Narratives of Land: The Current State of Agrarian Reform in the Philippines

Narratives of Land: The Current State of Agrarian Reform in the Philippines

Narratives of Land: The Current State of Agrarian Reform in the Philippines

By Mary Ann Manahan

ALMOST twenty-six years of implementation, still counting and with completion nowhere near in sight.  This amount of time that the Philippine government has taken to implement and complete the key provisions of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) law translates to a whole generation of Filipinos, including children of farmers, who have been born at the time of the law’s passage, have grown up through the years of tentative and unfinished implementation, and reaching adulthood amid current intensified clamor for government to complete its task.

CARP is now the longest running program being implemented under a democratic political system, post-EDSA 1986.  It has been widely seen as the litmus test of past and present administrations’ commitment to social justice, as mandated by the 1987 Philippine Constitution.   CARPER or Republic Act 9700, signed 7 August 2009, gave the original Republic Act 6657 or CARP five more years to be completed.  In 1998, CARP’s land acquisition and distribution component had been given its first 10-year extension and additional funding of PhP 50 billion through Republic Act 8532.

            One of the main goals during the extension period should be the completion of land distribution by June 30, 2014.  The program should get PhP 150 billion for five years or PhP 30 billion per year for land acquisition and distribution and agrarian justice delivery (a total of 60 percent share for the two components), and for support services (40 percent).  CARPER introduced other meaningful reforms articulated by farmers and rural women’s organizations, agrarian reform advocates, and the Catholic Church.  These measures aim to address loopholes in CARP and problems that have arisen from its implementation and which have beset the program since its inception more than two decades ago.

Why Agrarian Reform?

Agrarian reform remains an unfinished business under the 1987 Philippine Constitution.  As a key social justice mechanism, CARP and CARPER have yet to fulfill their promise.  Article XII, Section 4 of the Constitution provides that “the State shall, by law, undertake an agrarian reform program founded on the right of farmers and regular farm workers, who are landless, to own directly or collectively the lands they till or, in the case of other farm workers, to receive a just share of the fruits thereof.”

In 2002, however, the National Statistics Office surveys showed that 348,297 household members that were engaged in agricultural activity were working in landholdings not their own. This indicated that a considerable number of landless farmers have yet to own directly or collectively the lands they tilled. Part of the reason for this had been the inability of the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR), the main agency tasked to implement the program, to distribute land already identified for CARP, as well as the failure to have a database that could aid in accurately identifying the landless farmers for land distribution targeting.

Agrarian reform is also a major reform measure addressing rural poverty. as rural poverty and landlessness are closely linked. Based on government data (Table 1), poverty is highest in the top provinces where there have been large backlogs in land distribution.  In 2011, these provinces accounted for more than one-third the total land distribution balance. This information is significant because these provinces also figured prominently in the list of provinces where the poorest families have been found— far above the national average of 25.2 percent in 2012. Negros Occidental, Camarines Sur, Leyte, Iloilo and Lanao del Sur are also among the top 10 provinces with women in poor households, according to the 2009 National Household Targeting Survey for Poverty Reduction of the Department of Social Welfare and Development.

What these government figures highlight is that poverty in these areas can be linked to the continuing failure to effect agrarian reform. Assessment studies conducted by Balisacan (2007), Gordoncillo (2008) and Reyes (1998) have stressed this link; the technical working paper of the World Bank (2009) further posited that the modest impact of CARP on poverty alleviation and growth had been mainly due to DAR’s inability to prioritize the acquisition of private agricultural lands through compulsory acquisition.

