Tuesday, March 04, 2008

16 Years of Agrarian (Land) Reform: Are Filipino Peasants Better Off Now? (Part 2 of 2)

"How can a genuine agrarian reform program be legislated by a landlord-dominated Congress and signed by a landlord President?"

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The government claims that the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) is a success, even if it was supposed to end in 1998 but got extended until 2008 due to delays in the distribution of land. Farmers, on the other hand, claim to still experience feudal bondage and brand CARP as a bogus reform program. What is the truth behind the CARP’s accomplishment? How are the farmer-beneficiaries doing at present? This special report seeks to shed light on what has happened to the program, and, more importantly, the farmers, 16 years after CARP’s implementation.

In 1988, the government through Republic Act No. 6657 began implementing the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP). It sought to distribute lands to about 8.5 million landless peasants, share tenants and agricultural workers “to liberate them from the clutches of landlordism and poverty.” 

After 16 years, the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR), the government agency tasked to implement CARP, reported that it distributed around 3.4 million hectares of lands to some 1.9 million beneficiaries as of May 2004. It now aims to distribute some 1.3 million hectares in the next four years.

Based on its past performance, however, the government seems not only unable to do what it preaches but more alarmingly has shown itself incapable of freeing the peasant masses from centuries-old feudal bondage or even improve the tenant-beneficiaries’ productivity. 

Amid what critics said are the flaws and the emasculation of CARP, government may claim that land may have been given to many farmers. But the vast majority of land toilers remain poor forcing even many of what government had identified as tenant-beneficiaries to sell, mortgage or abandon their lands. In an ironic twist of fate, studies show that CARP lands have been gradually turned over back to the landlords.

Widening gap

A World Bank (WB) study cited by Ibon Foundation in a 1987 report estimated that in 1971, 2.3 million families in the rural areas or about 57 percent of the total rural population could not meet their basic needs. By 1983, the same study showed that while the percentage of rural families below the poverty line fell to 45 percent, the number of rural poor swelled to 2.6 million families. This pre-CARP agrarian situation seems to have persisted even after 16 years of the land reform program. The latest WB study showed that the number of the poor in the Philippines actually increased in the rural provinces by more than 300,000 between 1997 and 2003.

What proved to be very striking is that the income disparity between the rich and the poor widened. In 1994, the top 10 percent earned an average income that was 19 times greater than the income of the bottom 10 percent of the population. In 2003, however, this gap went up to 24 times greater between the top and bottom 10 percent income deciles, leading to a further marginalization of the poor and underprivileged.


But according to the DAR, there were gains in improving the living standards of the farmers benefited by the land reform program. The department’s latest CARP impact assessment study compared poverty incidence in rural areas between 1990 and 2000 and, in the same period, between Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries (ARBs) and non-ARBs. 

Poverty incidence refers to the proportion of families with per capita income below the annual poverty threshold of P11,605 ($207.68, based on exchange rate of P55.88 per US dollar) or such number of families of five earning below P4,835 monthly.
In the countryside, poverty incidence in 2000 was registered at 47.4 percent or three percent higher in 1990, the impact study said. But poverty incidence among ARBs went down from 47.6 percent in 1990 to 45.2 percent in 2000, showing positive impact of CARP on farmer-beneficiaries.

 It looks like however that whatever improvements had been made on the living standards of ARBs compared to non-ARBs, have not influenced the general economic condition in the countryside as the incidence of poverty nationwide seemed to have even risen.

The claim about reduced poverty incidence should be seen in light of the fact that ARBs constitute only 5 percent to 10 percent of the total farming communities in the Philippines. Even if this is true, said Raul Espere, research officer of the Center for Peasant Education and Services (CPES), it should not gloss over the fact that among the rest of the peasant population poverty has worsened.

An earlier survey made by the Institute of Agrarian Studies of the University of the Philippines in Los Baños, Laguna showed that farm yields in agrarian reform communities (ARCs) are either close to or exceed national averages. ARC rice communities with a land distribution record of more than 76 percent show a yield higher than the national average of 2.93 metric tons per hectare.

