..MANILA (Updated) -- President Benigno Aquino III reiterated his commitment to fully implement the agrarian reform program before June 2014 during a meeting with farmer groups on Thursday.
After the two-hour meeting in Malacañang, presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda said the President affirmed several agreements with the farmers, including the issuance of notices of coverage (NOCs) to qualified beneficiaries.
Through the issuance of NOCs, the process of acquisition and distribution of lands under the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (Carp), which was launched by late President Corazon Aquino, may continue even after the five-year extension of Carp, also called Carper law, ends in June 2014.
"Between now and June 2014, all agricultural lands shall be covered and distributed to qualified beneficiaries," Lacierda said.
He said priority shall be given to landholdings 25 hectares and above and NOCs will be issued on or before December 2012. NOCs of landholdings 10 hectares and above shall be issued on or before December 2012 while for landholdings under 10 hectares, NOCs shall be issued not later than July 2013.
He said the Philippine National Police (PNP), Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) will be mobilized to ensure peaceful and orderly installation of farmer-beneficiaries of all lands distributed under the program.
Lacierda assured there are enough funds for the implementation of the program as mandated by Republic Act (RA) 9700, where at least P150 billion funds are allocated for the program's implementation for five years. He said there are P30 billion fund mandated by the government to utilize every year.
Aside from the NOCs, both government and farmers also agreed on the implementation of support services mandated under Carper.
"As mandated by Section 37 of RA 9700 on support services, the provision on initial capitalization for new agrarian reform beneficiaries (ARBs) and socialized credit for existing ARBs shall be implemented," said Lacierda.
The Budget department has committed the immediate release of P1 billion to be allocated for support services.
Lacierda added that the Land Bank of the Philippines shall review its policies, rules and regulations on providing credit to farmers to make it more accessible to ARBs and do away with its stringent requirements.
The Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) and Department of Agriculture (DA) with assistance from the Budget department will develop a socialized credit program solely for ARBs that will be mutually acceptable to both parties.
The socialized credit program shall enable the farmers to maximize the productivity of their land and utilize the resources available to them.
Also agreed during the meeting was the setting up of multi-holders mechanism.
The multi-stakeholders, which will be composed of representatives from DAR and other Carp implementing agencies of the government, church, non-government organization, and other farmer groups, among others, are tasked to monitor the implementation of the Carp.
It is tasked to ensure the coverage and distribution of agricultural lands; movement and performance of DAR personnel; delivery of support services to the beneficiaries; and budget allocation and utilization.
Both the government and the farmers also agreed to conduct continuing consultation regarding DAR Administrative Orders 7 and 9, series of 2011.
They also decided to fast-track resolution of pending cases involving stock distribution option and/or leaseback arrangements before the Presidential Agrarian Reform Council (PARC).
Lacierda also cited the result of the meeting between DILG Secretary Jesse Robredo and the farmers last Independence Day.
He said Robredo committed the following: work on the list of areas where there are enforcement issues; review the tasking of PNP and refer to the Department of Justice the proposed changes in 2009 guidelines, as it applies to DAR orders; establish PNP outpost in critical areas where installed farmers are being harassed; and establish direct line of communication with the DILG.
Lacierda described the meeting with the farmers as "fruitful."
Aside from the President and Lacierda, present during the meeting on the side of the government were DA Secretary Proceso Alcala, DAR Secretary Gil delos Reyes and Presidential Management Staff head Julia Abad.
Agrarian reform advocates former Senator Aquilino Pimentel Jr., lawyer Christian Monsod, and Task Force Mapalad president Alberto Jaime were also present.
Several Church officials were also in attendance namely: Cagayan de Oro Bishop Antonio Ledesma, Bishop Bernardino Cortez, and Caritas Manila executive director and Radio Veritas President Fr. Anton Pascual.
Bishops were satisfied with the outcome of the two-hour meeting.
Father Edu Gariguez, executive secretary of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines-National Secretariat for Social Action and Peace, hoped that the government will keep its promises to be able to put an end on the problems of the farmers for decades.
Bacolod Bishop Vicente Navarra expressed gratitude to the President for acting on the grievances of the farmers.
He said the positive outcome of the dialogue would assure the farmers that their dream to own a land is possible.
Navarra added that they will be praying for the immediate realization of the promises by the present administration.
Meantime, Lacierda denied that DAR Secretary delos Reyes is resigning or will be replaced following criticisms of "slow" pace distribution of Carp lands.
He said delos Reyes continue to enjoy the trust and confidence of Aquino. (Jill Beltran/FP/Sunnex)