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PNoy nixes calls for DAR chief ouster

President Benigno Aquino III will not replace Agrarian Reform Secretary Virgilio de los Reyes despite the calls from the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines to revamp his department for its alleged failure to implement the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program, Malacañang said on Friday. “The Department of Agrarian Reform continues to do everything that it can to address the concerns of the farmers for land distribution,” deputy presidential spokeswoman Abigail Valte said. Asked if de los Reyes still enjoyed Mr. Aquino’s trust and confidence, Valte said: “We have not heard otherwise.” In its letter to the President dated Jan. 24, the CBCP said “the accomplishments of [the department] have been dismal, to say the least.” The group urged Mr. Aquino to “take quick decisive action that can be fully implemented and revamp the current leadership of [the department], which has underperformed these last two and a half years.” Some 900,000 hectares are still up for distribution under the land reform program, which will expire in 2014. Valte said all notices of coverage would have been issued before the program expired. “Even if we have reached the June 2014 deadline, as long as the notices of coverage have been issued the process will continue,” Valte said earlier. “As for the landholdings below 10 hectares, [the department’s] target is to finish issuing notices of coverage by July 1, 2013.” Valte The CARP law was enacted during the administration of then President Corazon Aquino. While hailed as a landmark social justice legislation, the law contained a loophole for stock distribution option that allowed Hacienda Luisita, the vast sugar estate owned by the Cojuangcos, to be exempted from being parceled out to farm workers. The President earlier created an inter-agency committee that will ensure continued support for the government’s land acquisition and distribution after the land reform program expires next year. “There is a need to create a committee to undertake a study on the institutional arrangements that will ensure the continuity and streamlining of land distribution and management, the delivery of agricultural support services, and the resulting reorganization and rationalization of concerned government agencies,” the President said. The inter-agency body has been tasked to conduct a study on the transition plan for the post-Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program  scenario. The body will be led by the director general of the National Economic and Development Authority while the secretaries of agrarian reform, agriculture, environment, justice and budget, and the administrator of the Land Registration Authority will serve as members. Malacañang has been lukewarm to a bill extending the CARP for another five years, insisting that the government is on target in completing land acquisition and distribution under the existing law.
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