Thursday, June 4, 2009

Land, a hunger

As I write this, it is one day to go before the deadline for the passing of CARPER (comprehensive agrarian reform extension with reforms) in the House of Representatives. The good news is that two days ago, the Senate passed on third reading the CARP bill extending for another five years the land acquisition and distribution program of the government. The budget is at P147 billion.

If CARPER was passed before the House adjourned yesterday, then all the last-minute efforts on the part of the farmers and their fellow advocates in the church, academe, media and civil society would have been worth it. But we can’t sit back and say everything will henceforth be smooth.

Last week, the documentary “Lupang Hinarang” by multi-awarded filmmaker Ditsi Carolino had a red-carpet screening at the Ateneo de Manila University to help push the CARPER nearer its fulfillment. There were T-shirts, photo-ops, flyers, the film—just about everything for CARPER. It was heartwarming to see young people manning the campaign, like the future of their country depended on it.

I bought myself a T-shirt with the message “I stand for farmers, I stand for CARPER, I stand for justice.”

As Carolinos’ documentary showed, many farmers had to put their lives at risk in order for them to own a piece of land. Land is a hunger. “Lupang Hinarang” is a film in two parts about a fierce and deadly battle raging between farmers and landowners in the continuing saga on agrarian reform in the Philippines. The documentary opens with the farmers from Sumilao, Bukidnon, among them, Ka Rene, Linda and Bajekjek, who, inspired by Gandhi’s protest march, journey on foot for two months from their mountain village to the presidential palace in Manila.

It is a killer 1,700-km. journey through scorching heat and pouring rain. They battle fatigue, illness and great uncertainty. After weeks of walking, the farmers reach Manila, stage a rally at the corporate offices of San Miguel, confront the agrarian reform secretary and face anti-riot police before finally meeting the President.

The second part tells the story of the sugarcane workers from Negros. After armed guards kill one of the farmers in 2007, Chay Lindy, Chay Gamay, and Chay Biray join other farmers on a harrowing 29-day hunger strike on the steps of the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) in Quezon City. The hunger strike results in victory for the farmers. They return to Negros to a land they could call their own. For some, the return meant a shocking bloody end.

“Lupang Hinarang” is a timely documentary set against ongoing debates in Congress to extend and reform CARP or to kill it.

How did CARPER fare in the House’s last day yesterday? How did the voting go? The numbers should be in the papers today. Akbayan Representative Risa Hontiveros, a proponent of the bill, called this last effort “meeting a deadline with history” and urged her colleagues to put aside charter change and concentrate on CARP. The Senate version may not be perfect, Hontiveros said, but the House could adopt it.

You can log on to to find out all about CARPER. You can read all about it in the website’s list of articles. If you are a student, you can even do a term paper, a thesis or a doctoral dissertation on this. You can click on the name of your district’s representative and find out where he/she stands on the CARPER and write to urge him/her to vote in favor of CARPER. Or, if it’s a done deal by now, say something to support, congratulate or express your disappointment. Flaunt the power of your vote.

In 2006 and 2007 Centro Saka Inc. (CSI) surveyed close to 1,500 agrarian reform beneficiaries (ARB) to validate the Department of Agrarian Reform’s (DAR) accomplishments in the distribution of private agricultural land (PAL) in 12 provinces. The criteria used to validate CARP accomplishment were: actual award of land or title, physical occupation/installation of the ARB in the awarded land, and provision of support services for the awarded land.
Here are some findings:

The majority (82%) of the respondents received titles as proof of their being recognized as CARP beneficiaries. But 18% said they have not received any title. CSI says that since all the respondents were drawn from DAR’s master list of beneficiaries who were reported as having been awarded titles, how do you explain that 18%?

Of the 919 respondents who were awarded titles under CARP, 65% confirmed that they were still holding their titles. But 35% said they didn’t hold their awarded titles. And why? Reasons given: They have not yet received their titles but were aware they had a pending title. The titles were being held by the cooperatives because they were mother CLOAs. Others said they pawned or used their titles as collateral. Some sold the titles or lost them. Still others declined to say why.

The most frequently stated reason was: no titles have been issued them.
And remember, there is a difference between awarded lands and awarded titles.

Agrarian reform is unfinished business.

And by the way, the five-day 8th Agraryo Trade Fair started yesterday at the SM Megamall Megatrade hall. It is spearheaded by the Department of Agrarian Reform’s Bureau of Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries Development. I went to last year’s fair and went home with lots of organically grown stuff.

This fair is a showcase and one wishes many more farmers would be among these ARBs. Are the ARBs really as blessed as they appear to be? What difficulties did they undergo? I will be at the fair and I will interview some of them.