SENATE and House leaders have agreed to restore the state’s power to compel landowners to sell their land under the agrarian reform program, but exempted vast tracts within sugar and coconut plantations.
The bicameral special committee on the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program also agreed to allow farmers receiving land to use it as collateral for loans, removing a 10-year waiting period that the old law required.
In a compromise reached after a closed-door meeting at the office of Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, the two panels agreed to pass a bill extending the agrarian reform program for five years before the congressional recess in June.
The compromise now goes before both chambers of Congress for debate.
The Senate panel was convinced to restore compulsory acquisition after Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman cited a government report that showed no landowners had offered to sell or transfer their agricultural land after January 2009, when Congress extended the program for six months without giving the state power to compel land sales.
“This validates the apprehension that the remaining land owners resisting coverage will not avail of voluntary offers to sell and voluntary land transfers,” Lagman said.
“Therefore, [there is] the need for compulsory acquisition as the major if not the only mode of acquiring and distributing private agricultural lands.”
The Senate panel was made up of Enrile and Senator Gregorio Honasan, chairman of the Senate committee on agriculture.
The House contingent was composed of Lagman, House Majority Leader Arthur Defensor, Apayao Rep. Elias Bulut, Reps. Pablo Garcia of Cebu, Luis Villafuerte of Camarines Sur and Akbayan Rep. Risa Hontiveros.
Garcia and Villafuerte were the authors of Joint Senate Resolution 19 that removed the compulsory land acquisition provision, while Lagman and Hontiveros authored the bill extending the agrarian reform program for another five years.
“The landlords in Congress will still push for killer amendments. We will not be complacent,” Hontiveros said.
“Even though majority of the members of the special panel on CARP agreed that compulsory acquisition should be restored, there were others in the committee who insisted on its removal and the introduction of other killer amendments.
“Among the killer amendments that should be blocked are the proposals to allow CARP lands as collateral for loans and additional exemptions to include sugar lands and coconut farms.”
Hontiveros refused to name names but sources familliar with the meeting identified the lawmakers who had pushed for the two new provisions as Garcia and Villafuerte.
Under the old agrarian reform law, farmers must wait 10 years before using the land awarded to them as collateral for loans or selling them.
But Garcia and Villafuerte insisted that the 10-year ban be removed.
Lagman and Hontiveros said that would defeat the purpose of land reform, since landlords could easily get back their land by luring farmers into taking out loans and then foreclosing on them when they failed to pay them back.
The old law also placed sugar and coconut plantations for compulsary acquisition, but Villafuerte and Garcia wanted those exempted.
“This development should be taken with guarded optimism,” Hontiveros said of yesterday’s compromise.
The panels’ proposals will be subject to plenary debate and approval when Congress resumes sessions on April 13.
Lagman and Hontiveros said they included safeguards to prevent the landlord-dominated Congress from pulling a fast one on farmers.
One of those was a safeguard against parceling of land to avoid coverage, Lagman said.– Christine F. Herrera, Manila Standard Today