Agrarian reform revisited
By Gina Mission

overty is said to be caused by the maldistribution of income. Agrarian reform, by distributing land to the landless, supposedly lessens the disparity between landlord and tenants. But does it significantly improve the lives of the Filipinos?

___Former Secretary Ernesto Garilao once commented that, "if there’s anything the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) has successfully done, it has been to live up to its advance billing: controversial and unpopular."

___Speakers at the recent symposium on "Poverty Alleviation and Agrarian Reform: Promoting Entrepreneurship and Productivity in the Rural Sector," agreed that the CARP has not really improved the lives of many farmers. Held at the New World Hotel, the symposium was organized by the Center for Research and Communication (CRC) in cooperation with the Konrad Adenauer Foundation. It was the first of the series of symposia to be conducted by the organizers.

___In his speech, Rep. Abdullah Mangotara, chair of the House Committee on Agrarian Reform, said that CARP is damned by landowners as "confiscatory," dismissed by many farmers as "diluted," and considered by the rest of the population as "unrealistic."

___Mangotara added that most Filipinos, hedging their bets on the assumption that Philippine politics is best characterized by patronage, believe that the government will never be able to muster the resources or the political will to accomplish the CARP.

___As a reform measure to empower the Filipino farmer, the CARP, said Mangotara, has been found wanting in many respects. "Genuine agrarian reform is not mere land distribution to rectify a skewed land ownership system that has been festering for decades. Rather, true agrarian reform means empowering the Filipino farmer to become a more efficient producer, thus bringing him/her into the economic mainstream of the free market."

___Jose Romero, executive director of CRC, believed agrarian reform "did not eradicate poverty," saying that the way the government has been implementing or not implementing the agrarian reform code has even worsened the situation in agricultural areas. Romero gave two reasons for this. First, that the government has not redistributed land fast, limited as it is by areas, and second, that there has been an underinvestment in most "CARP-able" agricultural areas because entrepreneurs have backed off from these areas.

___Efren Villaseņor, national president of Pambansang Koalisyon ng mga Samahang Magsasaka at Manggagawa sa Niyugan (PKSMMN), echoed the same sentiment. Out of the 3.3 million hectares of "CARP-able" coconut lands, only 562,000 hectares or only 17 per cent, had been distributed.

___This "dismal accomplishment," Villaseņor added, is exacerbated by the "government’s inability to provide basic support services to the few coconut farmers" given the chance to finally have their own lands under the CARP.

___"Ten years after CARP’s implementation, much of the large private coconut landholdings remain untouched. Government’s slow implementation of CARP, and the speed with which Congress has been approving dilutory bills to CARP, further reduce its coverage. The rampant and wanton cutting of coconut trees to convert land to other uses and evade land reform further aggravates this situation," said Villaseņor.

___In her discussion, Dr. Lourdes Adriano, team leader of Growth and Equity in Mindanao, even said that "CARP may have contributed to Mindanao’s (and the Philippines’) dismal performance in the agriculture sector." Showing data to support her claim, Adriano added that productivity measures indicate that the agricultural sector, especially in areas where CARP has been implemented, lags behind its foreign counterparts.

___These poor indications of the impact of agrarian reform to the lives of Filipinos, according to the speakers, are caused by many variables.

___As Romero offered: "The lack of physical infrastructure especially in outlying areas has exacerbated the poverty situation here. Lack of basic needs – clean water, irrigation facilities, main roads and feeder roads, port facilities, energy and so forth – has hindered employment and livelihood opportunities to a large sector of our society."

___Adriano blamed the removal of collateral value of land acquired by CARP. "Most farmers don’t have access to credit. Despite the Agri-Agra law that requires banks to set aside 25 per cent of their loanable funds to agriculture, bank records show that most of these funds were actually diverted to other uses because banks basically require collateral for loans. Since many farmers obviously don’t have much properties, they hardly qualify for loans," she said. Even the Land Bank of the Philippines, the premier government financing institution that handled the bulk of CARP’s funds, allocated only 17.5 per cent of its total funds for agricultural loans.

___Taking into account these shortcomings, Villaseņor said: "Agrarian reform does not end at the distribution of land. To ensure success, the CARP should be able to fill the vacuum that will be left by the landowner as far as financial capital for production, technology and markets are concerned. This is particularly important during the first two years of agrarian reform implementation when farmer-beneficiaries are economically unable to meet production needs."

___Seeing the weaknesses of CARP, Mangotara said Congress continues to work for improvements to the CARP. "Our priorities include amendments that will strengthen the agrarian reform adjudication board and the agrarian adjudication process to address the slow pace of dispute resolution and the backlog of cases; a land use conversion bill to safeguard against indiscriminate conversion; and a support services measure that will assure the timely delivery of appropriate farm input and, ultimately, increase productivity," he said.

___On the fiscal front, Mangotara said that they are currently fine-tuning the provisions governing the Agrarian Reform Fund, recognizing that the CARP’s dwindling financial resources has created much uncertainty and posed severe constraints to its genuine implementation.

___The House has also buckled down to work on the Coconut Industry Develoment Act of 1999, a measure which will, hopefully, lay to rest the protracted debates over the disposition of the coco levy fund.

___With the land reform measure having been implemented in various modes in the country since the 1920’s, Adriano said that it is now high time that this policy reform be seriously assessed in the context of the need to "expand growth and reduce poverty in the countryside."

___As Adriano maintained: "The present economic and social landscape has changed substantially that the reform measure’s endless implementation may contribute to the demise rather than to the expansion, of the agricultural sector and worsen the poverty situation in the countryside."


Next week: Problems confronting the implementation of CARP as identified by DAR Undersecretary Conrado Navarro

CyberDyaryo | 1999.05.27