Sustaining the Battle for CARPER: the Sumilao, Banasi and Calatagan farmers — Powerful instruments of hope
Kaka J. Bag-ao
On August 7, 2009, President Arroyo signed Republic Act 9700 into law, thus extending the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program for another five years and instituting significant reforms to the program.
This signing is long overdue, for the proposed bill on CARPER started even before June of 2008. The President’s declaration that this is her centerpiece program continuing the legacy left by her father is not a serious claim. If it was really so, she would have used all her powers (such as influencing the selection of the members of the Judiciary or the selection of those who will be given the National Artist award) to make sure that CARPER becomes a priority legislative agenda.
I consider myself very fortunate to be involved in this struggle for several reasons. First, I directly worked with Representative Risa Hontiveros of AKBAYAN who sponsored, argued and defended the CARPER bill. Second, I was able to work with NGOs and other CARPER advocates who researched and argued against the “killer amendments” as well as the reforms that eventually became part of the law. Another reason is that I was able to work with the Agrarian Committee of both the House of Representatives and the Senate, drafting the version that was presented during the bicameral committee conference. Most importantly, I directly worked with the Sumilao, Banasi and Calatagan farmers not only on their respective cases but also in their campaign for the enactment of the CARPER law inside and outside of the halls of Congress – the House of Representatives and the Senate.
Before Congress took recess during their last session in 2008, the farmers and CARPER advocates, including the bishops, were already on hunger strike and were camped outside the gates of Congress. What the legislators did as a response was to pass a resolution that practically killed Agrarian Reform, since the resolution contained provisions removing Compulsory Acquisition as a mode of land transfer under the Agrarian Reform Program.
This enraged not only the progressive legislators inside Congress but also the hundreds of people who were camped outside. In February 2009, the Sumilao Farmers of Bukidnon, Banasi Farmers of Bicol and Calatagan farmers of Batangas decided to launch the “Lupang Hinirang, Lupang Hinarang”, a peoples’ pilgrimage for the passage of CARPER. They went from town to town asking communities to sign a letter addressed to the President, convincing her to pass the law at the soonest possible time.
They arrived in Manila and held camp at different parishes, visited schools and churches, and patiently attended the sessions at the Senate and at the House of Representatives. Most of the time they were not allowed to enter because they were not properly dressed; they were not wearing shoes. Often, they would ask me to explain what was going as most of them do not understand English. They did this for more than six months, staying in Manila without an idea when they will go home because they agreed that they will leave only when the law is passed.
Along with the farmers, the NGOs and CARPER advocates worked hard addressing the amendments considered by the farmers as “killer amendments” because they literary deny the farmers’ benefits under the law. The advocates also responded to questions posed by different individuals who want to be informed clearly on the proposed law. We were also intensely involved in formulating provisions that articulate the reforms proposed by different farmers’ groups.
The advocacy for CARPER was never easy for the peasant sector and the Agrarian Reform advocates. I believe that its major victory lies in the fact that we were able to pass an Agrarian Reform law. The enactment of CARPER has been denied twice: once in June 2008 when Congress issued a resolution simply extending the program for another six months, and again in December 2008 when Congress did something even worse: they removed Compulsory Acquisition as the main mode of transferring agricultural lands to farmer-beneficiaries.
Judging from the previous resolutions that were issued, we realize that most of our lawmakers will work harder to protect their interest even to the point of making sure that no Agrarian Reform law will be passed. Unlike the amendatory law that merely extended the program in 1998, the main advocacy for CARPER was to push for significant reforms and to work for the extension of the program to fulfil its mandate.
So the question is: did CARPER realize this objective? Some groups say that it did. Others say that CARPER suffered from the lack of sufficient support services to make small farms viable. The new law does not address the loopholes that have been used by owners of large landholdings, among them the President’s family, to evade redistribution of their estates.
