National News: DAR Chief Offers to Resign: TFM Farmers to Start Hunger Strike Today
A total of 270 farmers who marched from the Visayas and Mindanao are set to launch a hunger strike in front of the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) today, June 14, to press government to complete the agrarian reform program.
Farmers who trekked from various provinces until they reached Manila last week we’re gearing up Wednesday, June 13, to stage a hunger strike today as they press their demand for President Aquino to complete the implementation of agrarian reform program until 2014.
Last June 8, the farmers were met by some cabinet secretaries and they commited that the President will meet them.* (Photo by Task Force Mapalad)
The farmers have stayed on in Manila since Cabinet members promised them that President Aquino will meet them as soon as he arrives from his visit to London and Washington, D.C.
Members of the Medical Action Group (MAG) yesterday conducted medical examinations on the farmers who decided to go on a fast.
Bishop Jose Palma, president of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) called on the faithful to support the farmers who are going on a hunger strike.
As of today, Malacañang has not informed the farmers when the promised dialogue with Aquino would happen.
"We are ready to scale up our protest in order for the President to fulfil his promise for a dialogue with us following our meeting with his Cabinet team on June 8, 2012," TFM Negros President Alberto Jayme announced.
The farmers, who started their march on June 1, are encamped at the Caritas Manila in Pandacan.
A total of 52 members of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) are supporting the farmers’ demand for completion of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program Extension with Reforms (CARPER) by June 2014.
Last Tuesday, Agrarian Reform Secretary Virgilio de los Reyes offered to quit his post during a forum organized by the CBCP.
"Handa akong mag-resign kahit anong oras. Kaming mga miyembro ng Gabinete ay handang mag-resign kahit anong oras... Kung papali-tan man ako, in three days, I can submit my transition report immediately," de los Reyes told former Senator Aquilino Pimentel Jr., former Comelec Chairman Christian Monsod and the TFM farmers.
De los Reyes also complained about the weaknesses of CARPER, including the need to amend Section 63, which covers the appropriation of P150 billion for the program.
The DAR chief was assailed for the weak implementation of the land acquisition and distribution (LAD) component of CARPER.
Monsod, a counsel of TFM, stressed that CARP was the centerpiece of the administration of President Aquino.
The priority given by the late President has not been seen under the government of her son, he added.
"We have two major demands for President Noynoy Aquino: 1. That CARP is also his centerpiece program like President Cory Aquino’s. We did not see that in the past two years. At that time, the Hacienda Luisita case was pending in the Supreme Court (SC). But now that the issue was resolved, we want him to show his commitment to agrarian reform," Monsod said.
"We want the properties over 10 hectares to be distributed. The 10 hectares and below, wala na. The retention limit is 5 ha/landowner, per child of 15 and above is 3 ha. If that 750,000-hectare has a backlog (that Secretary Gil is saying), more or less, that’s 200,000/has per year, kaya yan. Secretary Gil has to resolve problems that were inherited, no question about that. Ang angal ng farmers, the DAR administration is not energized to follow his leadership," the lawyer stressed.
"Number 2. We want the President to say that those areas with notices of coverage (NOCs) after the expiration of CARP in 2014 will be completed with a budget," he added.
For his part, De los Reyes said "CARP is implemented by DAR, Department of Agriculture (DA), Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and Land Registration Administration (LRA). We are thinking of the reconfiguration of these agencies after 2014 and the need to re-energize these agencies. We are depending on the municipal agrarian reform officers (MAROs) to work on their cases."
To this, Pimentel commented in this wise: "It is okay that you are thinking of the employees of DAR, but what about the farmers, the claimants? They are dying now. Hina-harass pa sila.
Secretary Butch Abad (even if he commits to provide the funds) does not bind him to put funds to the program. Only the law can provide appropriations to a government program like CARP. If farmers are calling for Gil’s resignation, that is an act of desperation. But if he does not resign, he will still be DAR secretary until the end-term of the President."
De los Reyes explained that "the DAR’s budget on support services had gone to rural infrastructure projects like farm-to-market roads (FMRs), not direct support services. We need to procure more farm equipment."
"The issue is the slow motion governance. In 2010, we had these problems already and even before. DAR personnel should be more inspired to help the farmer-beneficiaries (to distribute the land). That’s why we want to talk to the President. Kailangang-kailangang magkaroon ng leadership sa DAR," Monsod argued.
Edna Sobrecaray of TFM scored De los Reyes for dwelling on the fine print of CARPER.
"Si Secretary, maraming sinasabi puro technicalities. Sa Negros, we have 40 haciendas na voluntary offer to sell (VOS), walang naipamahagi. Meron din chop chop titles. Isn’t it that under Administrative Order No. 8, chop chop titles done before 1988 are considered illegal and should be transferred.
We had a series of dialogues with the Secretary that had no results. Marami siyang memo to MAROs pero hindi namin nakikita, hindi siya sinusunod ng local DAR," she complained.
"Pangamba namin, we are running out of time, we have a law now but we don’t see the implementation, what if the law expires in 2014?
We ask the President to come up with a firm position on CARPER," she stressed.*