2008 was the year the agrarian reform program in the Philippines would have ended. The Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) was in near-death situation, without any sign of resuscitation from the landlord-dominated Congress where the authority rests to extend the law. If left to die, CARP would have left 1.2 million hectares of land undistributed to farmer-beneficiaries, and services and infrastructure to distributed lands undelivered.
But as early as 2006, agrarian reform activists coming from the sector of landless farmers, rural development advocates and NGOs formed the Reform CARP Movement (RCM), some of the members are partners of 11.11.11, in anticipation of the battle ahead. The RCM began campaigning for the extension and reform of the implementation of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) through policy reform proposals and amendments to the existing law. The campaign was an uphill battle with many of legislators publicly announcing their opposition, many of them coming from families that continue to hold on to large tracts of land.
But the campaign and lobby paid off. CARP Extension with Reforms (CARPER) was passed as a law as Republic Act No. 9700 (RA 9700) on August 7, 2008.
Aside from extending the CARP implementation by five years and allotting a PhP150-billion budget, RA 9700 mandates that CARP would be a continuing program that will have an allotted budget even beyond the five-year extension. The continuing budget would finance the beneficiary development programs and agrarian justice delivery components of agrarian reform implementation even beyond the life of CARP.
RA 9700 introduces major reforms in the old CARP. Apart from mandating the distribution of remaining lands to agrarian reform beneficiaries, the new law also provides measures to make these lands productive in support of poor farmers who have otherwise no access to such services.
More than 20 major reforms introduced
Legal loopholes and an inept and corrupt implementing agency hampered the implementation of the old CARP law, leaving the 20-year program wanting of its avowed objective to uplift the lives of landless farmers.
Learning from these mistakes, agrarian reform advocates took the CARP lobby seriously by undertaking numerous consultations and discussions with stakeholders to pinpoint concrete problems and propose solutions to address them. The year-long discussions eventually led to the drafting of a proposed bill from which the current CARPER law is based on.
It was not an easy battle. Almost 3 years of lobby and street actions, including hunger strike of landless farmers and long-marches across the country, reforms have been put in place. Among the important reforms include:
1. Creation of a Joint Congressional Oversight Committee to oversee the implementation of the law;
2. Clear Policy against Land Conversion of Irrigated and Irrigable Lands from agriculture to other uses;
3. Gender-Sensitive Agrarian Reform;
4. Phasing Schedule of Land Acquisition and Distribution (LAD) To Ensure Completion by June 14, 2014;
5. No More Voluntary Land Transfer (VLT) after June 30, 2008;
6. Encourage Empowerment and Organizing of Farmer Beneficiaries;
7. Individual Award of Titles to farmers;
8. Ensuring Installation of Farmer Beneficiaries;
9. Indefeasibility of all agrarian reform titles;
10. Recognition of Farmer's Legal Standing in all courts and legal bodies;
11. Improved Budget for Support Services, More Access to Socialized Credit, Subsidies to New ARBs;
12. Additional Prohibited Acts on Circumvention of CARP Implementation;
As expected, the large landowning block in Congress opposed the passage of CARPER. It took over a year for the bill to pass through the Congressional process. The landowners in Congress know that passing CARPER breaks their stranglehold over big private agricultural lands, which remain undistributed in the last 20 years.
So the landed interest made sure that there are so-called killer amendments in the law. One killer amendment that passed is the provision that requires a landowner to first certify the qualified agrarian reform beneficiaries (specifically regular farmworkers, agricultural lessees and tenants) in his/her landholding. This provision ostensibly reduces the number of qualified beneficiaries and at the same time accords the landowner with a power to decide whom to give the land to.
This provision may indeed be a killer provision if not for Section 22 which clarifies that regular farmworkers, agricultural lessees and tenants are the priority agrarian reform beneficiaries. Other beneficiaries would be identified by the Barangay Agrarian Reform Council (BARC). At the same time, stiff penal provisions have been included under CARPER which would make landowners criminally liable if they delay the issuance of certifications or should they attest falsely.
Now, the implementation of the law is under the hands of the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR). It will test its mettle as it is pitted against influential landowners who have long been opposing the program.
What really matters
Some critics claim that CARPER was passed only as a firefighting measure of Congress, to put out the growing anger of the people against the House of Representatives who continues to push the Constitutional Change agenda of the administration, which if approved would mean an extension of the term of the incumbent officials including the President.
But to the farmers who vigilantly guarded, consistently fought and lobbied for the passage of the CARPER law, this is nothing short of a validation that only a united citizenry can conquer anything, even the landlord-dominated Congress.
This article is written by Menchi Flores. She was a long time Land Reform Campaigner with CSI, and recently joined Focus on the Global South Philippines.