Let me enumerate the salient features of Republic Act 9700 or the CARPER law. As an insider to the process, anti-CARPER legislators tried to insert provisions, dubbed as “killer amendments” that will certainly dilute the program. But farmers’ groups, Agrarian Reform advocates and our champions in Congress were quick to oppose these proposed measures. To name a few, those provisions were:
1. Habitual squatting as a criminal offense that can be committed by farmers;
2. Allows for conversion through joint venture arrangements where ARBs will waive their rights to the control of the land to the other party;
3. Adding exemptions from coverage of CARP including lands producing crops for export (sugar lands, coconut, etc)
4. Exempting lands under labor administration (corporate farms) from coverage under the Agrarian Reform program;
5. Compulsory acquisition should not cover plantations cultivated and developed for export, such as but not limited to coconut, sugar, pineapple and banana plantations;
6. In case of compulsory acquisition of private agricultural lands, the process should be undertaken as an expropriation proceeding under the Rules of Court that disregard the exercise of police power as mandated by the Constitution;
7. A comprehensive inventory system in consonance with a National Land Use Plan which will be used as one of the prerequisites for the acquisition and distribution of classified farmlands. This intends to delay the acquisition of distribution component of CARPER;
8. The determination of the size of the land for distribution shall be based on crop type, soil type, weather patterns and other pertinent variables. This has been included in the final version only as factors;
9. Allowing for different modes including leaseback, wages for regular farmworkers, labor administration, and other non-land transfer modes;
10. Adoption of transitional arrangements such as agribusiness venture arrangements of the landowner that deprives farmers of control over the lands;
11. Consider economic rent in the determination of leaseback rentals;
12. Reduce the ten-year prohibition on sale of awarded land to three years that encourage consolidation of lands by big landowners;
13. Transfer the jurisdiction over agrarian cases from the Department of Agrarian Reform Adjudication Board to the regular courts;
14. Filing of cases before MTC/RTC (Judicial recourse) if judgment before DARAB is unfavourable;
15. Removing the retention limits and allowing for the reconsolidation of landholdings by big landowners;
16. Removal of seasonal farmworkers as beneficiaries under CARPER.
Eventually the CARPER Law, Republic Act 9700 was passed. It contains most of the reforms that were pushed by farmers groups and CARPER advocates. These significant features and/or reforms are:
1. Extended the program for another 5 years
2. Approval of 150B budget and continuing appropriation in the next five years. This is even more than our advocacy in HB 4077 and SB 2666 . Of the 150 billion pesos allocation (60% for land acquisition and distribution and 40% for support services)
3. Recognizing the rights of Rural Women to own and control land, taking into consideration the substantive equality between men and women as qualified beneficiaries
4. Created the Congressional Oversight Committee on Agrarian Reform (COCAR) with 4 members each from both houses to oversee the implementation of the DAR making sure that the targets set for the next five years are accomplishedAccess to information by Agrarian Reform beneficiaries including issues on compensation, applications for conversion, exemption, which previously were limited to the landowners and the DAR.
On Land Acquisition and Distribution:
1. Compulsory Acquisition (CA) as the primarily mode of distribution for the next 5 years. This still means that landowners will be compensated and the farmers will still pay amortization. The important point is that the law follows the constitutional mandate and the distribution of lands will not be subjected the whims of landowners
2. No Voluntary Land Transfer after June 30, 2009 as this has been used in the past as a means to avoid coverage by identifying dummies that will eventually sell back the land to landowners. This mode has also been used to put unqualified beneficiaries as this mode is less monitored by DAR.
3. Indefeasibility of CLOAs and EPs. This affirms the Estribillo case decided by the Supreme Court and ensures that courts will not be allowed to arbitrarily cancel the titles issued under CARP but will be guided by the indefeasibility rule established under the Torrens System of Registration. This is important because titles under CARP have been subjected to cancellation cases even if they were issued for more than 20 years.
4. Irrigated and irrigable lands as non-negotiable for any land conversion. This means that even if the classification of land is non-agricultural but the actual use is agricultural, the owner is bound to maintain its agricultural use which is crucial to food security in our country.
