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Bacolod City, Philippines Saturday, June 16, 2012
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A writer who carried the name Myrna Dimacutac of Villamonte, Bácolod, says with reeking sarcasm that she is confused with June 18 as the city’s Charter Day and the gripe of a priest who is assigned to a smaller, less taxing post in Bácolod.

Well, I am not accredited to clinically treat confused people. If there is a failure of comprehension, there are psychologists for that purpose.

Occidental Negros Governor Alfredo Marañon, Jr. has come out with a conclusion that the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program and its extended program supposedly with reform, has failed. He was equivocal in saying that “the longest land reform program is a failure.”

He is not alone and this is not the first time the same conclusion was expressed by top government and research groups, including militants.

The CARP has been extended with additional provisions, the “reforms” up to 2014 but the problems that were present when it was extended on August 7, 2009 remain unresolved and in fact deteriorated further as the same methods (farmers claim too slow) in the implementation of the law had not been corrected.

It was a case of extending failure.

The principles under which CARP was established remains valid and even urgent. The law is a social legislation that was intended to remove the heavy burden of landlessness that spawned poverty and lawlessness, or to be more precise, rebellion.

I have said time and again that rebellion, exemplified by the stubborn resistance of the New People’s Army remains because of rural destitution and hopelessness in the cities.

Congress in 1987 tried to balance the interests of the poor and the wealthy and was not bold enough to prescribe the cure. Sure, the CARP that came out of it was welcomed by many but opposed by others because of is inherent defect – giving too much power and leeway to the Department of Agrarian Reform to speed up the process ignoring the basic rights of the landowners – due notice and rightful compensation that now bedevils it.

The implementation was also opposed by many groups, including farmers’ organizations, because many who are not rightful beneficiaries were given lands while the tillers and tenants were left out for lack of legal advice which, ironically is to be provided by DAR.

The governor pointed out that after 25 years after the government took over the lands and distributed them to the supposed beneficiaries, titles to the land had not been given. Only so-called Certificates of Land Ownership Award which is a temporary proof of entitlement have been slow in coming.

Worse, the governor charged that no land surveys were made so how could DAR have given these Certificates and based them on what?

No wonder there are conflicts to the extent that earlier beneficiaries were deprived.

Some years back, the late Gov. Joseph Marañon, the incumbent governor’s brother, told me that one of the problems of the province is the decline in land tax collection. This is expected and in fact, I remember this was considered during the discussions on CARP but it was said that this would be temporary because the new owners would then take over and pay the land taxes.

As now known this never happened and local governments suffered thereby. Worse hit is the fund for local school boards that rely heavily on their share of land taxes.

So the beneficiaries profit from the land they do not pay taxes on, to the detriment of the entire community including their children’s schooling.

Billions had been spent for this program and billions more are set to be spent for whatever remains of it. The question ought to be asked is whether the billions already spent are proportionate to the benefits to the beneficiaries.

This is difficult to determine but there are studies showing that the billions already expended would have been better used for other poverty alleviating programs rather than tie the farmers to the land that cannot provide him and his family sufficient income to take them out of their poverty.

There are many CARP beneficiaries who have leased their lands to agricultural entrepreneurs and then work elsewhere. Many sugar farms are under lease because many beneficiaries do not have the resources to work on their small piece of land to make it profitable.

CARP or land distribution is a good program and farmers, long landless as their fathers were, would love to have a land of their own and which they can bequeath to their children, but when land becomes a burden, what is the farmer to do but lease it?

There are successes and there are failures, the reason that an impartial study must be made whether it is worth spending billions more or changing the program that will still achieve the purpose for which CARP was adopted.*

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