In other ARCs where land distribution is completed, the average yield is 2.0 metric tons per hectare for corn and 1.7 metric tons per hectare for coconut as against the national average of 1.5 metric tons and 1.3 metric tons, respectively. In contrast, CARP beneficiaries outside ARCs harvest less than the ARC beneficiaries but are better off than non-beneficiaries, the same study revealed.

The ARC approach was launched by government in 1993 as a development strategy. Government intervention through the strategy sought to deliver support services faster and more efficiently for agrarian reform beneficiaries living in ARCs. But there were only 3,364 ARCs nationwide representing, so a DAR impact assessment admitted, only about 15 percent of all agrarian reform areas. 

Beneficiaries in ARCs, numbering about 496,322, comprised less than 25 percent of total CARP beneficiaries. Given the estimated over 10 million Filipino farmers today, the number of ARC beneficiaries is less than five percent and hence, could hardly have any large-scale impact toward reducing poverty.

Poor and landless

In Tarlac province, about 100 kms north of Manila, Hacienda Luisita (H.L.) was once touted as a showcase of the land reform program. Here, however, CARP has failed to win the hearts and minds of farmers: In recent random interviews, they told Bulatlat.com that their lives have been ruined further because of CARP. Luisita is owned by the family of former President Corazon Cojuangco Aquino.

One of the workers, Francisco Nakpil, is an agricultural worker in the sugarcane plantation of Hacienda Luisita, Inc. (HLI) for 45 years. When the Stock Distribution Options (SDO) scheme under CARP was introduced in the hacienda in 1989, Nakpil became one of the 7,000 workers who became instant “stockholders” of the agro-corporation. 

Within 30 years under this scheme, hacienda owners were to transfer 32 percent of the total stocks of the company to the farm workers.For the past 15 years, Nakpil received an average daily wage of P9, a sack of rice every month, a P4,000 educational loan every June and an average annual three percent profit share of around P2,000.

Based on reasonable market price equivalents of the material benefits, Nakpil was in effect getting an average yearly income of P17,760 - or P48.66 daily. For being an HLI stockholder, he also got a 240 square meter home lot. Yet, has Nakpil become richer through the land reform program? 

Today at 62, Nakpil says he has only a home lot souvenir from the HLI, a P20,000 separation pay, and some P2,600 monthly pension from the Social Security System. His retirement ended his profit share from the HLI. He does not have land to pass on to his children. His monthly pension gave him just P86 a day that can hardly meet his family’s needs. And so his answer in Filipino: “I am poor, past and present.”


The case of CARP and Presidential Decree No. 27 (land reform under then President Ferdinand Marcos) beneficiaries who were compelled to join the 30,000-ha. grand cassava plantation joint project of San Miguel Corporation (SMC) and the provincial government of Isabela is a striking example of how farmers have become poorer over the years despite purported land ownership. SMC is controlled by Eduardo Cojuangco, another member of the Cojuangco clan.

Contrary to promise that they would earn thousands of pesos, as IBON Foundation reported in July last year, most farmers who planted cassava to supply the needs of SMC incurred huge debts because of the high cost of production. In Barangay (village) Luna, Quirino town, 40 farmers planted cassava covering more than 119 hectares. Came the first harvest, farmers incurred almost P1.6 million or $28,632.78 (with interest) in debt from a cooperative that lent the production capital. This means that each farmer owed the cooperative an average of P40,000 ($715.82).

Under the lending scheme, the cooperative has the right to take over the lands of farmers who have incurred debts. The contract states that two consecutive harvest seasons of failure to make profit are enough grounds for a takeover. Many farmers failed to make any profit after the first harvest. The cooperative terms obviously pushed the farmers into deeper poverty and bankruptcy. Some of them lost their land titles to the cooperative. Apparently, the cassava project in Isabela reverses what little “accomplishments” agrarian reform achieved.


