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Bacolod City, Philippines Friday, July 1, 2016
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TIGHT ROPE
WITH MODESTO P. SA-ONOY

Target: Negros

Tightrope

The island of Negros is the prime target of the incoming administration. It is identified to have the largest land area that has not yet been subjected to the agrarian reform program of the government. Landowners of Negros with lands that the Department of Agrarian Reform considered to be covered by their program will feel this pressure before the new government warms its seat in power.

The new DAR Secretary Rafael Mariano was chairman of the militant Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas that had been in the forefront in Negros to get all agricultural lands covered by a comprehensive, radical and confiscatory land distribution scheme. Unlike CARP, Mariano wants that lands taken over by the government and distributed to whomever DAR thinks should be recipients shall be without cost to the beneficiary. He surely expects that by doing so, the land will be more productive.

National papers said Mariano has already lined up his program of enforcement.

First, he will “order a quick inventory of the 2.7 million farmers who have supposedly been awarded a total 4.7 million hectares from 1972 to 2015 to find out if the farmers still control the land.” The data is interesting. This means that, on the average, one farmer has just about 1.75 hectares. Some then may have two hectares and others less than one.

As I discussed here last year, the one reason that the Philippine version of agrarian reform has failed is that the size of the farm is not economically viable enough to bring the farmer and his family out of the pit of poverty. It is also a situation that does not make investors inclined to help.

Second, he will “reintroduce the genuine agrarian reform bill in Congress”. His version of agrarian reform is that land will be taken by the government without cost to the beneficiary. This means the beneficiary will get the land for free. Will the landowner be compensated? He did not say. As of now, many landowners had not yet been paid.Is not Mariano biting more than he can chew?

Third, he will “encourage farmers' groups to file petitions for a notice of coverage of their agricultural land even if the DAR's authority to issue a notice of coverage has lapsed, since the department will start the documentation process”. Mariano does not seem to have graduated from being a militant private citizen and will now use the coercive powers of government to enforce his group's objectives.

He will also order an immediate “review (of) past orders issued on land exemption, exclusion, retention, conversion and cancellation of titles given to beneficiaries to find out how much agrarian reform-covered land have been taken back from farmers”. The threat alone will drive agribusiness enterprises away from investing in land, many of them in Negros and Mindanao.

Other Mariano moves that will impact on Negros will be his plan to “review agribusiness contracts and agricultural leasehold contracts between landowners and tenants covering three million hectares, whether the contracts are already disadvantageous to the farmers”.

He will ask the Land Bank of the Philippines to condone the penalties imposed on arrears of farmers who are still paying their amortization. Will this not bankrupt LBP? Of course it will, unless the government absorbs its financial exposures. Goodbye to Voluntary Offer to Sell payments.

“That's why I want to convene the PARC to set this clear policy and I will suggest this to President Duterte: that no farmer can be evicted from the land he tills whether he is in an area covered by an agricultural leasehold, an agribusiness venture agreement or even in an area that is not yet covered by land acquisition,” Mariano said.

This is touchy. What if the farmer in leasehold violates the contractual conditions? Is the farmer exempt or immune from the law?

He said he will review agribusiness and agricultural leasehold contracts between landowners and tenants whether the contracts are already disadvantageous to the farmers. This is a surefire way to driving agribusiness away from helping the rural areas where poverty is endemic and where capital is in dire need. Without capital land is a poor source of income and historically government funds showered on them have been wasted.

Studies show that the major cause of failure of many lands granted to beneficiaries is lack of capital because CARP lands are bound by too many restrictions that make them economically nonviable.

Let us see how his plan gets implemented.*

 

           

 

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