5. Payment for amortization 1 year after occupancy, as opposed to 1 year from award. Here, it ensures that farmers get to till the land first before they are required to pay amortization
6. Phasing and prioritization of big private agricultural landholdings that puts priority to big landholdings. The provision also modifies and divides further lands from 6-10 hectares and lands from 11-24 hectares in the phasing. This recognizes the rights of small landowners to benefit more from their lands as lands below 10 hectares will be last in the priority for coverage.
On Support Services:
1. Credit and initial capitalization subsidy for agricultural production to new ARBs
2. Access to socialized credit to existing Agrarian Reform beneficiaries which is not provided in the old law
3. Enhancing the support provided to Agrarian Reform Communities extending it even outside the ARC declared areas.
4. Equal support services for men and women farmers.
On Agrarian Justice:
1. Legal personality of ARBs in Agrarian Reform implementation and agrarian disputes. This cures the marginalization of potential farmer beneficiaries created by the Fortich v. Corona case as well as other cases that do not recognize farmers as participants in agrarian disputes.
2. Exclusive Jurisdiction of DARAB in agrarian dispute
3. Cancellation of CLOA/EP as an administrative case. This is alright as the Office of the Secretary will have the burden to review cancellation of CLOA/EP cases
4. Immunity from TRO/injunction of DAR in land acquisition and distribution
5. Removal of Squatting as a case against ARBs
6. Penal provisions, including:
a. Criminal case against landowners for delaying Agrarian Reform implementation
b. Criminal case against DAR for delay in LAD
c. Criminal case against landowner for undue delay to make attestation about the existence of tenants and regular farm workers in his/her landholding
Of course there were several provisions pushed by the landowners’ block that became part of the law. Agrarian Reform advocates tried to prevent these from being included. When it became difficult, the strategy was to introduce provisions that will mitigate their impact. One of the provisions is the most popular landowner’s attestation provision where the process of qualifying the farmer-beneficiaries includes a document from the landowners confirming that the farmers are their tenants and regular farm workers. This provision can be abused as landowners can include in the list people that are not qualified that will give back the land to their landlords once the land is given to them because in the first place, these people are not interested in cultivating the lands awarded to them.
A solution to this was to introduce provisions that will consider the landowner’s attestation merely as a document that confirms the category of a farmer-beneficiary and still make the process subject to the final determination of the DAR allowing for inclusion and exclusion of farmers that are not proven to be qualified. Another is to make it a criminal offense if landowners make a false attestation including a provision that does not stop the process if the landowners refuse to make the attestation to further delay the implementation of CARP.
Another provision that was inserted was to limit the beneficiaries of Agrarian Reform to tenants and regular farm workers, thus depriving seasonal farm workers and other types of farmers from becoming beneficiaries of the program. This is mitigated by another provision that allows for prioritization of beneficiaries and the provision allowing for the issuance of a collective CLOA.
This process, however, does not end with legislation, as law making is entirely different from implementing the law enacted. As we speak, anti-CARPER legislators are drafting and have submitted proposals to introduce more amendments to this law. Landowners are beginning to think of ways to avoid the program. What is then crucial is not simply to make a judgment on whether the law is good or bad. As I have said, laws are tools. What is important is to ask ourselves what are our next actions to make the Agrarian Reform program work. If we are all affected by food insecurity, then all of us should be watchful so that the mandate of the law is realized.
What do you think? Is this a good or a bad law? Is this a false promise or a measure that gives hope to the farmers with regards to the fulfilment of the constitutional mandate? You be the judge. For me, CARPER is a victory especially for the many farmers that worked very hard to push for its enactment. For the Sumilao, Banasi and Calatagan farmers who studied the law and its faults; for the farmers and advocates who formulated proposals to make the law even more responsive; for the farmers and advocates who fought a good fight in and out of Congress to create the necessary pressure for the government to take action and to bring to the consciousness of the public to consider Agrarian Reform as an important measure to address injustice and poverty… they are the most powerful instruments of hope.
I dedicate this story to Ka Rene Penas, a great Sumilao leader, paralegal, teacher, friend who on the June 5, while we were preparing for the bicameral conference, was brutally killed near his home in Sumilao because he was fighting for what is right, what is just.