The poverty situation, as depicted in Tarlac and Isabela, is aggravated by undelivered promises of CARP. DAR claims to have distributed lands at an average of 112,000 hectares per year. If true and at this pace, the balance of around 930,000 hectares will be completed in about eight more years or by 2010, two years past the 2008 deadline set by Congress under Republic Act No. 8534 during the term of President Fidel Ramos.
Based on this projection, which became the basis for the CARP’s extended term, DAR should be able to distribute at least 200,000 hectares yearly beginning 1998 to fully implement the adjusted working scope of 4.3 hectares in about six years. By this year, the entire country should have been declared free from land acquisition and distribution. These earlier projections, however, never materialized. On top of this, there are more than 40,000 cases of land conflicts and other issues pending before the DAR Adjudication Board and regular courts.


As far as David Erro, executive director of a Quezon City-based foundation Sentro Para sa Tunay na Repormang Agraryo (Sentra – Center for Genuine Agrarian Reform), is concerned CARP is not for the landless peasants. “It is an instrument of the landed elite to make the landless believe that someday they will own the land they till and so pacify the restlessness in the countryside. But, owing to several loopholes of the law, the landlords find their way to continuously control the land,” he told Bulatlat.com.

Another Sentra lawyer, Jobert Pahilga, said, “The lack of political will to implement a genuine land-to-the-tiller reform is understandable in a government that is dominated by a landed elite.”

Based on their experience in rendering free legal assistance to poor farmers, Erro said, Ang panalo ng mga magsasaka na magkaroon ng lupa o mapanatiling sa kanila ang lupa ay wala sa Kongreso o sa korte. Kapag nagkakaisa sila at determinadong manatili sa kanilang lupang binubungkal, handang ipaglaban ito at paunlarin nang sama-sama, saka lamang nagiging siguradong sa kanila ang lupa(The chance of the farmers to own land or to ensure that the land remain theirs is not found in Congress or in the courts. If they unite and are determined to remain in the land they till, are prepared to fight and improve the land, that’s the only time they can be sure that the land will be theirs.)

Several Sentra farmer-clients have lost their battles in the court, according to David, but they have won their lands when they decided to stay in the lands and fight for them.

Danilo Ramos, secretary general of the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP – Peasant Movement in the Philippines), agreed with both lawyers but went further into blaming the government and the World Trade Organization (WTO) for consigning farmers to a life of perpetual feudal and semi-feudal exploitation.

He said that the farmers’ sorry plight with bogus agrarian reform programs of the past and the present administrations got even worse with agricultural trade liberalization due to the WTO. Because Filipino farmers are naturally disadvantaged against highly-subsidized farmers in industrialized and industrializing countries, Ramos explained, most of the country’s farmers are not only becoming landless but broke as well. 

-With additional research by Ma. Jessica Ocasla and John Thomas Sipin / Bulatlat.com


Ex-President’s Hacienda Workers Score Crackdown
Since early May, 100 sugar workers in the Cojuangco-owned Hacienda Luisita have been recruited to the Citizens’ Armed Forces Geographical Unit (Cafgu). These paramilitary forces augment the Alpha Company of the 69th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army (IBPA) that maintains two detachments inside the hacienda making it the most militarized area in the province of Tarlac.

By Dabet Castañeda

When a militant farm worker won the presidency of a union in Hacienda Luisita, the military’s presence was immediately reinforced by the recruitment of paramilitary men. This is hardly a coincidence based on the developments in Hacienda Luisita in Tarlac, some 120 kms north of Manila.

Hacienda Luisita, Inc. (HLI) is owned and operated by the family of former president Corazon Cojuangco-Aquino. It has a total land area of 6,453 hectares and covers 10 barangays (villages) in the towns of La Paz and Concepcion in the province of Tarlac in Central Luzon.

Since early May, 100 sugar farm workers in this hacienda have been recruited to the Citizens’ Armed Forces Geographical Unit (Cafgu). These paramilitary forces augment the Alpha Company of the 69th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army (IBPA) that maintains two detachments inside the hacienda, one in Brgy. Pando and another in Brgy Texas. 

Ten Cafgus have been organized in the villages of Pando, Motrico, Astirias, Texas, Bantog, Cutcut, Balete, Mapalacsiao, Parang and Mabilog. The recruitment coincided with the elections for the new set of officers of the United Luisita Workers Union (ULWU), the union of the hacienda’s 5,339 sugar farm workers.

