Saving agrarian reform from mockery

For millions of landless and land-poor farmers (men and women tenants, farmworkers and upland settlers), agrarian reform is a great solution for them to reap the benefits of their long work on the lands, most harvests of which have redounded to their landlords. It is no less than the Philippine Constitution of 1987 that perfectly echoes this sentiment by the peasants. Article XIII begins with a recognition of the right of the landless farmers and farmworkers to own the lands they till or receive a just share of the fruits thereof.

The Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) seeks to operationalize that Article with an additional proposition that agrarian reform is a move towards sound rural development and industrialization. Hence, long-lasting development in the countryside as well as national-level industrialization, as the declaration implies, will not happen until inequity in landownership is addressed through land redistribution in favor of the landless peasants.

Land rights have also been recognized globally, as the problem of unequal distribution of land-based power is also obtaining in other parts of the world–Brazil, Africa, Indonesia, Bangladesh, among others. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) espouses individuals’ right to own property (Article 17). Likewise, the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (1976) relates land rights to “the fundamental right of everyone to be free from hunger…by developing or reforming agrarian systems…” (Article 11).

With all these bases for the necessity of agrarian reform in the Philippines, much less in other parts of the world, I rue the fact that disturbed souls would come out in the open lambasting agrarian reform. Representatives of the elite–Congresspersons, local executives, columnists–easily dismiss CARP as an utter failure. And so do sections of the left movement that claim that peasant interests must be subordinated to those of the working class. Speaking of two extremes, who I should understand for thinking too constrictedly to their interests and ideologies.

It is also sadder to note that the media are being used by these disturbed souls, with all their wherewithals. I think that newly elected Negros Occidental Congressman Iggy Arroyo was the first to say that his very first job in Congress is to pass a resolution calling for a review of CARP. According to my source, there are already over 50 proposed bills and resolutions filed in Congress, all of which call for either review of CARP or its scrapping. I’m not surprised, though.

The latest development that mocks agrarian reform is Negros Occidental Governor’s call for the review of DAR funds, in the light of the agency’s alleged ties with a particular group of farmers. What gives? Is this a way to use agrarian reform to perpetuate one’s parochial and elitist interests? Given the vast resources of the oligarchs, I won’t be surprised if more stories like this were run on news pages or told on broadcast stations. What I only hope is that sane and enlightened souls consistently come out and get heard and felt as well. The better if they merge energies and come up with creative ways to defend agrarian reform, as sacred as its spirit is, against the mockery of those whose vested interests negate it.

At least 40 farmers were killed in the name of agrarian reform. Aside from justice for them, their families still clamor for agrarian reform. Over 2,000 face life threats, also in the name of agrarian reform. At least, one million more farmers are landless, thus, look to agrarian reform to uplift them. So it is very shameful of the disturbed souls to describe agrarian reform in terms that spell doom for millions of farmers, casting them further to the margins of landlessness and hopelessness.

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