Akbayan hits Bayan over CARP delay

PHILIPPINE NEWS SERVICE — A WORD war erupted yesterday between militant party-list groups over a bill to extend the 20-year-old Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program, which expired on June 10.

Bayan Muna, Anakpawis and Gabriela yesterday slammed Akbayan Rep. Risa Hontiveros, claiming she issued a “malicious and irresponsible” statement Tuesday that they had colluded with landlords to block the passage of a bill extending the program for five years.

Hontiveros said the congressmen- landlords and the Bayan bloc were out to “maim, cripple or kill” agrarian reform.

In a joint statement yesterday, Bayan Muna Reps. Satur Ocampo and Teddy Casiño, Anakpawis Rep. Rafael Mariano and Gabriela Rep. Luz Ilagan denied Hontiveros’s accusation.

“It’s a cheap shot at progressive party-list groups made to gain media mileage for the extension of the bogus CARP,” the group said.

They added that House Bill 4077 would cripple or kill true land reform.

“Agrarian reform died with the passage of CARP,” the statement said.

In 20 years, the program has failed to break the prevalence of land monopoly and instead deceived and oppressed the peasants through token changes in land ownership, the group said.

The Bayan bloc said extending the program would not address its fundamental defects, and that was because the bill rejected free land distribution to the tillers and did not close loopholes that allowed landlords to evade land reform.

“Akbayan’s ‘agrarian reform program’ of peasants compensating the landlords, who have long exploited them and burdened them with amortization, runs contrary to the principle of social justice and emancipation of peasants.

“In fact, thousands of emancipation patents and certificates of land transfer were revoked because of poor peasants’ failure to pay the amortization,” Casiño said.

In House sessions last week, Hontiveros said the landlords-legislato rs, including lawmakers from the Bayan bloc, had succeeded in delaying the process by questioning the quorum despite appeals from Speaker Prospero Nograles, who is spearheading the bill’s approval.

Some senators and congressmen question the wisdom of extending the program because of the government’s failure to account for the P300 billion it had poured into it, including those recovered by the Presidential Commission on Good Government from the Marcoses and their associates.

Hontiveros said she expected her colleagues to water down the law even further. “In the end, what we will have is a zombie of a program,” she said.

She said landlords in Congress ere eyeing three killer amendments, including the use of farmland as collateral. This would allow farmers to use their land as collateral for loans, which in turn would let landlords re-consolidate property that had already been distributed.

She also said there were moves to exempt sugar plantations from the program as “part of the hidden agenda of the Negros bloc.”

The House yesterday approved a resolution calling for an extension on the land acquisition and distribution component of the program until Dec. 31, 2008.

But House Deputy Speaker Edcel Lagman acknowledged there was no way for Congress to enact the extension bill, which seeks five more years, before the adjournment on June 13, since the Senate had not approved its version of the bill.

In the face of the continuing delay, the Department of Agrarian Reform urged lawmakers to extend the program beyond December 2008.

Agrarian Reform Secretary Nasser Pangandaman said the program’s six-month extension until December was not enough to cover 1.1 million hectares of agricultural land, most of it privately owned.