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Farmers marching to Manila as bishops seek talks on 'slow' pace of agrarian reform
The online news portal of TV5

MANILA, Philippines – Catholic bishops wrote President Aquino Friday seeking an urgent dialogue next week, on the eve of the 24th anniversary of CARP, as thousands of farmers started a days-long trek to Manila to demand the completion of the agrarian reform program.

At least 5,200 farmers started marching, with contingents from Negros Island, Mindanao and Luzon trekking from June 1 to 10 before converging at Mendiola.

Led by Task Force Mapalad (TFM), the landless farmers from 321 haciendas in Negros launched the “Farmers’ March for Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program Extension with Reforms (CARPER) Completion” to bring their demands right to the President’s doorstep.

In Mindanao, 100 farmers from Davao provinces and Bukidnon marched from Malaybalay to Kisolon town, the first leg of their three-day journey up to Cagayan de Oro City.

TFM leaders scored the “dismal” pace of distribution of lands by the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) which promised to distribute 32,000 hectares of land in Negros Occidental this year. They said the record shows Secretary Virgilio de los Reyes distributed only 2,467 hectares from July 2010 to March 2012.

Alberto Jayme, TFM Negros president, said De los Reyes “may have computerized the listing of the beneficiaries in the 6,445-hectare Hacienda Luisita, but he has not even issued notices of coverage (NOCs) on big estates in Negros island and has not moved to reduce in a decent manner the huge backlog in land acquisition and distribution (LAD) in the island.”

He said TFM supports Aquino’s declaration that the campaign for reform did not end with the ouster of Chief Justice Renato Corona, “but he should also personally push for the completion of CARPER since social reform begins with dismantling large estates ruled by absentee landlords and make them productive at the hands of farmers.”

TFM challenged Aquino to push the reform program to its conclusion by distributing 1.093 million hectares of land that “has taken an eternity for DAR and De los Reyes to give away.”

The 5,200 farmers and farm workers representing 321 haciendas in Negros Occidental marched to the DAR office in Bacolod City after a mass at the cathedral, and will hold a vigil at DAR office, on getting information that Secretary delos Reyes and his key staff are in Bacolod.

They proceed to the Bacolod Pier Saturday morning and will send a delegation to Dumangas, Iloilo before boarding a roll-on, roll off (RORO) vessel for Batangas City, where they will merge with the Mindanao delegation on June 3.

TFM said Negros farmers want DAR to issue NOCs for 104 haciendas in Negros Occidental, speed up the surveys of 77 haciendas in Negros Occidental, hasten the land valuation of 16 haciendas in the same province and install landless farmers and workers in six haciendas.

CBCP seeks audience with Aquino

Prefacing their call for dialogue with Aquino with a line from Exodus: “… I have witnessed the affliction of my people… and have heard their cry… I know well that they are suffering,” social-action arms of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines sent the President an open letter on Friday, with basically the same appeal as the farmers: finish agrarian reform---and soon.

“The CBCP-National Secretariat for Social Action (CBCP-NASSA) and the Association of the Major Religious Superiors of the Philippines (AMRSP) are writing to you today on behalf of our poor farmers on the matter of agrarian reform as it affects the million poor in the countryside. God loves the poor. God hears the laments of the poor in the person of the farmers, who for generations have been enslaved in farms they do not own, trapped in a life of dependency and deprived of their dignity as human beings. . God was with the farmers when the CARP (Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program) and the CARPER (CARP with Extension and Reform) were enacted,” said the letter.

It was signed by Bishop Broderick S. Pabillo, D.D., national director of the CBCP-NASSA, and Carmelite priest Fr. Marlon Lacal, executive secretary, AMRSP.

The groups lamented that CARP and CARPER, sadly became a mere “taste of the Promised Land that seemed within their grasp.”

They cited the “huge backlog” in implementing the CARPER, particularly the LAD (land acquisition and distribution) in covering the remaining 1,093,000 hectares of agricultural lands. In 2011, it only accomplished 54.6% of its national LAD target.

In Negros Occidental, the current DAR only managed to distribute 1,798 hectares in 2011. The DAR will have to work 20 times its current pace to meet its targets, the groups said. There has been no significant movement in the 135,199-hectare total provincial backlog as of January 2012, and no notices of coverage (NOCs) had been issued on large estates. The DAR performance for the first six months of 2012 is expected to be equally dismal.

Fearing the winds of August 2014

“The current DAR administration has recorded the lowest CARP accomplishment when compared to all DAR-CARP administrations. With this appalling situation, farmers and tillers become restless and desperate. They fear the winds of August 2014, the end year of the extended period of CARP,” said the church groups.

This fear impelled thousands of farmers to hold actions “around the country that will culminate in the holding of a Lakbayan (national march) from Mindanao to Metro Manila,” the letter added.

The “tillers from haciendas and plantations of Negros, Davao Oriental, Davao Norte, Bukidnon, Bicol, Quezon, Batangas . . . will be coming to the nation’s capital to knock on the hearts and minds of the nation and call their attention to the gridlock situation of the CARP. They come at great risk and expense because they have nowhere else to go but to their President.”

These “ mainstream peasants . . . have patiently abided by the cumbersome ways of democracy and have resisted the calls for violent revolution. They wish to ask the President to use his enormous political capital to fulfill the vision of CARP by distributing all the remaining balance of “carpable” agricultural lands and by providing the necessary support services and financial support that would help them become successful owner-cultivators.”

The letter concluded by saying that to these tillers and farmers, the President’s campaign promise of “Daang Matuwid” and Pnoy para sa Mahirap” means a “judicious use of political power” that also results "in dividends of food security for all, of job creation and rural development."