File photo of farmers and religious leaders calling on gov't to complete the agrarian reform program. Photo from Task Force Mapalad

Bishops, peasants, vow ‘No’ vote for CARP ‘killers,’ greedy landlord-politicians in 2016

Negros News – Landless farmers and religious leaders belonging to national multi-sectoral alliance Sulong CARPER have vowed a “no vote” come 2016 for greedy landlord-politicians, who as candidates always promise to uplift the lives of the poor including peasants, but in reality only want to gain political power to promote their selfish interests.

“Tatandaan po namin ang inyong ginawa sa ating mahihirap at aping magsasaka kaya hanggang ngayon ay wala pa rin silang lupa (We will remember what you did to our poor and oppressed farmers that’s why they still don’t have land up to now),” says Manila Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo.

“The injustice that you have done to our landless peasants will be translated to the poor and the pro-poor Church’s no vote in 2016,” said Pabillo, who chairs the Permanent Committee on Public Affairs of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP).

Pabillo is pertaining to landlord-politicians in the House of Representatives known as the Visayan bloc who have inserted “killer amendments” to House Bill 4296 to keep their control over haciendas that should have long been distributed to landless tillers under the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP).

Peasants belonging to Sulong CARPER including those from national peasant federation Task Force Mapalad (TFM) have blasted the Visayan lawmakers led by Negros Occidental Rep. Alfredo Abelardo “Albee” Benitez for the delay in the passage of the original version of H.B. 4296, which seeks to complete the land acquisition and distribution phase of the CARP, despite President Benigno Aquino III’s unwavering support for its passage and the March 2015 commitment of Congress leaders to immediately pass the same.

The Senate has sided with the farmers by giving full support to the passage of the original version of HB 4296. The bill’s passage was also supported by leaders of the Catholic Church. Early this year, 81 prelates composed of 15 archbishops, 59 bishops, and seven church administrators led by CBCP president Archbishop Socrates Villegas appealed for the passage of HB 4296 and also House Bill 4375.

HB 4375 seeks to create an independent Agrarian Reform Commission to review the actual accomplishment of CARP and investigate circumventions and violations of the CARP Law with a view to cause these landholdings to be redistributed to qualified beneficiaries.

“During poll campaigns, you always say that you love the poor, including lowly peasants and will work for their benefit. You always say makamahirap kayo. But do you really love the poor? Why do you do the opposite when you’re already in the seat of power?” said Fr. Edwin Gariguez, executive secretary of the CBCP-National Secretariat for Social Action Justice and Peace.

Gariguez said that last May, when landless farmers went back to Batasang Pambansa in Quezon City to get an update on the status of H.B. 4296 and press for the overhaul of CARP implementation via the swift passage of HB 4375, the peasants were violently dispersed through water cannons, tear gas, and pepper sprays.

“That was adding insult to an already very painful injury. For decades and even centuries, these landless tillers are the ones who have been bringing riches to hacienderos, who in turn are using these riches to gain political power. But what are these haciendero-politicos doing now? Biting the callused hands of the peasants who feed them, treating them like animals and criminals. This is the height of injustice and oppression,” said Gariguez.

Among thousands of tillers who remain landless despite the 27-year existence of CARP is 66-year-old Dorita Vargas.

Vargas, a single parent of six, who became a sugarcane farm worker in Negros Occidental when she was 13 years old, practically remains landless as the bulk of the 126-hectare Hacienda Canticibil-Manalo in Brgy. Robles, La Castellana remains under the control of its landlord.

“Ako ang patunay ng di epektibong implementasyon ng CARP. Ng kabiguan ng gobyerno na gamitin ang kapangyarihan nito para sa kapakanan ng mahihirap at aping magsasaka [I am the proof of the government’s failure to use its power for the welfare of poor and oppressed farmers],” said Vargas.

In 1996, the Department of Agrarian Reform started to cover Hacienda Canticbil-Manalo under the CARP. But because of the DAR’s slowness in distributing the landholding to Vargas and her fellow CARP beneficiaries, the landowner managed to evade the program by first chopping the ownership of the hacienda into nine titles and later on to 52 titles.

Meanwhile, Cagayan de Oro Archbishop Antonio Ledesma urged PNoy not to abandon his responsibility to complete CARP.

“Your mother, President Cory, started CARP. Let it not die in your own hands even amid the opposition of recalcitrant landlord-politicians. CARP is for the best interests of the farmers and not for the best interests of the landlords,” said Ledesma.