Saturday, June 9, 2012

Stop Land Conversion, Aquino Urged

..MANILA, Philippines --- The congressional oversight committee on agrarian reform (COCAR) has asked President Benigno S. Aquino III to issue an executive order stopping the conversion of private agricultural lands into non-agricultural uses, particularly subdivisions.

This was revealed yesterday by Sen. Gregorio B. Honasan II, chairman of the Senate agrarian reform committee and COCAR co-chairman, who said he and his House of Representatives colleague Rep. Henry Teves, wrote the President the other day on this issue.

Reason for the request sent to Malacañang was that the joint committee is waiting for a comprehensive report of the Department on Agrarian Reform (DAR) on a list of land holdings.

The COCAR had asked the DAR to submit the list in the next two weeks.

Honasan said the joint congressional committee also asked the DAR to submit a monthly report on the status of land distribution and on land conversions, including reasons for exceptions, for the last five years.

While the joint congressional committee awaits the DAR report, there should be no more additions to land conversions, he explained.'

The acreage of privately-owned agricultural lands primed for agrarian reform but are being planned to be converted into non-agricultural uses, including subdivisions, range from 50 hectares and up, 20 hectares and up and 10 hectares.

Last Tuesday, Malacañang announced that President Aquino would make his best effort to implement fully the agrarian reform program his mother, democracy icon and former President Corazon Cojuangco Aquino launched 24 years ago before he leaves the presidency in 2014.

After a 10-day march, hundreds of farmers converged near Malacanang last Friday to seek a firm commitment from President Aquino that he would distribute the remaining 900,000 hectares of prime agricultural lands before the program ends in 2016.

During a press briefing at the Senate building the other day, Honasan said that five million hectares of the nine million hectares target of the DAR and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) have so far been distributed the past 24 years.

What remains to be distributed by the DAR to benefit 600,000 agrarian reform beneficiaries is about one million hectares, he added.

The DENR takes care of the distribution of publicly-owned agricultural lands to agrarian reform beneficiaries. The Dar, on the other hand, takes care of the distribution of privately-owned agricultural lands.

Honasan said government has increased its support services in the land distribution program from 25 percent to 40 percent.

He was a former Army colonel who helped force then President Ferdinand Marcos out of Malacanang. He later became an active planner in several coup attempts against then President Corazon Aquino.

The later part of the Corazon Aquino presidency saw the approval of its centerpiece legislation, the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law (CARL), which promised farmers that they would eventually get the land they are tilling from landlords.

But the CARL has a flaw: The Cojuangco/Aquino-owned Hacienda Luisita was exempted from being physically distributed.

Instead, it was allowed to give stock shares to farmers.

Although Hacienda Luisita is not in the current program, the Aquino administration can make a show case of the Hacienda "if we can make Hacienda Luisita succeed in land reform," Honsan said.

The Supreme Court had ordered the redistribution of the sugar plantation to its 6,000 farmers.

A farmers group complained that the DAR has been dragging its feet in implementing the High Tribunal's ruling without an apparent clear signal from the President himself.

Then Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato C. Corona sided with the majority decision ordering the Hacienda to be distributed to its farmers, much to the chagrin of President Aquino.

"Truly it is (Hacienda Luisita) is a bastion of social inequity. If we can make it succeed