Farmers who do not have their own land have to work on the haciendas and estates of landlords, and corporate farms of foreign agribusinesses. As a consequence, they do not own the harvest even if they did all the labor. They do not even have a say on how the harvest should be divided and almost all the time, the division is unfair.
Many of our presidents have passed so-called land reform laws, the latest of which is Cory Aquino’s CARP (Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program). CARP was supposed to expire in 1998 but was extended. On the eve of CARP’s second expiration in 2008, peasant group KMP released a study which showed that from 1988 to 2008, the figure of 70% of peasants being landless did not change.
According to the KMP, the CARP contained many ‘loopholes’ which allowed landlords to either evade CARP or regain their lands from farmer-beneficiaries. One is the SDO (stock distribution option) of Hacienda Luisita notoriety. Instead of land, peasants are given shares of stock in the corporation owning the land. Land can always be planted with crops, meaning it is a steady source of income, or at least food. Stocks can only be exchanged for cash once, and most of the time, it has little or no value.
Another loophole is that the peasants have to pay for the land. This is unfair considering that in most cases, it is the sweat and blood of the peasants and their ancestors who made the land bloom in the first place. The decades of exploited labor by the farmers are more than enough payment for the land. Additionally, the landlords overvalue their land when it is being covered by CARP. The peasants have no say because only the landlord, DAR (Dept. of Agrarian Reform), and Land Bank get to determine the land value.
The KMP also criticized the CARPER (Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program Extension with Reforms) which is brainchild of Akbayan and its Representative, Risa Hontiveros-Baraquel. The CARPER did not change any of the loopholes. It only added more funds for the CARP. Coincidentally, many NGOs allied with Akbayan receive CARP funds.
Why should Land Reform be an Election Issue?
Livelihood – As mentioned earlier, a huge section of our population are still peasants. Giving that huge section a steady source of livelihood and higher incomes is a huge step towards reducing and eliminating poverty.
Food Security – The 2008 rice crisis exposed our country’s dependency on imported rice. Why is a pre-dominantly agricultural country like ours dependent on an agricultural product, and one as basic and staple as rice?
Over the past decades, landlords have been converting their holdings in two ways: One is land conversion, where they use farmlands for non-agricultural use. Going back to Hacienda Luisita, we have a mall, an industrial park, and golf courses standing where fertile soil used to be. Another is crop conversion, where they plant non-food or non-staple food crops, like sugarcane and bananas.
Land conversion became more rampant during the CARP period because it allowed landlords to exempt their haciendas and farms from being distributed to the peasants.
Industrialization – Many of our local businesses are unable to compete with foreigners due to many factors. One such factor is that they have to import many raw materials, which increases their expenses.
Farmers who own their own land have more incentives to plant crops which are needed by industries for raw materials.
Candidates’ Stand on Land Reform so far
None of the presidentiables so far have promised to push for an alternative law to the CARPER.
Two presidentiables, one former and one current, have promised to push for a review of the CARPER: Chiz Escudero and Manny Villar. Both were at the prodding of the MAKABAYAN coalition.
Gilbert Teodoro, as expected, does not have a clear stand on land reform. This is to be expected from someone who has promised not to change any of Gloria Arroyo’s major policies. This is also expected from someone who is widely perceived as an ‘Amboy’ or someone who blindly follows U.S dictates. In this matter, it is in the interest of the U.S to keep our agriculture unchanged, making us continually dependent on their economy.
Only two national candidates have a clear and pro-people stance on this issue: Bayan Muna Rep. Satur Ocampo and Gabriela Rep. Liza Maza, both senatoriables of MAKABAYAN. Both have co-authored House Bill 3059, or Genuine Agrarian Reform Bill, which was the product of countless consultations with the KMP and farmer-groups nationwide. Both have also made the GARB the cornerstone of their platform on land reform.
Additionally, all the partylist groups under MAKABAYAN have endorsed HB 3059: KABATAAN, Bayan Muna, Anakpawis, Gabriela Women’s Party, Katribu, ACT Teachers Party, Migrante, and Courage Partylist.
While Noynoy Aquino has been vague about his stand on land reform, some of his blogger-supporters have made theirs clear:
1. Free land for the peasants is a radical call.
2. Anything radical is ‘communistic’.
3. The only good communist is a dead communist.
Let’s hope this is not the official stance of Noynoy Aquino.