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NDF demands free land for farmers; alarm raised

MANILA, Philippines - The Foundation for Economic Freedom (FEF) has expressed alarm over the Duterte administration’s alleged  inclination to give in to the National Democratic Front (NDF)’s demand of free land for farmers as part of the peace talks, saying this is not a solution to poverty.

The government peace panel and the NDF will meet for their fifth round of talks from May 27 to June 1 after formal negotiations resumed in August last year.

Providing free farmland has been among the demands of the NDF since the start of the peace talks.

The FEF – a group whose members include former Cabinet secretaries and undersecretaries and representatives from the business and finance community – said giving out free land would not solve the fundamental problems of Philippine agriculture, which primarily are restrictions in the rural land market.

The FEF said handing out land for free would only be a populist measure similar to free irrigation and free rice.

“Giving out free land will not affect the situation on the ground because only 17 percent of agrarian reform beneficiaries are paying their loan amortizations. Therefore, farmers are effectively given their lands for free. Yet agricultural productivity has remained stagnant and our farmers have remained poor,” the FEF said in a statement yesterday.

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The group also claims that the restrictions on rural land imposed by the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law are what kept farmers poor and similarly prevents them from raising their agricultural productivity.

“These restrictions include the prohibition to sell or mortgage the property within ten years from grant, prohibition to lease and the prohibition to own more than five hectares of land. These restrictions prevent agrarian reform beneficiaries from accessing cheap loans from the formal financial markets and also prevent efficient farmers from working on larger tracts of land and buying out inefficient ones,” the FEF said.

“What Philippine agriculture needs is to provide the conditions for efficient farmers to introduce management, technology and capital to farmlands by removing the restrictions on the rural land market,” it added.

The FEF is proposing that agrarian reform beneficiaries be given unrestricted titles to their lands instead of the collective Certificate of Land Ownership Awards, which it said “rob farmers of economic freedom and private initiative.”

Duterte: Red leaders can’t control NPA

President Duterte also bared yesterday that during a dinner in Malacañang, communist leaders admitted to him that they cannot control all the units of the New People’s Army (NPA), the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP).

Duterte made the statement in a speech during the groundbreaking ceremony of the Biyaya ng Pagbabago Housing Project at Barangay Los Amigos, Tugbok District, Davao City.

This came after the fourth round of talks between the government and the NDF following the government’s call for bilateral ceasefire with the Left.

Duterte recently met with CPP leaders Benito and Wilma Tiamzon.

“They admitted to me in Malacañang when we had dinner that they could not control all the operating units of the NPA here. I’m sorry, we can go on. I don’t have a problem. I will just wait for five years, then I’ll go. But that conflict will continue and will continue to punish because we won’t stop killing each other, when we’re all Filipinos. That’s the most disgusting part,” the President said in the Visayan dialect.

“Unless (CPP founder Jose Maria) Sison signs a bilateral (ceasefire agreement), both of us will announce that the fighting should stop. I didn’t say you should surrender your arms. Just bury them. Don’t bring your arms, just go out. No one will arrest you,” he added.

Duterte also announced that he would reserve housing units for rebel returnees and victims of fire incidents. He urged the awardees not to sell the housing units and ordered them to keep the community peaceful.

The housing project, a collaboration between the private and public sector, aims to provide housing units to around 8,000 families.

The President was assisted by Cabinet Secretary Leoncio Evasco Jr., National Housing Authority general manager Marcelino Escalada Jr. and presidential daughter Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio in burying the time capsule. – With Edith Regalado, Christina Mendez

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