Agrarian Reform Completed By 2014

MANILA, Philippines -- President Benigno S. Aquino III approved Thursday a five-point action plan to complete the agrarian reform program by June 2014, including a P1-billion fund to expand support services for farmer beneficiaries.

The President held a "fruitful" meeting with 21 representatives of farmers' groups in Malacañang to tackle their concerns and reiterate his commitment to hasten the implementation of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program-Extension with Reforms (CARPer), according to his spokesman Edwin Lacierda.

Other measures endorsed by the President were the immediate issuance of Notices of Coverage (NOC) on farmlands, creation of a multi-stakeholders mechanism to monitor land reform program, development of a socialized credit program for farmer beneficiaries, and swift resolution of cases pending in the Palace-run agrarian reform council.

"Between now and June 2014, all agricultural lands shall be covered and distributed to qualified beneficiaries," Lacierda said after the President's two-hour dialogue with the farmers that started at 1 p.m.

"Priority shall be given to landholdings 25 hectares and above. Notice of Coverage will be issued on or before December 2012.

This will include peaceful and orderly installation of farmer-beneficiaries of all lands distributed under the program. The PNP (Philippine National Police), AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) and DILG (Department of Interior and Local Government) shall be mobilized for this purpose," he said.

The President also ordered authorities to issue NOCs of lands 10 hectares and above on or before December 2012. For landholdings under 10 hectares, NOCs shall be issued not later than July 2013, according to Lacierda.

Lacierda likewise assured the government has adequate funds to complete the land reform program, citing the allocation of P150 billion provided by the CARPer law or Republic Act No. 9700. From 2009 to 2014, at least P30 billion has been allocated each year.

The President also ordered the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) to release P1 billion for support services for the land reform beneficiaries, according to Lacierda. He said the Land Bank of the Philippines (LBP) also committed to review its rules on providing credit to farmers and make them more accessible to land reform beneficiaries.

The Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR), Department of Agriculture (DA) and the DBM were also directed to develop a socialized credit program for agrarian reform beneficiaries so they maximize productivity of their lands and utilize resources available to them, Lacierda said.

A multi-stakeholders mechanism will also be formed to monitor the implementation of the land reform program, particularly on the coverage and land distribution, movement and performance of DAR personnel, delivery of support services, and budget allocation and utilization. The new group will consist of representatives from DAR, other CARP-implementing agencies, Church, non government organizations and farmers' groups, according to Lacierda.

He said there will also be continuing consultation regarding the orders issued by the DA on land acquisition and distribution.

The President also called for the swift resolution of pending cases involving stock distribution options and leaseback arrangements before the Presidential Agrarian Reform Council (PARC).

He said Interior and Local Government Secretary Jesse Robredo, who recently met farmers, also promised to work on the list of areas where there are enforcement issues, review the tasking of the police, establish police outposts in critical areas, and establish direct line of communication with the DILG.

Also present in the meeting were Lacierda, Budget Secretary Florencio Abad, Agrarian Reform Secretary Virgilo de los Reyes, Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala and Presidential Management Staff chief Julia Abad.

Among the farmers' representatives were former Senator Aquilino Pimentel, Archbishop Antonio Ledesma of Cagayan de Oro, Manila Auxiliary Bishop Bernardino Cortez, Fr. Anton Pascual of Caritas Manila, Atty. Christian Monsod, Task Force Mapalad president Alberto Jaime and national coordinator Armando Jarilla.

The President's meeting with the farmers came nearly a week after his cabinet secretaries sought to address their concerns in a separate meeting last Friday at the Palace. Aquino was unable to attend Friday's dialogue since he was still visiting the United States.

Last Friday, over 5,000 farmers held a protest action in Mendiola, Manila seeking faster acquisition and distribution of agricultural lands to beneficiaries. (Genalyn D. Kabiling)