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Congress agrees to extend land reform program by 6 months

Vol. XXII, No. 103

Wednesday, December 17, 2008 | MANILA, PHILIPPINES

[ BusinessWorld Online ]

Prolonged law to exclude land acquisition

CONGRESSIONAL LEADERS have agreed to extend the two-decade-old land reform law by six months, averting the lapse of a landmark legislation as Congress starts its month-long Christmas break tomorrow.

Joint resolutions have been filed in the Senate and House of Representatives yesterday after lawmakers agreed this is the best option to prevent the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) from expiring after December.

Congress will have its last session day today and will return on Jan. 19. Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile said he met with Speaker Prospero C. Nograles yesterday on the proposal.

Mr. Enrile said the joint resolution recommended a moratorium on compulsory land acquisition.

Passed in June 1988, the 10-year law was extended in 1998 for another decade. Although the law was not extended last June, its operations continued under the current budget that will end after this month.

A new CARP was one of the major measures that both chambers had promised to approve before theChristmas break.

Mr. Enrile said President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo may call for a special session to approve the resolution should Congress fail to pass the resolution today, adding the Senate will be "ready" for a special session.

He told reporters they will prioritize the passage of a new land reform law in January, including a review of the program’s implementation as demanded by his colleagues.

He said they want to know "how many hectares of land have been acquired, what types of land are these, how many of them are productive, how much is their production per hectare compared to their production before being acquired so that we will know we really progressed or retrogressed."

Mr. Nograles said: "We have filed a resolution extending the CARP for six months. But since, members of the House have expressed their collective sentiments for more time to study and generate consensus on appropriate amendments to the existing agrarian reform law, both the House and the Senate have agreed to come up with amendments that will be subject for adoption by Congress on or before June 30, 2009."

The joint resolution only has to be adopted by both chambers and does not have to hurdle a conference committee.

Senator Gregorio B. Honasan II, chairman of the committee on agrarian reform, said on Monday scrapping the land acquisition aspect was the senators’ consensus during a caucus on Dec. 10, and that all unfinished business of the old CARP law should be finished within two years.

CARP status

Mr. Honasan, in a privilege speech, reported the following status of CARP:

* total balance for compulsory acquisition covers 639,582 hectares;

* lands subjected to a notice of acquisition covers 478,717 hectares;

* lands still subject to notice of acquisition total 160,865 hectares;

* lands above 50 hectares — balance for compulsory acquisition — total 136,701 hectares;

* subject to notice of acquisition totals 100,373 hectares;

* still subject to notice of acquisition totals 36,328 hectares;

* total area under voluntary offer to sell totals 177,835 hectares as of July 2008; and

* total area under the voluntary land transfer already in the pipeline totals 139,054 hectares as of July 2008.

Mr. Honasan said the two-year space will give the Agrarian Reform department "sufficient time to recalibrate the policies and implementing mechanisms of the agrarian reform law."

Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Q. Pimentel, Jr., who has since advocated for the extension of the CARP but with reforms, explained a new law should be passed by Congress to continue the land acquisition aspect.

Asked for the reason in dropping land acquisition, he said "there are many vested interests in this country that are prevailing," but did not elaborate.

The new CARP under Senate Bill 2666 has been approved at the committee level in October with a budget of P147 billion for land acquisition and distribution and support services.

However, Akbayan party-list Rep. Ana Theresia N. Hontiveros-Baraquel, one of the authors of the new CARP law, said in an interview "land acquisition is the heart of CARP."

Meanwhile, Jaime San Luis Tadeo, president of the National Rice Farmers Council (NRFC), said in an interview "the main function of CARP is land acquisition and distribution."

He said there are still 1.8 million hectares of agricultural land that have yet to be distributed by the Agrarian Reform department to benefit at least one million farmers.

NRFC is calling for a five-year CARP to acquire and distribute remaining covered agricultural lands. — Bernard U. Allauigan and Jhoanna Frances S. Valdez with Neil Jerome C. Morales


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