Farmers cry: You’re breaking our hearts, Mr. President

Carrying “broken hearts” made of red cartolina, about 50 landless Negros Occidental farmers belonging to national peasant federation Task Force Mapalad (TFM), staged a post-Valentine protest-rally in front of the provincial office of the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) in Dawis, Bacolod City today, February 15, to express their frustration over the failure of the Duterte administration to fulfill its promise of completing land distribution under the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP). 

In a press statement, Teresita Tarlac, president of TFM’s Negros-Panay Chapter said: “First you gave us hope, you made us look forward to a much better future, free from the clutches of hacienderos, because you repeatedly vowed that we would have land. But now, you’ve broken our hearts, our dreams, Mr. President, because you failed to deliver what you promised.”

Tarlac said TFM farmers were apprehensive to hold a rally amid the pandemic, but extreme hunger aggravated by the sharp increase in the prices of basic commodities made them decide to go out and hold a rally and tell President Duterte of their plight.

“Hunger and the lack of adequate nutrition will make us vulnerable to illnesses, which in turn will make us susceptible to Covid-19. We have no other choice but to fight for our right to land, to our right to food and nutrition, so we can shield ourselves from diseases, including Covid-19,” she said.

“President Duterte has to see CARP as the most viable solution to our problem. He must give us our land now,” added Tarlac.  

In January 2020, while in North Cotabato, President Duterte reiterated his vow to complete the CARP’s land acquisition and distribution (LAD) component within his term, adding that he had directed DAR Secretary John Castriciones to fully implement the program, particularly in Negros Occidental, the province with the biggest LAD balance nationwide.

In May 2019, as a response to the chief executive’s directive to complete the distribution of agricultural landholdings to their tillers, the DAR said its target was for CARP to be LAD-free by 2022. In August 2020, the DAR shortened the land acquisition process from to 291 to 112 days supposedly to fast-track CARP.

However, according to TFM, it is clear from the records of the DAR itself that there is a big credibility gap between what President Duterte promised and what the department does.  

“While the DAR has been projecting to the media that it is doing its job, the truth is the current administration does not only have low and unmet land distribution targets. It is also, on record, the worst CARP implementor in terms of LAD since the land-to-the-tiller program started in 1988,” said Tarlac.

Data from the DAR show that in 2020, the department was only able to distribute a total of 18,789 hectares (has.) of agricultural landholdings nationwide or nearly 40 percent short of its 30,154-hectare target for last year.

“The nationwide LAD balance is still about 500,000 hectares. If the DAR’s LAD target is only over 30,000 hectares yearly, how can the CARP be LAD-free by 2022? At 30,000 hectares yearly, it would take the DAR over 15 years or three more administrations after the Duterte administration before it completes land distribution nationwide,” Tarlac said.

“Worse, missing the target means land distribution will be forever or never,” she added.

From 2016 to 2020, or during the last five years under the Duterte administration, its total LAD accomplishment nationwide was only 142,806 has., according to TFM’s computation based on DAR data.

“That total LAD performance is just equivalent to a yearly average accomplishment of 28,561 hectares – the lowest ever in the history of CARP, ” said Tarlac.

“We thought President Duterte’s predecessor, who came from a haciendero family, was the worst CARP implementor. But we were proved wrong. How come this happened when our current chief executive issued strong directives to the DAR to complete CARP before he stops down from office?” the TFM leader added.

From 2010 to 2015, or during the first five years of Benigno Aquino III’s presidency, the DAR distributed a total of 525,151 has. of agricultural landholdings under the CARP, or an annual average of 105,030 has., based on data from the DAR.

Aquino’s LAD accomplishment was the lowest compared to that of former presidents Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and Fidel Ramos, who completed their terms implementing CARP.

Arroyo’ s first five years in office (2001 to 2005) resulted in the distribution of a total of 548,916 has. or 109,783 has. yearly.  

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