File photo of a Negros farmworker by Jimmy Domingo/Task Force Mapalad

Peasants back incoming DAR chief’s free land distribution proposal

Negros News – Thousands of landless peasants belonging to national peasant federation Task Force Mapalad (TFM) have thrown their support behind incoming Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) Secretary Rafael “Ka Paeng” Mariano’s pronouncement of pushing for a just implementation of the agrarian reform program that would include free distribution of agricultural landholdings to farmers.

“It’s right that we should no longer be obliged to pay. We’ve already paid so much to the landlords because they have amassed the fruits of our labor. They are the ones who get rich from our work as we continue to be mired in poverty,” said 64-year-old Negros farmer and TFM president Jose Rodito Angeles, on Sunday, June 12, Independence Day, and three days before the 28th anniversary of the start of the implementation of Republic Act 6657 or the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law of 1988.

TFM also called on Ka Paeng to condone the debts of farmers who were awarded lands via the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) but could not pay their amortization dues for lack of capital and support services from the government to help make their lands productive.

“Farmers awarded with landholdings can’t make their farms productive and are deep in debt because of the absence of support services. They don’t earn much from the land but are still being obliged to pay amortization. Mahirap na nga, binabaon pa sa utang. Meanwhile, landlords who have been enjoying income and profit from the land for a long time are being compensated by the government with huge sums,” said Angeles.

Former Commission on Elections chief Christian Monsod, TFM legal counsel and member of the 1986 Constitutional Commission, also supports free land distribution.

“There is nothing in the Constitution that says that the farmers must pay for their land,” he said.

“The Constitution only requires that the landowners be given just compensation. Under CARP, it is the government that pays the landowners. The farmer-beneficiaries pay 30-year amortizations to the government subject to ability to pay,” Monsod said.

TFM said Mariano would sure catch the ire of powerful and influential landlord-politicians expected to block every effort to implement a just and fairer agrarian reform program.

“Just like before, recalcitrant landlord-politicians “will again combine forces to block every move to ensure, improve, and expand the rights and welfare of peasants under the agrarian reform program.”

“Though it will be another arduous struggle, we will be behind Ka Paeng. And we hope that incoming President Rodrigo Duterte, who earlier said that he would follow a socialist path of governance and expressed his hate against oligarchs ‘because they get the fat of the land,’ will be 100-percent with us in our fight for justice and equity,” the federation said.

TFM coordinator Armando Jarilla said the state under the Duterte administration “is constitutionally mandated to fully implement CARP until all agricultural lands are distributed subject only to limited exceptions.”

“CARP aims to level the playing field by addressing the wide gap between poor peasants and rich landlords, between those who till, enrich, and grow fruits from the land and those who do nothing but feast on the produce of somebody else’s labor,” added Jarilla.

“This is the historical injustice that agrarian reform must rectify,” he said.

Jarilla explained that historical injustice in the ownership of the country’s land resources started during colonization when the Spanish crown, through the Regalian Doctrine, was able to lay claim on all public landholdings in the Philippines.

He said these landholdings, many of which were already being tilled by native Filipinos or part of their ancestral domains, were titled under the names of other people, including vast tracts of land that would later evolve into haciendas.

As a result, many natives or peasant families were driven out of the lands they had been cultivating for many years or were forced to become the tillers and slaves of hacienderos.

In Negros for instance, historian Alfred W. McCoy, an expert on Philippine political history, said hacienderos were able to amass landholdings through “forced expropriation of peasant farms later legitimized by legal documentation; cash purchase of small peasant farms to form a plantation; and high interest loans to peasant proprietors with default provisions requiring forfeiture of land and years of debt bondage.”

“This historical injustice continues up to now. And among the biggest challenges for the Duterte administration is to end that injustice to be able to start a new history of equity and inclusive growth ,” said Jarilla.