of standing crops and by attempting to prevent harassment cases for alleged fraud or non-payment of rent where these are related to completion of land distribution. A further provision also strengthens existing laws against land conversion from agricultural to other uses as a means of avoiding coverage. The bill provides for much harsher penalties for landlords who try to evade coverage.

The bill does not address the issuance of collective versus individual titles (collective titles having provided a convenient but often untidy short-cut for DAR). While the bill provides for inter-agency coordination with other line agencies responsible for items such as roads, irrigation, marketing support etc. it makes no specific provisions for the responsibilities of those agencies, just as it makes no specific provisions for the systematic collection of amortization payments by the land bank.

Major changes to CARP

A third position is advanced by Kilusan para sa Tunay na Repormang Agraryo (KTRA). The bill, sponsored by Representative Edno Joson, contains the immediate distribution of large private estates within two years, the abolition of non-redistributive land reform schemes such as leaseback, voluntary land transfer and voluntary-offer-to-sell, the review and revocation of anomalous exemption and land conversion permits, the strengthening of support services for agrarian reform beneficiaries, and the re-inclusion of fishponds and pasture lands in the coverage of CARP.

This position appears to hold much in common with the RCM position except that it explicitly prioritizes the distribution of large estates, and ensures coverage of fishponds and livestock areas. And rather than permitting Voluntary Offers of Sale to DAR and permitting direct Voluntary Land Transfer to beneficiaries, it proposes to abolish such processes on the ground that they are subject to frequent anomalies.

GARA (Genuine Agrarian Reform Act)

Anakpawis, Bayan Muna, and Gabriela Women’s Party endorse House Bill 3059 or the Genuine Agrarian Reform Act of 2007. The declared intent of the bill is to break up land monopoly and distribute lands for free.

Their bill proposes that the state expropriate all private agricultural lands exceeding five hectares and that all land and non-land assets of transnational corporations be nationalized. Not only does it propose to cover all military reservations, lands owned by educational establishments and areas of community-based forestry, and all undeveloped or idle lands including in such areas as export processing zones, but it also covers all lands that have already been covered by the DAR but have since passed into the hands of those not classified as beneficiaries.

The bill also proposes that the lands be made available to beneficiaries for free. Compensation is proposed to be the average of the tax valuations for the last three years with negotiated sums for “benevolent landowners.”

The bill provides for an annual budget of 18 billion pesos in the first year and an annual increment of two billion pesos thereafter.

The proposals are most unlikely to gain much consideration by a Congress that remains dominated by landed interests and their allies. Even the bill’s own proponents recognize this, saying that “for the proposed land reform law to be approved by a landlord-dominated Congress requires something short of a miracle.”

The consensus among AR advocates is that the negotiation within the Committee on Agrarian Reform of the House of Representatives will result in a compromise or the passage of a simple time-limited extension of funding for existing legislation.

If this process fails there is the danger of no CARP extension. Such outcome is likely to be driven by factors extraneous to AR debates. Such factors include the shift in elite politics and the manner in which Malacañang seeks to dominate Congress at this time. Major reconfigurations in Congress, conducted at the behest of Malacañang, may well lead to paralysis in the legislative processes with significant, negative consequences both for rural populations and for succeeding administrations.