After the overthrow of dictator Ferdinand Marcos in 1986 and in response to unrest and rural social movements, the Philippine Congress enacted, under the administration of former president Corazon “Cory” Aquino and mother of current President Benigno Simeon Cojuango Aquino III, the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) in 1988 which mandates the coverage of all private and public farmland regardless of tenurial arrangements or productivity conditions for the distribution beyond five hectares to landless farmers, farmworkers and tenants.
The CARP symbolized an essential component in the context of the democratization process in the Philippines by targeting agricultural land redistribution and provision of support services for agricultural development (seeds, start-up capitals, credits and farming implements). It is further considered as a social justice measure that should guarantee the right to adequate food for the rural population in the Philippines.
However, several loopholes allowed large landowners to evade land redistribution. These were reflected in anti-peasant and pro-landlord provisions such as the Stock Distribution Option (SDO), leaseback agreements, Voluntary Land Transfer (VLT), vague procedures for the identification of beneficiaries in commercial and corporate farms, the prioritization of the distribution of public land over private landholdings as well as unclear guidelines for land use conversions.
The SDO allowed corporate landowners the option to give farmers partial ownership of a company in the form of stocks shares in lieu of land distribution. This was opted by Hacienda Luisita Inc., the company created by the former landowners, the Cojuangcos – family of President Benigno Aquino III. Instead of acquiring actual land to till, the farm workers of Hacienda Luisita received shares which were computed based on the number of work days.
Beside these loopholes, there were budget constraints, the lack of an accurate land registration system and extensive corruption within the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) which were the major reasons for the delayed and slow implementation of CARP.
On August 7, 2009, Congress passed the CARPER Act or CARP extensions with reforms giving CARP five more years to be completed. CARPER brought about significant changes in the land reform process, such as the elimination of the SDO or VLT option, the recognition of women as beneficiaries, the prioritization of the distribution of large landholdings (between 25 and 50 hectares), the indefeasibility of awarded beneficiary lands and the provision of PHP 150 billion for land acquisition and distribution (LAD) whereby 40 percent of the budget should be allocated for support services. Nevertheless, the law incorporated a “killer amendment” that allowed landowners to determine who would be preferred as beneficiary. This provision affected seasonal farm workers.
President Benigno Aquino III gave assurance that land distribution under CARPER shall be completed under his term. But as the program ended in June 2014, about one million hectares of land had yet to be distributed including the most difficult and contentious landholdings. After 27 years of implementation, the completion of agrarian reform is still nowhere in sight. In fact, the performance of CARP under the present Aquino administration is one of the lowest in the history of agrarian reform.
In several cases, strong landlord resistance opposing the land distribution process saw farmers facing harassments, intimidations and evictions with some even getting killed. The case of Hacienda Matias in Bondoc Peninsula is a prime example of the suffering of farmer beneficiaries under aggressive landlord resistance. Only in July, 2015was DAR able – after several attempts – to enter the land, to provide necessary protection to the farmer beneficiaries and to resume the land distribution process.
DAR’s data show that the official LAD balance – as of January 2014 – remained at 790,671 hectares, covering a total of 80,867 landholdings of which 26,571 landholdings (206,536 hectares) have no Notices of Coverage (NOCs). With this rate of accomplishments, the completion of CARPER would possibly take another eight years.
An integral component of CARP is the provision of support services. To successfully complete CARP, farmer beneficiaries need to be able to cultivate and till their awarded land. As of December 2013, only 44 percent of all farmer beneficiaries under the agrarian reform program had access to support services, such as farming implements, seeds and access to social credit.
The inability to deliver timely and adequate support services prevented many farmer beneficiaries from becoming economically viable producers and is threatening the sustainability of the claimed land distribution accomplishments. As in the case of Hacienda Luisita , the vast majority of farmer beneficiaries were forced to lease their land under unjust conditions to generate cash to feed themselves and their families.