Incoming DAR chief Rafael Mariano. (File photo)

Peasants welcome Ka Paeng as DAR chief, urge Mariano to immediately distribute ‘Luisitas’ in Negros

Thousands of farmers who remain landless almost three decades since the implementation of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) have welcomed incoming President Rodrigo Duterte’s choice of Rafael “Ka Paeng” Mariano as secretary of the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR).

“Ka Paeng, a fearless and uncompromising peasant leader, who has been fighting since the dark days of Martial Law and a survivor of the 1987 Mendiola Massacre, is the best person for the job. We are ready to support his efforts and are looking forward to having a dialogue with him as soon as possible,” said Jose Rodito Angeles, a Negros farmer and president of the national peasant federation Task Force Mapalad (TFM).

TFM said that Mariano, being a farmer himself, knows in his heart and mind the struggles and aspirations of the peasantry.

“This is the first time in Philippine history that we will have a DAR chief from our own ranks. He has deep understanding on why rural poverty persists and on the role of landlord-politicians in the country’s maldevelopment,” the federation said.

Angeles said Mariano’s pronouncement of conducting a thorough audit of how CARP was implemented in the last 28 years “will be a good step towards fixing the loophole-ridden program that made landlords evade agrarian reform and continue to amass profit from haciendas that should have already been in the hands of tillers a long time ago.”

The TFM leader was referring to Mariano’s recent statement that the DAR under his leadership would review the “sham” CARP in Hacienda Luisita in Tarlac and “conduct a no-holds barred review and reversal” of the agency’s “anti-farmer decisions, a moratorium on land-use conversion and a stop to the cancellation of farmers’ land ownership certificates.”

TFM said that aside from review, reversals, and protection of the tenure of farmers already issued certificates of land ownership award, Mariano could prioritize the immediate distribution to farmers of over half-a-million hectares of landholdings nationwide.

This is the balance that will be left and passed on to the Duterte administration by the Aquino administration, which are now in different stages of CARP acquisition.

The said balance includes almost 5,400 landholdings nationwide covering close to 60,000 hectares that are already issued with CARP notices of coverage but whose NOCs were later arbitrarily rendered invalid by the DAR.

“While we await for a passage of a more progressive and comprehensive agrarian reform legislation, the new DAR leadership can maximize the provisions in Republic Act 9700 or the CARPER Law to proceed and fast-track the acquisition and distribution of these landholdings, the bulk of which are found in Negros,” said Angeles, adding that while CARPER indeed has many imperfections, some provisions in the law could still be used “to protect and expand peasants’ gains.”

To fast-track the distribution of landholdings, TFM said Mariano could revoke “killer” administrative orders that had slowed down or hindered CARP implementation, such A.O. 7 and A.O. 9. issued by outgoing DAR chief Virgilio delos Reyes.

TFM said these AOs have become the basis for hacienderos to hold on to landholdings even if these had already been covered by CARP.

Also, the AOs have delayed the DAR’s acquisition and distribution of landholdings to farmers resulting in the agency’s under-delivery of its CARP targets.

The federation said the new DAR under Ka Paeng’s watch can also overturn earlier decisions that questionably invalidated the issuance of NOCs in landholdings that are already in their first stages of coverage.

Many ‘Luisitas’ in Negros
The bulk of the CARP balance is found in Negros Occidental. As of December 2015, over 94,000 hectares of haciendas in the province or nearly 20 percent of the nationwide balance are still in the hands of landlords.

“There are many Luisitas in Negros – big landholdings that remain undistributed by CARP and still under the control of haciendero families such as the Cojuangcos, Arroyos, Aranetas, Locsins, Benedictos, Yulos, Gustilos, Ledesmas, Lopezes, and Jalandonis.

It is where the core of injustice and inequity are taking place up to now,” said Angeles.

“We hope that the DAR, this time, under Ka Paeng, will have the political will to priotize the immediate distribution to farmers of vast agricultural landholdings in Negros,” said Angeles.

“The politically powerful landlords in the province are the country’s most defiant and abusive hacienderos.
The injustice that they continuously commit against Negros farmers have resulted in numerous cases of CARP evasions and circumventions and agrarian-related violence that claimed the lives of many peasants,” he added.