By Aurea Calica Updated June 11, 2009 12:00 AM [ philstar.com ]
MANILA, Philippines – The Senate and the House of Representatives have resolved all major issues concerning the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) bill and agreed to extend the coverage for five more years plus an allocation of up to P150 billion.
Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel Jr. expressed confidence that the bicameral conference committee would be able to reconcile all conflicting provisions of the Senate and House versions of the bill and come up with a consolidated proposal.
Pimentel, a member of the Senate panel in the joint committee, also said a provision that would authorize additional appropriation for the CARP was approved.
The funds would be primarily used to acquire and distribute agricultural lands and provide support to beneficiaries to make the lands productive.
The Senate, in its version of the bill, approved funding of P147 billion for CARP in the next five years while the House allotted P100 billion.
Before Congress went on recess last June 3, the House approved on third reading the five-year extension of CARP, or until 2013, amid protests and lightning rallies staged by militant farmers picketing the House at the Batasan complex.
The bicameral committee later agreed to restore the compulsory land acquisition and voluntary offer to sell modes in the measure and dropped the “flawed and anomalous” voluntary land transfer scheme.
The measure amends Republic Act 6656, or the CARP Law of 1988, which expired in December 2008 but was extended by Joint Resolution 19 of the Senate and House to June 30 this year.
The joint resolution, however, did not include the compulsory acquisition of the remaining 1.3 million hectares of private agricultural lands.
Another amendment to the bill is the restoration of compulsory acquisition of land.
Other salient features include the allocation of P100 billion for land acquisition and distribution and for other funding requirements of CARP, the allocation of “30 percent appropriations for support services to liberalized terms on agricultural credit facilities.”
The consolidated bill will be submitted to the Senate and House of Representatives for ratification during the opening of the regular session of Congress on July 27.
Since the current CARP has a lifetime up to June 30, the proposal is to make the effectivity of the new law retroactive to July 1.
Pimentel said the terms agreed on by the bicameral panel include emphasis on gender reference.
The measure respects equality of women and men in an agrarian setting and recognition of the value of rural women’s work at home.
The bill mandates the creation of women’s desks in all agrarian reform communities to allow women workers in rural areas to file their complaints of sexual discrimination.
The proposal also respects women’s right to own property and find gainful employment for financial independence.
The bill prioritizes the right to own lands subject to CARP – starting from actual farm workers, then to seasonal workers if there is extra land for distribution.
Pimentel batted for the inclusion of seasonal farmers in the CARP coverage but the idea was opposed by Cebu Rep. Pablo Garcia.
“Seasonal farmers do not till the lands. We should only give lands to the actual tillers of the lands,” Garcia insisted.
Pimentel argued that seasonal farmers should also be entitled to lands, especially in cases where after distributing land to farmers and farm workers, there were still undistributed idle lands.
“These should be given to seasonal workers, who for years are also hired to harvest the farm products,” he said.
“It is non-negotiable,” Garcia reiterated. The veteran Cebu lawmaker said he felt betrayed that his amendment has been lost and the House contingent failed to include it in the consolidated bill.
Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman, however, assured Garcia that his amendments would be incorporated but pointed out the bicameral also includes the Senate and the conference was being held precisely to reconcile the two different versions.
When the panel resumed conference, lawmakers persuaded Garcia to agree to the provision on the condition that farmers would be prioritized, and only after farmers and farm workers have been given land would the seasonal workers be considered. – With Delon Porcalla