For the first time since its inception in 2001, the Alyansa ng mga Manggagawang Bukid sa Hacienda Luisita (Ambala), or the Alliance of Farm Workers in Hacienda Luista), a militant sugar farm workers’ group, fielded six of its officers and members to run for the union leadership.

Of the six, only Boyet Galang, who ran for the presidency, won. Galang is also the chairperson of Ambala.

Since the campaign started, said Karina Espino, secretary general of Ambala, the Cafgu and the military have harassed the candidates and the farm workers belonging to their group. Espino also ran for treasurer in the union elections but lost.
Ang mga military, kasama ang mga Cafgu ay umiikot sa loob ng asyenda at ipinagtatanong kung saan nakatira ang mga opisyal ng Ambala (The military, together with the Cafgu, roam around the hacienda and ask around where the Ambala officers live), said Espino in an interview with Bulatlat.com in Quezon City.

Last June 2 during a campaign sortie at the covered court inside Balete, Espino said soldiers encircled the crowd while Galang was delivering a speech. The soldiers left the area only after the activity was over. The following day, two military vehicles tailed the union candidates while they were holding a motorcade.

Espino said the presence of the military and paramilitary forces inside the hacienda is a ploy by the HLI management:
  • to intimidate the voters and 
  • force them not to vote for the progressive candidates from Ambala.

The workers union

In an earlier interview with Bulatlat.com, Galang said that ULWU officers did not represent the sentiments of most of the HLI sugar farm workers.

He described the outgoing president, Boy Sigua, as a “bayarang maton” (paid goon) of the Cojuangcos and a “yellow leader.” “Kasabwat siya sa panunupil sa aming mga karapatan (at) sa pagkakait ng aming kabuhayan” (He is an accomplice to the repression of our rights and to the deprivation of our livelihood.), he said. The farmer leader said Sigua has always taken the side of the Cojuangcos in the sugar farm workers’ struggle against diminishing man days, land conversion, retrenchment and the Stock Distribution Option (SDO).

Their active participation in the elections is for the promotion of the sugar farm workers’ rights and welfare through their union, Galang said. In the union elections last June 6, Sigua lost to Galang by around 850 votes. Galang will assume his post on July 1, according to HLI election chair Roberto Agustin.


When Aquino came to power in 1986 after a people power revolt that toppled the Marcos dictatorship, one of her flagship programs was the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP).

The CARP was aimed at addressing the need for a genuine land reform program. One of its provisions was to transfer the ownership of land to small farmers including sugar farm workers.

In HLI’s case, critics said however, the Aquino family used CARP to keep the hacienda ownership.

One of the provisions of the CARP was the Stock Distribution Option (SDO) that distributed shares of stock to beneficiaries instead of subdividing the hacienda and distributing the land to small farmers. HLI was established on August 23, 1988 as a spin-off corporation of the Tarlac Development Corporation (TADECO) to operationalize the SDO in Hacienda Luisita.

In the same year, the HLI distributed certificates of shares of stocks to more than 6,000 sugar farm workers, technically making them co-owners of the hacienda.
Galang said the SDO virtually made the farm workers give up their rightful claim to the agricultural lands of the hacienda in exchange for meager shares of capital stock and production shares.

“The SDO formula in HLI was used by the Cojuangcos to evade physical land distribution and has in fact strengthened their control over the hacienda,” said Galang.
Stocks and production shares are distributed on the basis of the number of man days (working days). The amount of shares equivalent to each day of work determines individual shares of each qualified farm worker.

As a farm worker is guaranteed only 80 man days a year, the shares of capital stock amount to P737 ($13.19, based on exchange rate of P55.88 per US dollar) a year while production shares do not go beyond P1,120 ($20.04).

Diminishing man days

As workload is sufficient during the milling season (i.e., October to November), there are four to five man days or working days per sugar farm worker per week. It stretches to six days during the planting season in December. During the off-milling season (i.e., January to September), sugar farm workers only have two man days a week.

