Negros News – Landless farmers last Sunday exposed the reason why the Visayan bloc at the House of Representatives led by Negros Occ. Rep. Alfredo Abelardo “Albee” Benitez is moving heaven and earth to water down House Bill 4296 that seeks to extend and complete the implementation of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP).
“They want to amend HB 4296 by reducing the landholdings that will be distributed to farmer-beneficiaries of the CARP for their own benefit. It’s because of the self-interest and greed of hacendero-politicians in Congress,” said Alberto Jayme, president of the Negros chapter of national peasant federation Task Force Mapalad.
Jayme said that based on TFM’s preliminary research, several members of the Visayan bloc in the House and their families still own and control vast tracts of land that should have long been awarded to beneficiaries of the agrarian reform program. They wanted to reduce the size of landholdings for distribution to farmers, if not totally exempt them from CARP coverage.
“Mas maliwanag po sa sikat ng araw ang katotohan. They are pushing for these amendments to HB 4296 because they are legislating for self-interest and not for public interest. Members of the Visayan bloc are neither the representatives of Congress nor the representatives of the people. They are the representatives of themselves and their families’ own interest,” said Jayme.
During a May 19 meeting with officials of the House Committee on Agrarian Reform chaired by Ifugao Rep. Teddy Baguilat, agrarian reform advocates led by Sulong Carper co-convenor Christian Monsod, and former representative Edcel Lagman, the Benitez-led Visayan bloc pushed for amendments to H.B. 4296 that seek to limit the available lands for distribution to CARP beneficiaries.
One amendment seeks to exclude from the CARP, landholdings without notices of coverage (NOCs), rain-fed, non-irrigable, and immediately adjacent to national highways.
A second amendment by the landlord-politicians from the Visayan bloc seeks to increase the retention rights of legal heirs of a deceased owner of private agricultural land not yet issued NOCs. In this amendment, each heir of the deceased landowner will retain five hectares out of their inherited landholdings, instead of only five hectares allowed by CARP as retention area for the entire family of the deceased.
A third amendment, which agrarian reform advocates opposed outright during the meeting was to increase to 10 hectares the size of the farm that a landlord can retain after his landholding is covered under the CARP.
“Ang amendments pong gusto nila ay parang dagdag-bawas. Gusto po nilang bawasan ang lupa na ipapamahagi sa mga magsasaka para madagdagan ang mga asyendang matitira sa kanila at sa kanilang mga kamag-anak. Sa ilalim ng ating Saligan-Batas, dapat po silang maginhibit sa panukalang batas kung saan sila ay may conflict of interest at sila ay magiging benepisyaryo. ” said Jayme.
“Members of the Visayan bloc are clearly in a conflict of interest situation. They are pushing for these amendments in their official capacity to derive personal benefits. Our Constitution requires members of Congress to inhibit themselves from voting on proposed measures that will benefit them and their families,” added Jayme.
Based on TFM’s preliminary research, close to 30 agricultural landholdings in Negros Occidental with a total area of more than 500 hectares are still controlled by the immediate relatives of Alfredo Abelardo “Albee” Bantug Benitez and have not yet been awarded to farmers 27 years since CARP was implemented.
Twenty of these landholdings with a total area of 454 hectares are still without NOC, the very first step among 27 steps before the DAR can finally distribute a landholding to CARP-beneficiaries through CLOA or certificates of land ownership award.
Most of these 20 landholdings without NOCs are owned by Rep. Benitez’s relatives on his mother’s side that include the lawmaker’s grandfather, Abelardo de Leon Bantug; grandmother, Remedios Palanca Bantug; uncle, Reynaldo P. Bantug; aunts Victoria Bantug and Armita Bantug Rufino; and Albee’s mother, Betty Benitez.
The seven other landholdings with a total area of almost 83 hectares that still controlled by the relatives of Rep. Benitez already have NOCs but have not yet been distributed to farmer-beneficiaries of the CARP through issuance of CLOA.
The seven landholdings are also owned by Rep. Benitez’s relatives on his mother’s side.
Also, TFM found other landholdings mostly in Negros Occidental and Iloilo that have not yet been distributed to CARP beneficiaries and are still controlled by the families of other members of the Visayan bloc that include representatives Jerry Treñas, Jeffrey Ferrer, Alejandro Mirasol, and Pryde Henry Teves.
TFM will soon come out with the list of other landholdings that are still under the control of said lawmakers and their kin.