Last month the panels representing the government and the CPP-NPA issued a joint statement declaring that free distribution of land would be “the guiding principle in the implementation of agrarian reform.” A final agreement embodying such a declaration will be the latest government document mandating implementation of the Land to the Landless principle that is so dear to the communist movement.
Shortly after his assumption of office in 1962 President Diosdado Macapagal issued an Executive Order emancipating Filipino farmers from bondage to the soil, which in due course became the Land Reform Act of 1963. One of the first acts of President Ferdinand Marcos upon assuming dictatorial power in 1972 was to issue a proclamation making the entire nation a land reform area. And in 1988 the newly restored Congress of the Philippines passed a law establishing CARP (the Comprehensive Land Reform Program).
All these enactments embodied a three-part approach to providing the landless with land: (1) they did not involve confiscation of private property, (2) they set limits to the amount of land that individual landlords could retain and (3) the recipients of the land-reformed land would have to amortize the land’s value upon terms that were very generous in terms of both per-hectare price and loan conditions.
Last month’s joint statement from The Netherlands on distribution of land to this country’s landless farmers will be on a free basis. It represents a departure from previous government actions intended to provide the landless with land, which involved the sale of land-reformed land to tenants and other landless farmers.
This raises four questions. The first is, who will be eligible to receive land under a “free distribution of land” program? The second question is, what government-owned land will be covered by such a program? The third question is, what will be the effect of a “free distribution of land” program on lands that former tenants are already paying for under CARP and preceding land reform regimes? And the fourth question is, after the free distribution of land, what?
Assuming that only government-owned land will be distributed under a “free distribution of land” program, there are only two categories of government-owned land that can be included in such a program. One category is composed of land belonging to the public domain. There is plenty of that – enough to satisfy the needs of all landless farmers. The other category is made up of lands that were acquired by the government under CARP and preceding land reform regimes and that were sold to the tenants under sale agreements embodying long repayment periods. What will happen to such lands in the event a “free distribution of land” is agreed upon? Will the sale agreements be correspondingly cancelled, with the loan-amortizing former tenants immediately becoming the owners of such lands?
The joint statement from The Netherlands spoke of distribution of lands. Presumably the distribution will involve only landless farmers and rural land. After all, there also are landless non-farmers, aren’t there? This is not a case of hair-splitting. Unless farmland is specified, informal settlers in Metro Manila and other population centers will be demanding inclusion in the “free distribution of land” program.
The fourth and last question is arguably the most important of all from the standpoint of long-term peace and stability in the countryside. Will the “free distribution of land” be a stand-alone program? Or will it be accompanied by a program designed to make it possible for the benefited farmers to maintain viable farm operations and become truly emancipated farmers? After all, the whole purpose of the “free distribution of land” program presumably is to improve the lives of this country’s hitherto-landless farmers and not merely to give to rural folk land that they could easily exchange for cash.
A “free distribution of land” program must be sound administratively as well as economically, Making sure that all of the qualified landless farmers – and no others – receive free land is going to be an administrative nightmare. The government and the CPP-NPA must make certain that it does not become an economic nightmare also.