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20 June 2012

CHR Hails Farmers’ Victory in Bondoc Peninsula;
Urges PNoy to Continue Positive Steps in CARP Implementation

Loretta Ann P. Rosales

The Commission on Human Rights hails the decision last week by the Department of Agrarian Reform affirming CARP coverage of 1,829 hectares of coconut land in Hacienda Matias, located in San Francisco, Bondoc Peninsula, Quezon. It strongly urges President Benigno S. Aquino III to continue with positive steps like this in CARP implementation in order to generate the momentum needed in the fulfilment of his policy pronouncement to complete implementation of the Program by 2014.

Providentially, perhaps, the DAR decision actually came on the same day that President Aquino made his pronouncement during his meeting in Malacañang on 14 June 2012 with representatives of the farmers belonging to Task Force Mapalad, and the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines. It gave spirit to the President’s pronouncement that the farmers will have their lands on or before 2014, and showed that this is the way to go in realizing that goal.

The Commission considers the DAR decision significant in this regard because Hacienda Matias is one of the biggest contiguous landholding currently being covered under CARPER. It is also located in a municipality considered to be among the poorest in the country, with the highest number of Conditional Cash Transfer beneficiaries in the province of Quezon. And it is in an insurgency area, where CARPER implementation is struggling against the resistance of an anti-CARP armed movement.

The long struggle by the farmers for recognition and installation as legitimate farmer-beneficiaries in the coconut plantation has been characterized by extrajudicial killings, physical or legal harassment and other forms of human rights violations committed by goons hired by the landlords, on the one hand, and communist insurgents, on the other.

The Commission welcomes the instructions of the President to the police and the military to ensure “the peaceful and orderly installation of farmer-beneficiaries of all lands under the Program”, one of the commitments arising from the President’s meeting with the farmers.

More than 600 farmer-beneficiaries will stand to benefit from the DAR decision and the consequent legal and administrative steps and measures that will follow. The coverage of the land and its redistribution to farmers will affirm the human right of farmers to full human development, consistent with the 1987 Constitutional mandate that the farmers have the right to own the lands they till. It will end long years of hardship endured by the farmers due to landowner resistance to agrarian reform. It will ensure that the farmers have control over the basic asset that is needed for the government to address poverty in the long term.

The DAR decision is also significant as a step forward in the fulfilment of economic, social and cultural rights and the right to development, coming as it does soon after the Universal Periodic Review session on the Philippines conducted by the UN Human Rights Council last 29 May 2012. Recommendations by member-states called on the Philippines to improve the human rights situation of the country through strengthening of observance of its obligations on economic, social and cultural rights, particularly of vulnerable groups including the allocation of adequate human and financial resources for the promotion of the rights of vulnerable groups in rural areas.

In her presentation of the Philippines’ human rights situation, Philippine delegation head Justice Secretary Leila M. de Lima stated that “Agrarian reform was appropriated an additional 349 million dollars for the completion of land acquisition and distribution in 5 years starting from July 2009 to 2014. Farmer beneficiaries have been provided easier credit, physical infrastructure support, and legal assistance.”

The Commission earnestly hopes that the Aquino administration will continue with strong efforts to fully implement agrarian reform in the country by 2014, as it has committed to do. If it can do it in Bondoc Peninsula, it can do it in other large and contentious landholdings in other parts of the country like Negros as well, applying the same kind of political will and determination it has displayed so far. #