Table 1. Top Provinces with Highest Land Redistribution Backlog, 2011 and

Poverty Magnitude and Incidence, 2012

Provinces Remaining Lands for Distribution (hectares) Poverty (2012)†
2011 (a) Magnitude

(poor population)Incidence (in percent)Negros Occidental144,861916,69432.3Camarines Sur63,042771,98441.2Masbate33,156448,33351.3South Cotabato40,703430,21032.0Negros Oriental24,027638,46650.1Leyte36,007713,06339.2Iloilo25,019580,93726.2Isabela57,730365, 024

24.4Lanao del Sur39,567687, 13873.8Maguindanao29,034571,22363.7Saranggani18,450269, 11253.2

† Based on National Statistical Coordinating Board data, February 2014 (a)  Based on the PARC-DAR Data, March 2011.

But to many farmers who have been struggling for the realization of agrarian reform, land is freedom from poverty: owning a piece of land, earning from it, sending their children to school and putting a roof over their heads through the fruits of the land will finally allow them to live a life with dignity and pride.

Slow Death: Reality of Agrarian Reform under P-Noy

“Tatapusin ang pamamahagi ng lupa sa ilalim ng CARPER sa aking panunungkulan.” (Land distribution under CARPER shall be completed under my term) That was the promise of President Aquino during his third state of the nation address in July 2012: famers shall own the lands they till.

With four months left before the June 30, 2014 ‘deadline’ for the land distribution component of CARPER, President Benigno Aquino III must muster all the political and social capital to finally see the program through. Under his helm, government must effectively complete land distribution, implement the reforms under CARPER such as rural women-friendly provisions in terms of giving access to land and support services, socialized credit and initial capitalization for new and old agrarian reform beneficiaries (ARBs), expand the support services scope beyond the agrarian reform communities (ARCs), provide agrarian justice delivery, and ensure adequate budget for the implementation of agrarian reform. The underlying goal is to usher in a lasting era of social justice in the countryside and ensure the economic viability and political empowerment of agrarian reform beneficiaries.

According to DAR, as of end-2013, the official land acquisition and distribution balance is a total of 790,671 hectares from 80,867 landholdings. This means that the department needs to distribute 197,667.8 hectares per month from March to June 30, 2014 to stick to the ‘deadline’. There are still 206,536 hectares of lands with no Notices of Coverage (NOCs). The Notices of Coverage kicks off the land distribution process for private agricultural lands under compulsory acquisition, which is now the main mode of acquisition under CARPER. This landholdings comprise the bulk of remaining lands to be distributed—470,274 hectares of lands or 60 percent of the total land distribution balance.

Further, coconut, rice and sugar cane lands comprise more than two-thirds of lands that still need to be distributed under CARPER. Based on DAR’s figures, as of January 2013, there are 262,524 hectares of coconut lands, 178,690 hectares of rice lands and 145,802 hectares planted to sugarcane that are up for distribution.

Unfortunately, the national land reform program is now at a dire state, ultimately, as a result of DAR’s halfhearted commitment to act decisively for the interests of its primary constituency—small, landless farmers. CARP is on the verge of death at the hands of the present DAR, under Secretary Virgilio delos Reyes.  Delos Reyes promised to distribute more than 1.2 million hectares of lands, targeting  200,000 for 2011; 180,000 hectares for 2012; 260,000 hectares for 2013; and 200,000 hectares for 2014. This leaves around as much as 360,000 hectares of undistributed land or 30 percent of the total balance by June 2014.

Contrary to its padded accomplishment reports, the present administration’s DAR has consistently failed to meet its yearly targets, failed to provide support services to its beneficiaries, and failed to protect farmers’ rights from illegal conversions and land-grabbing.

Previous figures would attest to this trend under Delos Reyes. In 2011, DAR was able to distribute 18,414 landholdings or 111,889 hectares of lands to 63,755 ARBs. This was only 60 percent of the targets for that year, and 56 percent of which or 69,903 hectares were non-private agricultural lands, or settlements, landed estates and government-owned lands. In its own “Report on the State of Agrarian Reform (2012),” DAR admits that “the first one and half years of the Aquino government were less than outstanding and that DAR failed to meet its target for the year.”[i]

Further, according to DAR’s own figures, of the total 710,000 hectares of lands originally targeted for distribution between July 2010 to June 2013, only 360,464 hectares or 51 percent of the annual targets were distributed to agrarian reform beneficiaries. As in the past, DAR had re-adjusted their annual targets to make their performance look good on paper. As an example, in its 2013 accomplishment report, DAR reported that it fully redistributed the 4,099 hectares of Hacienda Luisita— even as it continues to neglect the physical installation and delivery of support services to Luisita’s farmers.

