Duterte says he’s still for land reform, blames ‘extortionist’ Reds for underdeveloped agri sector

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Rodrigo Duterte
President Duterte in an impassioned speech. Reuters file photograph

MANILA, Philippines — Despite his administration’s continued failure to push for the passage of a law that will bankroll the continuation of the acquisition and distribution of landholdings to poor peasants, President Rodrigo Duterte on Thursday said he was still backing the government’s agrarian reform program and would not break his promise of helping uplift the lives of landless tillers.

“I am for land reform. ‘Yan, isa ‘yan sa sinabi ko sa kampanya [that was one of the things I mentioned during the campaign] and I will not renege on it,” said Duterte in his speech during the Kapampangan Food Festival at the Clark Freeport Zone in Angeles City, Pampanga on Thursday.

He said the country’s agriculture is the one “really lagging behind” other sectors “almost to a fault” and that “the only way to improve it really is to give more lands (to peasants) if we can afford it.”

The Duterte administration is left with a total balance of over 800,000 hectares of agricultural landholdings that the previous administration failed to acquire and distribute to farmer-beneficiaries (FB) of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program due to the absence of a law that would fund its implementation and the landlords’ stiff resistance to CARP.

Based on data from the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR), more than 600,000 hectares of these landholdings remain undistributed to FBs, while another 200,000 hectares are not yet covered with CARP notices, which is the first of about 27 steps before landholdings could be acquired by the government in favor of farmers.

Members of the House of Representatives and the Senate introduced at least four measures — House Bills 114 and 3051 and Senate Bills 28 and 1056 — to address this gap in CARP implementation. However, after one and a half years in power, the Duterte administration, which has the most number of allies in both legislative chambers, still failed to extend the program.

On Thursday, Duterte promised that, “I will look for money and buy (land)” for peasants, adding that he had appointed a new DAR chief — former Interior undersecretary for Operations John Ruelo Castriciones — after Rafael Mariano failed to get the nod of the Commission on Appointments because “he has the leanings of the Left” and because we have a Congress that is “not really sympathizing with the communists.”

Also, the President stressed the need to “improve the manufacturing side” of the agricultural sector but “we have to have law or peace there.”

He then blamed the communists for the failure of the sector to improve and develop because of the rebels’ alleged “extortion” activities in agricultural areas.

Eh itong mga komunista, left and right ang hingi eh. ‘Yong bagong pumapasok d’yan, they start to extort. And they say that they are helping the Filipinos for what? Subsidize in what? How many members of the politburo are there, the central committee? ‘Yan lang naman ang nag-enjoy,” he said.