For each man day, a seasonal sugar farm worker receives a gross pay of P199.17 ($3.56) and for casuals, P194 ($3.47) which translates to a maximum of P1,327.80 ($23.76) and P1,296 ($23.19), respectively, per month based on 80 guaranteed man days. In one year, seasonal sugar farm workers receive P15,933.60 ($285.14) and casuals, P15,520 ($277.74).

Based on their pay slips, however, the workers’ take home pay is P9.50 ($0.17) a day or less than P20 ($0.36) a week as loans and taxes are deducted from their salary. Galang said the diminishing man days are significantly affected by land-use conversion and mechanization in the hacienda. Since 1988, guaranteed man days have drastically dropped as the demand for manual work fell.

“Pinapalitan na ng mga makina ang mga manggagawang bukid sa hacienda” (Machines replace the farm workers in the hacienda.), he said. He said that the HLI management has acquired high-tech machines for farming, sprinkling, fertilizer dissemination and harvesting. The management has so far acquired two hurricanes used for sprinkling, four targets and around ten mechanical planters.

Land conversion

When the hacienda was acquired by the Cojuangcos in 1958, the total land area for sugar was 7,200 hectares. At present, sugar plantations only cover 3,200 hectares due to land-use conversion.

Since the mid-1980s, the Cojuangcos have started to turn HLI from a sugar plantation to an industrial, commercial and residential area. Through this, the new companies within the hacienda allowed the Cojuangco family to reap millions of pesos in profit. Documents acquired by Ambala show that the Cojuangcos earned not less than P750 million ($13.42 million) from 1998 to 2002 alone. 

Parts of the hacienda were converted into the Luisita Golf and Country Club (70 hectares) and the Luisita Industrial Park (Phase 1, 120 hectares; Phase 2, 500 hectares). Japanese investors also came in by developing the 500-hectare Central Techno Park.

Several hectares have also been converted to allow the planned Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway to wedge through the.

Exclusive residential lands have also risen including the Family Park Homes Subdivision, the Don Pepe Cojuangco Subdivision (Phases 1 to 4), and the Las Haciendas Industrial Subdivision while the St. Luis Subdivision is under development.

“Sabi ng management, makabubuti daw ang pagtatayo ng mga pabrika sa loob ng asyenda dahil makapagbibigay daw ito ng trabaho sa mga mamamayan dito pero malaking kalokohan lang yan” (According to management, the building of factories inside the hacienda is good since it will give jobs to the residents but this is a big lie), Galang said.

He said that of the total labor force in the LPI, only 5 percent come from the residents of the hacienda. Galang says the employers refuse to take in residents from the hacienda on the pretext that they are unqualified and that they are known to be “militant.”

Lalong hindi tinatanggap kung nalaman nila na anak ng kasapi sa Ambala. Iniisip nila, baka magtayo lang ng unyon dun ang mga it” (The sons of Ambala members are especially not accepted. Employers think that they may organize unions), he added.


Now of the 5,339 sugar farm workers in the HLI, 2,500 are set to be “de-listed” from the master list. To make this possible, Galang said, the HLI management started to push for the early retirement scheme and to approach several master list members to secretly make them sign a waiver or a “quit claim.”

A five-page document secured by Bulatlat.com revealed a letter being dangled by the management set to be “submitted” to Ricardo C. Lopa Jr., farm manager of the HLI. According to the letter, HLI distributed a memorandum dated July 24, 2003 regarding the optional/early retirement program. It suggested that if signed, the employee would be given benefits but would be terminated from his or her work in the sugar farm.

A second letter, also signed by Lopa, stated that the HLI is restrained to undertake a Manpower Reduction Program because of “adverse business conditions.”

A third letter, which had the name of Lopa in the letterhead, signified the willingness of the sugar farm worker to be included in the list of employees to be retrenched by the HLI.
The fourth and fifth pages are forms for the official Release, Waiver and Quit Claim.

For workers’ rights and welfare

The Ambala officers’ decision to run for seats in the union is to advance the rights and welfare of the sugar farm workers in the hacienda.

