A group of landless peasants has called on the Philippines government not to continue with its land reform program due to it favoring rich landholders and disenfranchising the poor. The program, in which plots of land larger than seven hectares were bought by the government and sold to landless farmers, expires later this month.Farmers claim however that the government has failed to distribute it, with vast tracts still unused. “It has never served its purpose,” Genalyn Avelino, a farmer from the province of Negros Occiental, said. “Instead of providing us with our land, [the program] paved the way for the rich to consolidate their landholdings.” Avelino is among 38 peasants who were supposed to share a 98-hectare estate, but the government failed to provide her with documents to prove that she owns the land her family has been tilling for years.
“When government officials speak of land reform, they refer to us as being among the success stories,” said Avelino, a member of the Kilusang Mayo Uno (Peasant Movement of the Philippines – KMU). “But look at us,” she told ucanews.com. The group has called on Congress to defy President Benigno Aquino’s order to extend the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) that will end on June 30. CARP, an agrarian reform law passed in 1988, has become part of a long history of attempts at land reform in the country. Data from the Department of Agrarian Reform show that some 4.34 million hectares of land have been distributed to some two million farmers, while about 550,192 hectares are still to be distributed. But Rafael Mariano, chairman of the peasant group, said one must also consider the “hundreds of thousands of cases of cancellation of awarded lands due to exemption from land reform coverage and land use conversions”. Mariano said extending the government’s agrarian reform law for another two years despite its failure would be “pure stupidity”. The country’s Catholic bishops earlier said that distributing land to peasants without any support from the government does not serve the purpose of land reform. Archbishop Socrates Villegas, president of the bishops’ conference, said a more “responsible system of allocating, distributing and applying government funds and resources towards farm productivity must be put in place”. In a statement titled Moral Ethical Dimensions of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform, the bishops called on dioceses to activate social action commissions “to police, observe and report on the allocation, distribution and application of public monies and funds targeting farm productivity”. Mariano, however, said Catholic Church leaders should also look into the use of billions of pesos in government funds intended for agrarian reform. He said the bishops should look into where the $4.4 billion so far paid by the government to landowners from 1988 to 2012 for land acquisition and distribution has gone. Some $3.4 billion was budgeted from 2009 to 2014 but vast tracts of land still remained undistributed, Mariano said. “We challenge the Catholic Church hierarchy to go beyond monitoring the so-called land distribution. We challenge them to show solidarity and link arms with victims, to live with those who continue to suffer landlessness and violence,” Mariano said in a statement.
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