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Was the CARP simply all crap?

(Article published in the July 4, 2007 issue of Manila Standard Today)  
         It began simply as a lucky lunch.  I was sauntering towards my room at the office, shortly after 12:00 pm, along the corridor only half-lit to save on energy, both electrical and secretarial, when came the voice of Eddie Hernandez from his room, saying “Are you free for lunch?”  Since it is a rule in the office that when Eddie Hernandez invites for lunch, you can be sure the lunch is both sumptuous and free,  of course I was free for lunch.

 At the Red Restaurant of the Shangri-la Makati, we went through the motions of looking at the menu, even if we knew full well that eventually we would be choosing, as we did, the same dish we have been choosing many times before, low fat, low cholesterol, some fiber, tasty but light on the tummy and easy on the dentures---Chilean sea bass with vegetables on the side.  The head waiter was, as usual, sociable and solicitous; the waitresses took their time meandering in the spaces between the tables taking not necessarily the shortest distance between two points, unmindful of our internal simul-tasking of keeping the conversation to the topic on hand even as memory was harking back to decades ago when figures less perfect evoked responses more robust.  By all indications, the flow was going to be as languid as the Iloilo River on a Sunday evening in late January and as pristine as the wavelets on the beach fronting Eddie’s house in Dingle at noon of Good Friday.

 Maybe, it was because Bobby Romulo walked over and asked us, in jest (I think), “What are you two ambulance chasers up to?”  To which Eddie replied, “But it is the ambulance that is chasing us.”  Or maybe, it was the discordant vibes we got from a nearby table where an offshore private banker was obviously getting fidgety because his client was taking his time in signing on the dotted line on the form the former brought in all the way from Hong Kong.  But, more likely, perhaps, it was the liberating, if not the inebriating, influence of the Chilean white wine that we choose to escort down the main course.


 Whatever it was, when I asked Eddie, half rhetorically, “So what do you think our lawmakers will be occupying themselves with in the coming session?”, the placid suddenly became vivid.   “The CARP” was his quick reply.

 Republic Act No. 6657, known as the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) law expires in 2008.  Understandably, the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) , the law’s lead implementing agency, wants Congress to extend it.  To assist Congress and other relevant agencies to make up their minds, Eddie Hernandez, a landowner representative to the Presidential Agrarian Reform Council (PARC), suggests we look at the hard facts. 

 Eddie wrote a paper, co-signed by four other members of PARC, namely, Marita V. Alejandrino, also a landowner representative, and three farmer beneficiary representatives Basilio Propongo, Romulo G. Tapayan and Jaime S.L. Tadeo.  The five of them recommend that the President be informed of a study commissioned in 2004 by the DAR, in cooperation with the German Technical Cooperation (GTC), to assess the CARP and make recommendations. 

 In the 34 years of agrarian reform, the government distributed 6.578 million hectares of land to 4.05 million farmer beneficiaries at the cost of Php 120 billion.  What does the Philippines have to show for it?

 Whereas the law aimed to increase productivity, the DAR-GTC report admits that Philippine agriculture sector “is still in a state of distress.”  The agricultural balance of trade has been deteriorating since the enactment of the CARP.  From a net agricultural exporter, the country became a net agricultural importer by the middle of the 90s. 

 Whereas the law was intended to reduce poverty, it is observed that poverty incidence in the rural areas remained high at 63 percent.  “In fact,” the DAR-GTC says, “in some of the more remote regions such as Bicol and Eastern Visayas, poverty incidence even increased.”

 Whereas, the law meant to encourage landowners to invest in industries in the rural areas, the Land Bank of the Philippines’ “program to provide support to landowners, notes the DAR-GTC report, “ is an area where there has been very limited attention.  Most of the affected landowners owned small- to medium-sized lands and are also in need of support services but have not availed of services under the Program.”

 About 90% of landowners, it appears, were paid below the zonal value of their lands, zonal value being one of the figures the national government takes into account for imposing some of its taxes. According to both the Department of Agrarian Reform and the Land Bank of the Philippines, landowners were paid the average price of Php 10,000 per hectare for rice and corn lands, or Php 1.00 per square meter, which was the price of one-half a banana before the oil companies started increasing their prices. And we expect them to invest in industries in the rural areas?

 Undoubtedly, CARP is not necessarily to blame for our sad state of affairs. At the very least, however, we have here an indication that redistributing land alone, which has been the predominant focus of  the implementation of the program, was not a silver bullet that had hit the targets of the law. 

 The facts were very hard for me to digest.  I took my land reform law under then Ateneo Law School Dean Jeremias Montemayor and at one time in my youth considered his book, Ours to Share, as a piece of sacred writing.  What Eddie is saying is that a lot remains to be done after giving the tiller the land he tills. 

 The ineffectivity of land distribution alone is exposed by a number of facts.  Just to mention a few. About 26% of the farmer beneficiaries have already reportedly sold their lands.  In Nueva Ecija, the ratio was 41%.  In Laguna, 53% have sold or mortgaged their lands.  In Quezon, 26% and in Iloilo, 35%.  It appears in a survey conducted by the Center for Peasant Education and Services in Southern Tagalog and Central Luzon that 3 out of 5 holders of Certificates of Land Ownership Awards or Emancipation Patents have already sold their rights or mortgaged, and then abandoned, their properties without paying their loans.  How come owning the land they tilled did not make the tillers super production dynamos?

 Apparently, farmer beneficiaries do not receive the support services and credit they need to properly utilize the land given to them.  The DAR admits that about 3 of the about 4 million farmer beneficiaries did not receive any support services. As a consequence,  while the estimated amount of the collectibles from farmer beneficiaries stood at Php 14.3 billion, the amount actually collected was only Php 2.5 billion. Compared to this collection performance, my former classmate, Jose Mario Buñag, who ended his tenure with the Bureau of Internal Revenue last week, was a star collector!

 Given its failings, do Eddie Hernandez and his band of fellow four PARC members think CARP was all crap? Not at all.  For the same reason that one cannot call a glass that is only half-full as totally empty, the paper thinks something can still be done so as not to make the Php 120 million already spent on land reform go to waste.  It contains about 20 recommendations, the most important of which, in my reading, is the coordination of the delivery of support services and infrastructure with the distribution of the land.  More about those recommendations later.

 For now, I just want to put on record that, if and when the President and/or Congress take at least half of those recommendations to heart and see to their implementation in the last two years of this decade, I will treat Eddie, and his four colleagues to lunch, at the Top of the Citi.