TFM file photo of an aging, poor peasant in Negros Occidental.

Farmers welcome Duterte’s pro-peasant stance, urge him to use iron fist vs Negros landlords

Thousands of farmers have welcomed the pronouncement of incoming President Rodrigo Duterte to implement an honest-to-goodness agrarian reform program to ensure the peasants’ future by dumping a loophole-ridden version of the program that allowed landlords to still maintain control of vast agricultural landholdings already subject to redistribution.

“President Rody’s pro-peasant pronouncement has breathed a new life into our unending quest for social justice. The 28-year-old Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program started by President Cory was killed by her son PNoy by allowing hacienderos to still reign and enjoy the fruits of our labor,” said 64-year-old Negros farmer Jose Rodito Angeles, president of national peasant federation Task Force Mapalad (TFM).

“If there were victories under the Aquino CARP, these were mostly won — not through the government’s political will — but by the efforts of peasants, who fought with their lives and limbs to reclaim the land they have been tilling for decades,” added Angeles.

Last May 10, a day after the national polls, Duterte, during a TV interview in Davao City, lamented that most of the landholdings distributed to tillers just went back to the control of landlords due to the ineffective implementation of the CARP. The presumptive President said that while he would need to “study the matter very carefully,” he would be open to an “extended land reform” provided that he would be “satisfied why it has gone that way.”

He said what the farmers could be sure of under his administration would be the availability of “money for financing” support services and farm productivity.

TFM farmers also welcomed Duterte’s pronouncement that he would “follow the pattern of socialism” and that “he is angry at (galit ako sa) oligarchs” (because) they get the fat of the land” and the problem was that “the government allowed” such greed.

“Those strong pronouncements coming from a non-elite President bring a ray of hope among us peasants. The politically and economically powerful hacienderos are among the country’s oligarchs. And if President Rody would follow the socialist path of development, that would mean more equitable distribution of income, wealth and resources by breaking up land monopolies and ending haciendero reign,” said Angeles.

Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) data show that there are still 700,000 hectares of farms natiowide that have not yet been distributed to CARP beneficiaries.

Last year, the DAR under the PNoy administration miserably failed in meeting its target of redistributing 198,000 hectares of farms, with a land acquisition and distribution accomplishment of only 35,477 hectares or just 18 percent of the target.

TFM said that CARP’s underperformance was due to PNoy administration’s lack of political will to complete the program and the landowner-dominated Congress’ insertion of loopholes in laws that watered down CARP.

While PNoy promised to extend the acquisition and distribution of landholdings under CARP, this was not carried out after House members from the Visayan bloc, who either belong to landlord clans or are allies of the landed elite, blocked the passage last year of House Bill 4296.

Of the 700,000-hectare balance, 20 percent or 135,000 hectares are found in Negros Occidental, known as the province with the most number of recalcitrant landlords.

DAR data also show that of the total 700,000-hectare CARP balance, about 12,000 landholdings nationwide with a total area of close to 127,000 hectares have not yet been issued CARP notice of coverage or do not have valid NOCs.

Not having NOCs means that the government under PNoy has not yet done any step in the 27 CARP steps to have these landholdings acquired and distributed through the program.

Most of these farms or about 52 percent without NOC or valid NOC are found in the Visayas. There are still 6,367 farms covering 65,665 has. in the region that are still “untouched” because these don’t have NOC or valid NOC, based on DAR data.

Negros Occidental is the province with the biggest number of landholdings without NOC or valid NOC in the Visayas – 4,856 landholdings covering 47,684 has. or 76 percent of the total “untouched” landholdings in the region.

Based on the DAR’s list, among the haciendas in Negros Occidental that remain “untouched” are those that belong to the Aranetas, who are relatives of defeated presidential candidate Mar Araneta-Roxas; Locsins, who are relatives of Susan Roces, the mother of defeated presidential bet Grace Poe; and the families of the Benedictos, Consings, Gustilos, Montinolas, Lopezes, Jalandonis, Lacsons, Yulos, and Montillas.

“These are among the most stubborn landlord-families that have defied CARP for almost three decades. We are hoping that President Rody will put an end to the greed of these politically powerful untouchables through Digong’s iron fist,” said Angeles.