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Farm bondage persists

Congress fails to extend CARP; landlords prevail

BIG landlords, including some lawmakers, will get to hang on to some 200,000 hectares of plantation land after Congress failed to pass a bill extending the coverage of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program.

The failure of Congress to pass the bill breaks an “Independence Day promise” made by President Benigno Aquino III to farmers at the Palace Wednesday, that he would extend the coverage of the program’s land acquisition for two more years – until he steps down from office on June 30, 2016.

Baguilat
“Of course we are disappointed because what we are after here is to grant the farmers the long denied social justice and to free them from bondage. I am particularly saddened that my colleagues refused to acknowledge that the bill had been certified as urgent by the President,” said Ifugao Rep. Teddy Brawner Baguilat, chairman of the House committee on agrarian reform.

Once a bill is certified as urgent by the President, Congress can speed up its passage by holding a second and third reading on the same session day.

Baguilat said the Visayan bloc, most of whom were big landlords, surrounded House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. and House Majority Leader Neptali Gonzales II strongly urging them not to include the passage and ratification of the bill in the schedule for the last session day.

One of the landlord-lawmakers, a close ally of the President, admitted opposing the extension of the agrarian reform program, but claimed the blame should also be shared by the President, whose family owns the 6,000-hectare Hacienda Luisita.

The lawmaker said President Aquino preferred the Senate version of the bill by Senator Gregorio Honasan, but certified it only during the last session day.

Baguilat’s HB 4296 seeks to extend the issuance of notice of coverage for two years, while Honasan’s SB 2278 mandates the completion of the land acquisition and distribution component of the CARP.

Baguilat explained that his bill became contentious because of Section 3, which mandates that all agricultural lands in military reservations, such as some 20,000 hectares in Fort Magsaysay in Nueva Ecija, must be covered by CARP and distributed to landless farmers.

This provision was absent in the Senate version of the bill.

Aside from the agricultural lands in military reservations, Baguilat’s bill also included for CARP coverage some 80,000 hectares of agricultural lands owned by state colleges and universities and thousands of hectares more in penal colonies such as those in Palawan and Davao.

“This contentious provision was not present in the Senate version, which the President backed so he instructed the House leadership to revise its version. The House sought another certification from the President but the House failed to come up with the Senate-type version,” said a Palace sourc, who requested anonymity.

Baguilat said his panel conducted consultations with the Commission on Higher Education for the position of the state universities and colleges, the Defense Department for the military reservations and the Justice Department for the penal colonies, but all of them opposed the inclusion of their lands in the program.

Baguilat said on Wednesday night before adjournment, they were waiting for the Senate to ratify their version of the bill so the House could simply adopt it, but the senators failed to pass their version of the bill.

Sources in the Senate said they ran out of time because Senator Jinggoy Estrada delivered a privilege speech.

Another source, however, said Senate President Franklin Drilon did not have the numbers to have the bill ratified because most senators, particularly those who were implicated in the pork barrel scam, were defying the President for persecuting his political opponents such as Senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Ramon Revilla Jr. and Estrada.

Baguilat said his panel would push for the ratification of the bill once Congress opened the second session of the 16th Congress on July 21, the President’s 5th State-of-the-nation address.

“We are hoping that Congress could ratify the bill by August because we would be swamped by equally compelling national issues such as the national budget and the Bangsamoro Basic Law,” Baguilat said.

Because the bill has not been passed, the Department of Agrarian Reform will not be able to buy 44,000 hectares of private land that have yet to be issued notices of coverage.

“Without the bill, all private lands in the hands of the landlords and big business cannot be acquired by government even if the government has the money to procure the lands,” Baguilat said.

He said Congress has allocated some P150 billion for land acquisition and post-harvest facilities assistance and that P130 billion had already been used up.

“There is still remaining P20 billion allocated for land acquisition. It would be a shame if we don’t get to use it,” Baguilat said.

While the DAR can continue other activities such as the distribution of land that it has already acquired, it can no longer acquire new land until the President signs a law extending the CARP coverage, he added.

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