The official figures from DAR all point to one conclusion. Land distribution, which is the heart of CARPER, is languishing under the administration of Pres. Aquino and DAR secretary, Gil delos Reyes. The current administration’s CARP performance is the “worst since 1988,” the year CARP took effect.

Despite recent pronouncements, the major hurdle for CARPER’s implementation is the non-priority accorded to agrarian reform by the Aquino administration. Its CARP performance showed only five percent achievement rate in land distribution output vs. targets, compared with the Ramos administration’s 46 percent, Arroyo’s 23 percent and Cory Aquino’s 21 percent. The current administration’s performance is even worse than the Estrada administration’s 5.4 percent, which distributed lands for about the same period of two years before former President Estrada was ousted.

Furthermore, the quality of implementation is also a big question: whether the lands reported as distributed have been actually given to agrarian reform beneficiaries and that these beneficiaries have the land titles in their hands, and that they are being provided with appropriate support services such as access to socialized credit, irrigation, etc. remain to be validated. Only when these components are realized can government claim fulfillment of its obligations under the law.

Beyond Land Distribution

The provision of support services is an inseparable component in the success of CARP’s development objective. Under CARPER, an integrated package of support services must be provided to existing and new agrarian reform beneficiaries. This package includes access to socialized credit and initial capitalization in the form of cash or farm implements which are needed by new ARBs. Women-friendly provisions are also part of the reforms won by the agrarian reform movement under CARPER.  Land redistribution will come to naught if the economic viability of redistributed farms is not promoted.

“Agrarian reform is not just a matter of distribution of lands.  An indispensable component of its success is the support services that are to be given to farmers, such as farms implements, capital to finance their operations, training and community organizing among farmers,” NASSA National Director Bishop Broderick Pabillo said.

What CARP still fails to fulfill is its constitutional mandate to promote social justice and development, and this has been mainly due to contradictory economic policies. Economically vulnerable and lacking in support services, ARBs are unable to compete in an environment allowing liberalized entry of agricultural products. Also, the Department of Agriculture has prioritized the agribusiness sector leaving DAR, with its limited funds and technically-challenged personnel, with the task of transforming ARBs into a competitive sector.

Stories from the ground

The dismal performance may be disputed by government; they can claim gaps and differentials, but the farmers from Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao who participated in the nationwide consultations the Save Agrarian Reform Alliance conducted from March to May 2012 do not prevaricate about the ordeals they have been enduring.

Over 200 cases covering 31 provinces and 11 regions from Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao were presented by 116 participants. On March 27 and 28, about 80 farmers, farm workers, rural women, agrarian reform beneficiaries and NGOs participated in the first salvo of the series of consultations, the Luzon-Wide Consultation and Assessment of Agrarian Reform/CARPER. For many of the participants from Luzon, agrarian reform implementation has already taken an average of 21 years, and the future still doesn’t bode well. They brought forward a total of 56 cases in 13 provinces from Central Luzon (Bataan, Pampanga, Tarlac, Nueva Ecija, Nueva Vizacaya, Aurora, Zambales), Southern Tagalog (Quezon, Laguna, Rizal, Batangas) and northern Isabela. The cases comprise “multiple cases,” which involve various interrelated problems arising from the implementation of agrarian reform.

These 56 cases cover 59,512.91 hectares of land or 40 percent of DAR’s land distribution backlog for Luzon (minus Bicol’s), which is 149,133 hectares. This is a significant figure not only in terms of scope but also in terms of the number of provinces where SARA members are present.

