Bishops deplore delay in CARP

MANILA — The Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines on Friday lamented the government’s continued delay in carrying out the land reform program and sought a dialogue with President Aquino to resolve problem.

They also urged the President to replace Agrarian Reform Secretary Gil Delos Reyes who “clearly does not fit the role of a transformational leader for the demanding task ahead.”

In their letter to the President, the bishops said the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) is set to expire this June but the government has not been buying and distributing enough land.

From July 2010 to June 2013, the Department of Agrarian Reform was only able to provide notices of coverage to merely 314, 422 hectares of land against the original CARP balance of 1.2 million hectares, the CBCP said.

This, the bishops said, was a “deep cause of concern” about the remaining agricultural landholdings that might not receive their notices of coverage by the deadline.

The bishops, belonging to the church’s National Secretariat for Social Action, Justice and Peace, asked Aquino to extend CARP until the end of his term in 2016.

“Mr. President, we support the thinking of DAR that legislation is needed to give CARP two more years to put all the pieces in place to achieve its social reform objective. These two years coincide with the remaining two years of your administration and will assure a lasting legacy of the centerpiece program of former President Corazon C. Aquino,” the letter said.

“Major decisions have to be made and actions taken before the deadline on both the strategic direction of CARP and the institutional capability of the government to accomplish these strategies, as well as the commitments of your administration to the farmers…. The dialogue with you would be a meaningful first step in responding to their plea for justice,” the bishops wrote.

They reminded Aquino that the deadline was on June 30 this year yet “the nationwide land reform effort is mired in deep uncertainty that strikes at the heart and soul of the entire program.”

The bishops also reminded the President of his promise to issue all notices of coverage by the end of the 2013.

“With the June 14, 2014 deadline only five months away, it is also time to talk about the future of CARP beyond 2016,” they said.

Decisive action was necessary, the bishops said, especially since 2014 has been declared as the “International Year of Family Farming” by the United Nations.

“There would be no stronger statement than your administration champions the cause of family farmers by sustaining the very program that would give land to the landless, and thus allow the family farm sector to flourish within our country,” they added.

The letter was signed by nine bishops, led by Manila Auxillary Bishop Broderick Pabillo. Other signatories were Archbishop Bishop Rolando Tria Tirona, and Bishops Nereo Odchimar, John Du, Antonio Ledesma, Sofronio Bancud, Jose Advincula, Angelito Lampon and Martin Jumoad.

The militant peasant group Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP), however, called on the Catholic bishops to wake up and shun CARP and its extension law.

In a statement, the KMP said a bogus agrarian reform program was now being implemented at the Hacienda Luisita sugar estate owned by President Aquino’s family, and would continue the clan’s monopoly over the land.

Willy Marbella, KMP deputy secretary general said that a radical change in the agrarian reform policy and an overhaul at the Agrarian Reform Department were not enough, saying the “pro-landlord CARP” must be junked and replaced with a program that called for a free redistribution of land to landless peasants.

In the last 26 years of CARP, created by the Cojuangcos in 1987 “to maintain their stranglehold on Hacienda Luisita and only to appease peasant unrest in the countryside,” Filipino farmers “got nothing but continuing bondage to the soil,” the KMP said.