Gov’t must help agrarian reform farmer beneficiaries

By Joel P. Longares

THE decision of the Supreme Court to order the Hacienda Luisita in Tarlac to distribute the 4,860 hectares of land belonging to the powerful Cojuangco clan to the farmers should be welcomed by Filipinos. The 14-0 ruling means that the farmers who have been tilling the land for decades will finally own their own farm and enjoy the full benefits of their labor.

It should also send a signal to other hacienderos to distribute their land to their farmers, resulting in the full implementation of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program that was ironically initiated by the late former President Cory Cojuangco Aquino, one of the owners of Hacienda Luisita.

For decades, farmers of Hacienda Luisita have been planting sugarcane for the Hacienda Luisita Inc. (HLI), for which they are paid a small income as workers. This has led to poverty for the farmers’ families and huge profits for the Cojuangcos. Many of the farmers want to plant palay and corn, or value crops such as vegetables, but have been unable to because they do not own the land. Those who dared defy the HLI owners and planted palay in their areas have reaped the benefits and are actually earning a lot more than those who continue to become mere farm workers.

Hopefully, President Noynoy Aquino, another member of the Cojuangco clan, can persuade his relatives to give up Luisita and not file a motion for reconsideration, which can delay the land distribution a few more years.

Farmers all over the Philippines would be more motivated to produce more if the products of their labor would benefit them directly. With farmers all over the country earning more from their own farms, they will have more money to purchase other things from non-agricultural sector, thus helping move the wheels of the Philippine economy.

However, the government must not leave the farmer-beneficiaries of agrarian reform alone. Without capital and technical knowhow, they will eventually be forced to sell their farms to agricultural corporations or to land developers. It is important that the government provide them small loans to enable them to buy agricultural inputs such as seeds and fertilizers, and agricultural implements. The government must also help them gain new agricultural methods so that they can increase their productivity, and provide buying centers to help them sell their produce at a fair price.

With the Luisita farmers getting only less than 8,000 square meters each, they must organize into cooperatives to enable them to get more from their farm and their labor. By organizing themselves into cooperatives, the farmers will be able to secure government loans that are reserved for cooperatives, gain knowledge from educational programs initiated by cooperatives with the help of the Departhment of Agriclutre, and bargain for better prices for their produce from a strong position.

There are many benefits in cooperatives, and farmers benefiting from agrarian reform should be educated on the advantages of cooperatives.

The bottom line is that the government must not leave farmer beneficiaries of agrarian reform alone. It has to help them get up on their feet for the benefit of the country’s economy. Otherwise, the agrarian reform program will just fall to pieces.

(joelplongares@yahoo.com)

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