On the other hand, 13,567 agrarian reform beneficiaries/farmers (ARBs) are affected; they represent close to 16 percent of the total ARB targets of DAR for Luzon.

            On April 12-13, 24 participants from three major organizations in the Visayas presented 87 agrarian reform cases during the SARA consultations in the region. For a number of those who participated in the Visayan consultation-assessment, agrarian reform implementation has been averaging16 years before implementation is completed or becomes successful. These 87 cases involved 13,350.326 hectares of lands, comprising some of the most contentious landholdings in Negros Occidental, Iloilo and Negros Oriental, three of the top provinces with the highest land distribution backlog in the country.

In Mindanao, there were 67 cases presented, May 21 and 22, by 22 representatives from 11 organizations of non-government organizations, coalitions and peoples’ organizations working on agrarian reform cases. In Mindanao, the issue of poverty and landlessness in the region is multifaceted, and has been further complicated by armed conflicts, competing land claims among three different sets of actors (the indigenous peoples, Moros and Christian settlers) with varying layers of demands for political participation and space to express their cultural and ethnic identities.

Mindanao also has the most number of commercial farms, representing some of the most contentious landholdings. A 10-year deferment period was previously approved in Congress, favoring the powerful lobby of agribusiness and landlords, which consequently delayed redistribution of these landholdings from 1988 to 1998, especially of banana, pineapple and other cash crop plantations. This deferment period was designed to give landowners and/or corporations opportunities to either evade land distribution through the transfer or selling of their shares to other corporations and/or apply for land use conversion and reclassification or devise schemes to recover their investments.

The figures pertaining to actual installations of farmer-beneficiaries, title-in-hand, in the redistributed lands also indicate another concern. For instance, how many hectares were subjected to alternative venture agreements (AVAs) such as leaseback arrangements? Mindanao is well known as the land of AVAs, with farmers owning the land but having no control over the production, i.e. ownership without control.

Moreover, land distribution in public lands remain questionable and problematic, to say the least. With overlapping tenurial instruments—using land reform, ancestral domains and forest lands—the task of identifying and delineating lands and who they belong to have become litigious. The result on-ground is a situation characterized by competing claims over the same piece of land.

Table 3. DAR Land Distribution Balance vs. SARA consulted areas (in hectares)

Regions DAR Land distribution Balance  as of Dec. 31, 2011

(in hectares)SARA Consulted Areas

(in hectares)SARA Consulted ARB-FBs** (number of people)Luzon (including Bicol)287,93059,912.9113,567Visayas274,74613,350.3262,817*Mindanao399, 20138, 943.452,058*TOTAL961,877112,206.686 8105*

* incomplete number

** ARB-FBs: agrarian reform beneficiaries-farmer beneficiaries

Standing on Tenuous Grounds

A huge number of landholdings has not been covered and distributed, and are in different stages of land acquisition process, owing to stumbling blocks such as non-coverage due to the refusal of Municipal Agrarian Reform Officers (MARO) and other Department of Agrarian Reform officials.  Other challenges have been the existence of retention cases; non-installation of farmers; pending titles at the Registry of Deeds; pending cases at the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) Central Office;  and problems of exclusion and inclusion in targeting of beneficiaries and land identification, among others.

For landholdings which have been covered and distributed, farmer-beneficiaries continue to endure “second generation problems” such as cancellation of land titles, either as Certificate of Land Ownership Award (CLOA) or Emancipation Patent. This problem has given rise to what is now commonly known as “bigay-bawi ng titulo”; there are also foreclosures, legal cases filed by former landowners, lack of support service provision, etc. In most cases, the lack of adequate and appropriate support services remains a problem. Access to credit, farm implements, seeds, etc. are too few and far in between. Where support services were given, it was usually provided through the support of NGOs.  Farmers’ inability to pay their amortization as well as foreclosure and selling of their lands have been attributed to the lack of support services that could have helped beneficiaries transition from mere dependent farm workers to new, productive farmer owners.

