Tuesday, 06 June 2000

Agrarian reform under Estrada

Cancelled CLOAs, cancelled lives
By Gina Mission

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As part of his pro-poor campaign platform, President Estrada promised to complete the agrarian reform program under his watch. However, farmers and a sympathetic NGOs say that by the way things are going, there have been "more cancellations" of land titles granted to agrarian reform beneficiaries "in this administration than the previous one."

.....This concern, which has compounded the many other problems in the implementation of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP), was brought up by farmers from different parts of the country as they kicked off yesterday (June 5) the week-long observance of the 12th year of the CARP.

.....In a forum titled “Cancelling CLOAs, Cancelling Lives” held at the Innotech Center in Quezon City, officials of the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) claimed that about 60 per cent of the lands covered by CARP have already been distributed to farmer beneficiaries. 

Six reasons 

.....NGOs working with farmers, the Philippine Peasant Institute (PPI) and the Kaisahan Tungo sa Kaunlaran ng Kanayunan at Repormang Pansakahan (Kaisahan), gave six reasons why the completion of the CARP has been delayed. These are: insufficient funding from Congress, ineptitude of DAR personnel, resistance from landowners, harassment against farmers, land conversion, and the government's lack of support services for farmers. 

.....Worse than the delay in the implementation of the CARP is the fact that of the few Emancipation Patents (EPs) and Certificate of Land Ownership Awards (CLOAs) already issued to farmer beneficiaries, a considerable number has already been cancelled. In some cases, the farmers facing cancellation of their titles have been working in the farm for more that 10 to 20 years. 

.....EPs are ownership titles issued to agrarian reform beneficiaries covered under Operation Land Transfer. CLOAs, on the other hand, are ownership titles issued to farmer beneficiaries under the CARP.

.....Remedios Rocha, a farmer at Hacienda Maria in Agusan del Sur, called on DAR Secretary Horacio Morales to look into these cancellations of land titles, saying, “Our land is our life.” Her EP, covering five hectares, has already been cancelled.

.....Surprisingly, though, DAR Adjudication Board Assistant Secretary Augusto Quijano said that his office only knows that there have been EP and CLOA cancellations, but it does not have the exact numbers.

'Frightening and confusing' data 

.....The PPI, however, obtained data from the DAR’s Management Information Office (MIS), showing that the number of cancellations recorded, although still incomplete, is “frightening and confusing.” 

.....According to the MIS, at least 1,892 EPs and CLOAs, covering 374,266.05 hectares, have been cancelled by the DAR as of May 2000. According to Menchie Flores, PPI advocacy officer, the DAR-MIS personnel who provided the data explained that the office's EP and CLOA cancellation report is even incomplete because some provinces have yet to submit their EP and CLOA cancellation reports. 

.....Under the Ramos administration, from 1994 to 1997, EPs and CLOAs covering 36,415 hectares were cancelled. Under the Estrada administration, however, EPs and CLOAs for 40,678 hectares were cancelled on the first year alone.

.....Yet a third office at the DAR has another set of figures. DAR’s Planning Services Division said that over the same period, from January 1994 to December 1999, 32,598 EPs and CLOAs were cancelled, but these covered only 77,094.46 hectares, considerably smaller than the number of hectares recorded by the DAR's MIS.

.....This was on top of the 11,435 EPs and CLOAs, covering 16,442.69 hectares, cancelled by DAR as of December 1993. 

.....Quezon Rep. Wigberto Tañada, meanwhile, said his office had monitored until September 1999 the cancellation of 2,555 EPs and CLOAs, covering 29,682 hectares of land. These included the cancelled CLOAs of farmers in Hacienda Looc, Batangas; Sumilao, Bukidnon; and Hacienda Maria.

.....Tañada said EPs and CLOAs are cancelled because landowners, as well as some farmers and judges, apparently view these documents "as not having the same characteristics as other land titles," even if they have the same status as any other land title.

.....Lawyer Magistrado Mendoza Jr. of Kaisahan noted that DAR's policy issuances allow the cancellation of EPs and CLOAs even without the farmers’ knowledge. Moreover, these issuances do not provide a prescriptive period within which landowners can file petitions for cancellation.

.....Mendoza said EPs and CLOAs should not be considered as less than valid land titles because they are registered under the Torrens System and issued pursuant to agrarian laws. Besides, he said, “Under existing laws, the validity of a land title can no longer be questioned after one year of its registration in the Registry of Deeds except when there is fraud or misrepresentation on the part of the person registering the same.” 

Punishing innocent farmers

.....In “Instruments of Insecurities,” a policy analysis on EP and CLOA cancellations, authors Mendoza and lawyer Ma. Lourdes Zerelda Pacuribot said DAR's policies effectively punish the innocent farmer beneficiaries because they are left to defend themselves against landowners and other people who are out to have their land titles cancelled.

.....In awarding parcels of land to farmer beneficiaries, Mendoza noted, it is the DAR which negotiates with landowners and farmer beneficiaries, as well as determines which lands would be covered by land reform. The farmers’ participation starts only after the DAR has finished negotiations with the landowners and EPs and CLOAs are awarded to them. As such, Mendoza said, the farmer beneficiaries should be regarded as “innocent purchasers of value.”

.....And given an administration that has apparently reneged on its promise to complete the implementation of CARP, the NGOs said these “innocent purchasers of value” have a “seemingly hopeless case.”