Hacienda Luisita and agrarian reform
BREAKTHROUGH - Elfren S. Cruz (The Philippine Star) - October 3, 2013 - 12:00am

Last Monday, the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) led by Secretary Virgilio de los Reyes started distributing true copies of their land to the farmworker-beneficiaries of Hacienda Luisita.  Almost 600 farmworker-beneficiaries in Barangay Pando were awarded their Certificate of Land Ownership, the land title given to agrarian reform beneficiaries. All in all there will be a total of 6,212 beneficiaries.

The Hacienda Luisita case was a major campaign issue in the 2010 presidential elections when Noynoy Aquino was running for president. Even after his election, the Luisita story was bannered as the final test of P-Noy’s sincerity and integrity.

Perhaps because Hacienda Luisita has turned out to be another success story of the administration’s adherence to the rule of law, there has been very little media coverage, no fanfare, and hardly any credit given to the leadership of the President and the DAR in this issue.

Media and certain sectors were even spreading many stories that were eventually proven to be false. There was the false story that the P-Noy administration vigorously opposed the application of the agrarian reform law to the hacienda owned primarily by his family, the descendants of Jose Pedro Cojuangco.

Hacienda Luisita did not have tenants but paid agricultural workers. Originally, the workers were given the option of acquiring stocks in the corporation owning the hacienda. But in December 2005, the Presidential Agrarian Reform Council (PARC), composed of several cabinet members and chaired by then President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, revoked the stock distribution option.

From 2006-2010 the case was in the Supreme Court. In 2010, the new administration made its position clear. It did not propose a choice between share distribution or land distribution. It did not oppose the 2005 PARC decision to distribute the land.

Sometime in 2010, the Supreme Court came out with a decision that would in effect uphold the option of each beneficiary choosing between land or shares. But the P-Noy government said no and filed a motion for reconsideration. It was the Solicitor General and the DAR Secretary Virgilio de los Reyes, former Vice Dean of the De La Salle College of Law, who argued in the Supreme Court and won the argument that the option should be limited to land distribution.

There was also another false story that under the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law, agrarian reform beneficiaries will have to pay for their  CARP-awarded land within a period of 30 years at a rate of P70,000 a year.

The total amount that the beneficiaries will pay for their land over a period of 30 years will be more or less P75,000. For the first three years, Hacienda Luisita beneficiaries will pay only P730 per year or about P61 per month. For the 4th and 5th year, they will pay more or less P1,410 per year or about P118 per month. And from the 6th to the 30th year, they will pay more or less P2,770 per year or P230 per month.

The agrarian reform program is one of the major programs of this administration especially in its effort of achieving inclusive growth in the rural areas. After all, this is where 52% of the Philippine population still resides.

There are only three pathways out of rural poverty. These are farming, labor and migration. Migration to the highly urbanized centers, especially to Metro Manila, is seen by rural people as the quickest solution.

This may be true in the past, but this caused tremendous social and environmental problems. Almost half of the people in Metro Manila live in what used to be called squatter colonies and are now euphemistically called informal settlements.

They lack proper housing, potable water, proper sanitation, electricity and minimal health care. Their living areas become the breeding ground for criminal gangs. Improper waste management contributes to the flooding in the streets of Metro Manila.

The proper solution is to concentrate on the other two pathways out of rural poverty. One is to bring good, decent jobs in the rural areas. This can be done.

Fortunately, tourism can provide rural jobs since our primary tourist destinations are the beaches and islands, all in the rural areas. Other possible sources of rural jobs are infrastructure construction outside the urban centers, reforestation projects, agribusiness, and small scale manufacturing.

Agrarian reform is not only a pathway out of rural poverty but is extremely beneficial to the Philippine economy and the business sector.

Unfortunately in this country the model we have for farming is that of an Iowa corn field or Kansas wheat field stretching for miles and miles. Our concept of agriculture is highly mechanized with very few people.

But the factors of production in the United States is lots of land and very few people in rural areas, and so it makes sense for them to mechanize. Here it is the opposite — very many people and little arable land. We are an archipelago where coastal areas render large portions of land unsuitable for agriculture. World Bank studies have shown that smallholder agriculture can be productive and profitable.

According to Secretary Gil de los Reyes, “Our foundation is really small holder agriculture. Our idea is not to have an agrarian society. As the economy progresses, more people will go into manufacturing and service, but for now 32% of our people are into agriculture. If we are able to take care of the poorest of the poor in agriculture, then demand for manufacturing goods and services will increase. But a stable agriculture basis requires equitable distribution of land.”

This is the economic goal of agrarian reform — ensuring people can stay in the rural areas and live a life of human dignity.

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Email: elfrencruz@gmail.com


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