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DAR eyes distribution of more government lands

THE Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) is looking for more agricultural lands for possible distribution to landless farmers under the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) as it races against time to cover more “CARP-able” lands before the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program Extended with Reforms (CARPer) expires on June 30, 2014.

Agrarian Reform Secretary Virgilio de los Reyes said beyond its CARPer target of 1.3 million hectares, the agency is in search of private agricultural lands and lands owned by the government, including public lands that are alienable and disposable lands that can be covered by the program.

To be covered by CARP, lands should be prime agricultural land with qualified farmer-beneficiaries, de los Reyes said, noting that not all lands have tenants who can be awarded a piece of land under the program as mandated by law.

Budget, said the DAR chief, will not be a problem, considering that Congress can allocate supplemental allocation for more lands that should be covered by the program.

The DAR, he said, has a proposed budget that could cover the compulsory acquisition and distribution of 260,000 hectares next year, and to put in the pipeline another 80,000 hectares for the first six months of the following year, before the CARPer expires.

“The government can always allocate fund in case the agency will be able to identify more lands that can be covered by the program,” he said.

According to de los Reyes, agrarian reform is a social justice program enshrined in the Constitution and will continue in any other form or shape.

The agency still needs to distribute some 900,000 hectares targeted to benefit some 500,000 landless farmers.  This early, some senators see no justification in extending the land acquisition and distribution component of the program beyond 2014, stirring anxiety among landless farmers who are hoping to benefit from the more than 20-year-old program.

The government, de los Reyes said, is committed to complete CARPer but beyond President Aquino’s term, which expires in May 2016, may be uncertain.  “That’s the reason why we are asking President Aquino to issue an administrative order tasking concerned government agencies to talk about the future of agrarian reform,” he said.

According to de los Reyes, they have already submitted a transition plan to the Department of Budget and Management (DBM), intended to rationalize the agency’s manpower and promote a “One-DAR Concept” to fast-track land distribution.

The plan involves tapping employees in areas with “light” workload to help in areas with still “heavy” workload, such as Negros Occidental, which still has a balance of 130,000 hectares.

Quezon province is another problematic area, because of landlords’ resistance.

There are also public lands that, despite not being declared alienable and disposable, are now titled.  And this, according to the DAR chief, is hindering the smooth flow of the DAR’s operations.

De los Reyes told reporters in his most recent press conference that there are 4.7 million hectares of alienable and disposable lands at the disposal of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), also a CARP-implementing agency.

Government-owned and -controlled corporations (GOCCs) and state universities and colleges (SUCs), as well, have at their disposal vast tract of lands that can be covered by the program.

But the DAR chief said not all public lands are covered by CARP and at the disposal of the agency. There are, however, government- owned lands that should be transferred to the DAR for distribution to landless farmers.

“According to law, alienable and disposable land is distributed through Commonwealth Act 141.  Passed in the 1930s, the law empowers the DENR to distribute the land.  Although the said lands can be covered by CARP,” he said.

“If you ask my personal opinion, because the law is more than 80 years old, it is best to study whether there’s a need to amend the it.  When the law was enacted, the country’s land area was 30 million hectares with only 20 million Filipinos.  Now, we are more than 100 million but the land area remains the same.  We need to study whether the Public Lands Act, including the older Cadastral Land and Friar Lands Act, should be reviewed.  To know whether these laws are still applicable today,” he said.

He also sought the help of farmers in identifying private agricultural lands that should be covered by the program, so that it can issue a notice of coverage before June 30, 2014.

Last week farmers from Dingalan, Aurora, sought Mr. Aquino’s intervention to facilitate the distribution of a portion of the Fort Magsaysay Military Reservation (FMMR) to some 800 landless farmers who have been cultivating within the military reservation for more than three decades.

They want Mr. Aquino to amend Presidential Proclamation 237, signed by President Ramon Magsaysay on December 18, 1955, which created and transferred ownership of the FMMR to the Philippine Army, to pave the way for its distribution to landless farmers under the agrarian-reform program.

But de los Reyes reiterated that not all public lands, even those that are alienable and disposable, can be covered by CARP or at the disposal of the agency.  This includes military reservations.

“Some military reservations that have been turned over to the DAR are already being distributed under the program.  But those that have not been turned over needs to be turned over by concerned agencies—such as the Armed Forces of the Philippines  or state colleges and universities,” he said.

According to de los Reyes, the agency is initiating an inter-agency meeting to discuss the possibility of turning over some lands to the DAR for distribution.

The AFP, GOCCs and SUCs would have to be consulted about their plans first, he added.

The expiration of the land acquisition and distribution component of CARPer, which was allocated a budget of P150 billion for the purpose, is creating confusion and anxiety among the agency’s employees.

They fear that the government is planning to abolish the DAR that will eventually result in mass layoff, notwithstanding Mr. Aquino’s avowed commitment to complete the program’s implementation before he steps down by 2016.

The DAR, according to de los Reyes, will be needed, even when there are no more lands to distribute beyond 2014. “There is a need for a clear, effective and efficient land distribution.  The land already distributed needs to be reviewed.  Collective titles need to be subdivided and individually titled,” he added.

According to de los Reyes, there are 1.2 million hectares of land that have collective land titles.

While the fate of the DAR, he said, hangs in the balance and lies in the hands of policy- makers and decision-makers, the DAR’s core competency in matters related to agrarian reform makes it important in providing support services to farmers under the program beneficiaries development and agrarian justice delivery components of the program.

In Photo: Farmers dramatize their opposition to some provisions on the implementation of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) Extension with Reforms (CARPer). Agrarian Reform Secretary Virgilio de los Reyes has confirmed that the government is on the hunt for more ‘CARP-able’ lands before CARPer expires on June 30, 2014.








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