Worse, rampant land exemptions and illegal and legal land use conversions are unabated. Landholdings which have been up for distribution under the agrarian reform program have been exempted or excluded due to land use conversion orders and applications for real estate development, mining and other agricultural uses. Irrigated lands have been converted for other uses such as bio-fuel production and non-agricultural use by both foreign and domestic investors and political elites.

Protest actions of farmers and farm workers who continue to fight for what have been promised by the law are being criminalized. The protesters continue to experience harassment, and in many cases physical harm have been brought upon them. Landowners have filed cases of qualified theft and trespassing, not only to harass farmers but to de-legitimize their stakes and claims to the lands. Strong resistance from landed clans is common in the areas, especially in contentious and large landholdings (more than 100 hectares of land) such as Haciendas Matias, Reyes and Uy owned by the Matias, Reyes and Uy families, respectively, in Bondoc Peninsula; the Maranons, Cuencas and Hernandezes in Iloilo and Negros Occidental; and the Alcantaras in Saranggani, Pablo Rabat and the Floreindos in the Davao region, and Ernesto/Marcita Roldan in North Cotabato, just to name a few.

Farmers also speak of the lackluster performance of DAR officials on the ground. In a lot of cases, they claim that corruption and ineffectiveness hound the bureaucracy, with many anecdotes about collusion of DAR officials with landowners and real estate developers in order to evade the program. The ‘transition or exit plan’ of the DAR also has a ‘chilling effect’ on field officials, with many MARO refusing to move the land cases because of the uncertainty of their future jobs. All of these problems with the bureaucracy, according to the farmers, links to the (in)ability of the current secretary to command leadership and inspiration.

These are the stark realities that show in very clear and concrete terms the state of agrarian reform implementation in the Philippines. Farmers question government’s seriousness on its promise to complete CARPER. For the participants of the consultations, they could not feel the Aquino government’s sincerity, with DAR treating itself as above all other sectors. This means that the current DAR leadership does not value past experience of positive and successful state-society (farmers, civil society, social movements) interactions, which contributed to making CARP work.

Further, farmers share a common sentiment that CARPER’s “deadline” is not a legal but political problem. That is, political will and commitment are necessary and urgent to fulfill the Constitutional mandate. Farmers lament that President P-Noy can either let CARP die in his administration, ending the hopes of millions of farmers who still dream of owning the lands that they till. Or he can breathe new life into Philippine agriculture and rural development by making CARP among his highest priorities. There is still a narrow window of opportunity to make CARPER work.

People’s Calls and Demands

On completion of land redistribution:

  • Issue all Notices of Coverage before the June 30, 2014 deadline of land distribution. For President Aquino to order his secretary to issue the NOCs swiftly and decisively.
  • DAR and DENR should account for the more than one million hectares of LAD targets, and show the list of landholdings per area as soon as possible. We cannot overemphasize the importance of publicly disclosing data to speed up the distribution of private agricultural lands, especially in the top 20 provinces with the biggest backlog.
  • Repeal/amend conservative AOs such as 7 and 9 that opened up CARPER to anti-agrarian reform tactics by landowners
  • State alarm over the report that land reform in public land is almost complete, invoke issue of transparency: where are these distributed public lands? This is contrary to experience where public land distribution is as difficult if not more difficult to distribute that private lands.
  • Resolve the issuance of double and multiple titling. Have a clear process on resolving competing claims over the same land, especially in Mindanao.
  • Promotion of women’s equal rights to land ownership and push for the implementation of AO 1 on Gender Equality.
  • Specific in Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao: Review the current contract growing arrangements in Mindanao; repeal/review the SDOs in Visayas; and stop land use conversions in irrigated and irrigable lands in Luzon
  • Prohibit the entry of mining investments and operations in CARP areas.

