In its initial reaction to President Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr.’s plans for the agriculture sector as laid down in his first State of the Nation Address (SONA), farmers group Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) has expressed alarm over some of the new president’s pronouncements.
Marcos, who is also the acting agriculture chief, said that his government will impose a one-year moratorium on land amortization and interest payments to land reform beneficiaries.
“A moratorium will give the farmers the ability to channel their resources in developing their farms, maximizing their capacity to produce, and propel the growth of our economy,” Marcos said.
KMP said that while they welcome suspension of land amortization and interest payments, it is long-overdue, and it would’ve had more impact if it were implemented during the height of the pandemic. The one-year duration of the moratorium may also not be enough, they added.
The group also welcomed the long-overdue condonation of the existing amortization balance of agrarian reform beneficiaries.
“We will nonetheless ensure that this translates on the ground,” they said.
They are also seeking clarification as to how the government plans to distribute agricultural lands to farmers. They said that Duterte’s Executive Order (EO) 75 only covers lands under the possession of government agencies, but a large chunk of lands in several areas in the country still belong to large corporations and landlords.
“[W]hat about the acquisition and distribution of even larger private agricultural lands such as haciendas and landholdings under the control of private families and corporations? This would mean further land monopoly of landlords and big plantations,” they said.
They said that the administration’s plans to distribute lands for free to farmers “is ineffective at best and duplicitous at worst,” given that a law that would implement this is not included in the listed legislative agenda of the new government, while the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program’s mandate to do this had already expired in 2014.
“This limits the scope of the supposed ‘free distribution’ to the existing balance, and to public lands which government agencies will be begged to surrender for coverage,” they said.
KMP also said that without the Marcos administration recognizing the problem of land use conversion, talks of their support to distribute land for free are nothing more but mere lip service.
“An EO declaring a moratorium on the conversion of agricultural and agrarian reform lands, especially those devoted to food production, could have countered this,” they said. “Instead, Marcos Jr. promoted the National Land Use Act, which will remove agriculture as a distinct land-use classification, enabling more land-use conversion.”
Meanwhile, KMP slammed Marcos’s continuation of the “pro-market policies and programs of former [Agriculture] Secretary William Dar” which institutionalized loans and insufficient assistance to farmers and fisherfolk that has bankrupted them for so long, and plans to “review and repeal” the Rice Tariffication law.
“His plans on how to lower the cost of farm inputs are also lacking and only seem aspirational,” they said.
Marvin Joseph Ang is a news and creative writer who follows developments on politics, democracy, and popular culture. He advocates for a free press and national democracy. Follow him on Twitter at @marvs30ang for latest news and updates.
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