Sawa na kami sa mga dilawang lider ng aming unyon. Dapat nang pamunuan ito ng mga tunay na militante at makabayang lider na nagsasapuso sa karapatan at kagalingan ng mga manggagawang bukid” (We are already tired of yellow leaders in our union. It should now be led by militant and nationalist leaders who take to heart the rights and welfare of farm workers.), Galang said.

But it is not at all easy to fight the powerful Cojuangco clan, he said. Aside from the harassment from military and paramilitary forces that he has to bear, he and other colleagues also have to endure red baiting.

During the campaign for the union elections, several black propaganda materials were distributed in the hacienda naming him and three others as “candidates of the CPP-NPA-NDF (Communist Party of the Philippines-New Peoples Army-National Democratic Front).” The materials also said that Galang and the three others are “controlled” by the communists and that they “aim to be a factor in the downfall of the Cojuangcos and the HLI.”

But Galang said this is just part of the psychological-war operations of the military in connivance with the Cojuangcos to harass and discourage him from running in the union elections. 

He said it also aims to intimidate the voting populace of the hacienda. “We’re ready for any eventuality. Although we take precautions, we remain undaunted,” he said. 

Bulatlat.com/Photos by Dabet Castañeda;ZELDA D.T. SORIANO 

    1. 16 Years of Agrarian Reform – Part 1 of 2 
    2. Agrarian Reforms - Conflicts during Implementation
    3. More on Hacienda Luisita and the Farce of Philippine Agrarian (Land) Reform

    *********************************************END OF POST**************************************************

    Hi All,

    The below link will show a short list of my past posts (out of 540 posts so far) which I consider as basic topics about us native (indio)/ Malay Filipinos. This link/listing, which may later expand, will always be presented at the bottom of each future post.  Just point-and-click at each listed item to open and read. 

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    1 comment :

    Bert M. Drona said...

    Hi All,

    In addition to H.L. issue, let us not forget the dwindling of our national patrimony due to alien/foreign encroachment, which our past and present, including Aquino III's, governments allow. Please note the below statement regarding a major and disastrous impact of Parity Rights on our national patrimony:

    CONCLUDING OBSERVATIONS: (Extracted from " Alien Interests in the Land (1900- Present)" - Prof. Perfecto V. Fernandez, U.P. Claro M. Recto Professorial Chair on Constitutional Law, 1984-1986.)


    Under the Constitution of the Philippines (1935 as well as 1973), one of the broad objectives postulated for the Government is "to conserve and develop the patrimony of the Nation" which is set forth in the Preamble.

    From the foregoing exposition, however, the National Patrimony (in the sense of public domain) has been steadily dwindling, and may reach the vanishing point before the century ends.

    Stress must be given the fact that, to begin with, the National Patrimony had been greatly reduced by the beginning of this century. Much of the best lands had been taken over by the Church and its religious orders, and vast tracts had been deeded by the Spanish monarchs under royal grants.

    All these became vested rights under the Treaty of Paris, and the episode of the Friar Lands only underscore the problem of getting back choice lands once they get into alien hands.

    During the long period of Spanish rule, the lands taken by the colonizers were arable and residential lands.

    During the much shorter period of American colonial rule, the choice of the colonizers shifted to mineral and timber lands.

    Some of the richest deposits of valuable ore were taken over by Americans and their companies, and most of what was taken have remained in their hands.

    Such alien acquisitions continued during the Commonwealth period, and also during most of the life of the Republic up to this time, by force of the Parity Amendment.

    Under the present Constitution, the alienation of the remaining National Patrimony has taken other forms. Large tracts have been given away under management or service contracts with the Government, and even larger areas could be placed under alien hands through international

    The situation is aggravated by alien take-over of private landholdings under management contracts, and to a lesser degree, under increasing resort to growers' agreements.

    There is bitter irony in the situation that has emerged, that the sovereign power of the Filipino people expressed through their fundamental law, is used to maintain alien control and enjoyment of the lands taken from the Nation.

    (Source: U.P Philippine Law Journal, Volume 59-1984)