On support services:

  • Full provision of integrated support services to new and existing agrarian reform beneficiaries.

On agrarian justice:

  • Call for the immediate and decisive action and resolution of flash point cases that are especially still pending, highly irregular and anomalous. Immediate installation of farmers in lands, which have been awarded to them. And immediate resolution of all cases pending in PARAD, RARAD and DARAB, BALA.
  • Protection of ARBs against harassment, intimidations, and economic sabotage (e/g. destruction of crops) perpetrated by the military, New Peoples’ Army and landlords/private goons. Decisive investigation of harassment and human rights violation of farmers, rural women, and land rights defenders.

On the budget:

  • Allocate the maximum budget of P 150 B mandated by RA 9700.

On transparency and good governance:

  • Ensure the ARB’s and agrarian reform advocates’ right to information in the implementation of the agrarian reform program. Farmers demand the full disclosure of specific landholdings and not mere simple statistics. DAR and DENR must provide the list of targets and accomplishments by landholdings.
  • Full disclosure of DAR’s exit program
  • Ensure transparency and genuine participation of farmer beneficiaries, pro-reform forces, and CSOs in the implementation of agrarian reform.
  • Overhaul, and re-energize the bureaucracy as part of good governance. Remove all corrupt DAR officials

Bishop Pabillo reiterated “CARPER is good and will succeed if there is political will among the implementors to really help poor.  All these years our government officials have not really given their best to make the agrarian reform succeed.  It is not fair to blame CARPER.  Blame the implementors!

“If government officials do not do what the law requires them to do, what is their accountability? CARPER demands that all the CARPable lands will have to be distributed in 5 years—with proper support services. If DAR, and by command responsibility, the President, are not able to do this—should they not be held accountable? What will their punishment be for breaking the law?”

(Nirva, kindly place here a short profile of the author.  Yen got this article from Nassa. Perhaps you can ask her help.  There are photos that accompanied this article. I will forward them to you since I couldn’t open them with my poor internet.)

(I can’t understand the notes below, since there are no footnote marks in the article. Please check.)

* This piece consists of excerpts from the main report “State of Agrarian Report under President Benigno Aquino III: Beyond the Numbers: Farmers continue to struggle for social justice and inclusive rural development, A Report Researched and Prepared by Focus on the Global South with the Save Agrarian Reform Alliance, December 2012. The published report was released/disseminated in 2013.

Phase 2 A: Private lands 24 hectares up to 50 hectares which have been issued notice of coverage by December 10, 2008, land of government financial institutions, landed estates, settlements and other government-owned lands.

 (Phase 1 and 2 A lands are currently being acquired and distributed).

Phase 2B: All remaining private agricultural lands in excess of 24 hectares up to 50 hectares, without notice of coverage.

Phase 3A: Smaller landholdings above 10 hectares up to 24 hectares. Phase 2B and 3A lands are due for acquisition on July 1, 2012 up to June 30, 2013.

Phase 3B: Small landholdings that are above 5 hectares up to 10 hectares. Scheduled for distribution on July 2013 to June 2014.

[i] Report on the State of Agrarian Reform, p. 6.

Phase 2 A: Private lands 24 hectares up to 50 hectares which have been issued notice of coverage by December 10, 2008, land of government financial institutions, landed estates, settlements and other government-owned lands.

 (Phase 1 and 2 A lands are currently being acquired and distributed).

Phase 2B: All remaining private agricultural lands in excess of 24 hectares up to 50 hectares, without notice of coverage.

Phase 3A: Smaller landholdings above 10 hectares up to 24 hectares. Phase 2B and 3A lands are due for acquisition on July 1, 2012 up to June 30, 2013.

Phase 3B: Small landholdings that are above 5 hectares up to 10 hectares. Scheduled for distribution on July 2013 to June 2014.

[1] Report on the State of Agrarian Reform, p. 6.

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