The Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) has ordered the immediate coverage of a combined 727-hectare land in Hacienda Luisita following the distribution of land titles to farmers of the sprawling 6,443-hectare Tarlac estate.
Agrarian Reform Chief Rafael Mariano declared a 374-hectare property be covered for acquisition due to the failure of the Luisita Realty Corp. (LRC) and Rizal Commercial Banking Corp. (RCBC) to completely develop the area since it was converted for industrial use in 1996. Mariano is the former chair of farmers’ group Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP).
Local farmers’ group Alyansa ng mga Manggagawang Bukid sa Asyenda Luisita (AMBALA) petitioned for the coverage of the LRC and RCBC lands under the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) after it remained idle in the past 20 years.
Under the current agrarian reform program, DAR can revoke conversion clearances if the landowners failed to completely implement a development plan within the five-year period after the issuance of a conversion order.
Mariano additionally directed the distribution of the 353-hectare land registered to the Cojuangco clans’ Tarlac Development Corp. (TADECO) that had been exempted for coverage and were not included in the 4,915-hectare land distributed to some 6,000 agrarian reform beneficiaries based on the 2012 Supreme Court ruling.
The said landholdings have been subjects of violent ejections of farmers and enclosure activities by TADECO, according to AMBALA Chairperson Florida Sibayan. “Members of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) had set camp inside these lands together with alleged goons of the Cojuangco clan who ensure the eviction of farmers from ‘bungkalan’ fields,” she added.
DAR issued a notice of coverage on the TADECO property in 2013 to which the company opposed on grounds that the said lands were not agricultural. Mariano explained that recent ocular inspection and investigation reveal that the property can be covered by DAR for distribution to farmer-beneficiaries and that the department’s jurisdiction is valid.
Land for the tillers
After almost four years, 111 farmers who were previously disqualified from land distribution under the administration of former President Benigno Aquino III received certificates of land ownership awards (CLOAs) from DAR on February 14 in Brgy. Balete.
The beneficiaries have been struggling for land ownership since 2013 after they were excluded from the agrarian reform program for refusing to sign the Application to Purchase and Farmers’ Undertaking (APFU).
An APFU acts as a promissory note and requires farmer-beneficiaries to pay the amortization and real estate taxes of the land. Mariano recently suspended the guidelines that ask farmers to sign this document before they receive their CLOAs, citing that the APFU is ‘arbitrary, discriminatory and self-incriminating.’
Each farmer received 6,600 square meters of allocated lands found in the villages of Asturias, Bantog, Cut-cut, Mabilog, Mapalacsiao, Motrico, Pando, and Parang.
“Peasants have been waiting for genuine agrarian reform in Hacienda Luisita for decades already because the current land reform programs are sham and they cater to landlord-oligarchs and big businesses only,” Sibayan said.
Amid the actions of DAR in the disputed sugar plantation, KMP Secretary General Antonio Flores called for the enactment of an agrarian policy that caters to the needs of farmers and stressed the need for economic reforms that favor rural development.
“The government should pass House Bill 555 or the Genuine Agrarian Reform Bill (GARB) to eliminate all forms of oppression and exploitation of farmers,” Flores said. If implemented, GARB will break up land monopoly and implement free, fair, just and equitable distribution of lands to farmers within a five-year period, he added. ■