Philippine’s flawed agrarian reform bears a little fruit
While it is true that the Philippines’ agrarian reform program has loopholes that have been creating problems for the law’s implementation, the program has also paved the way to reverse the plight of some farmers.
Although stories of farmer-beneficiaries still await successful endings, those that have been given entitlements to lands have gotten a new lease on life and a better future to look forward to.
In the village of Pando in Hacienda Luisita, land redistribution has made a difference to some farmers who said that challenges exist but they have also reaped some benefits from the program.
In 2013, some 600 farmer-beneficiaries received Certificates of Land Ownership and became landowners. Each beneficiary was given 0.6 hectares of the huge sugarcane plantation.
Felix Amurao, 75, became one of the landowners. Last year, Felix started planting rice and corn. He says one of the advantages of being a landowner is to plant whatever he wants.
Feliz says he needs capital to make the land productive, but adds that he realized this is one of the challenges of being a landowner. Interest rates on loans from private sources are steep at 28 percent per one cropping cycle of four months.
So far, the farmers have gotten no help from the government.
Felix believes that the government is too busy helping others, the richer ones. He says the support that the agrarian reform law promised is just an "empty promise".
Despite the challenges, Felix finds his situation better than before. He is now able to save from his earnings, even if it is not much. In the future, he plans to try organic farming, he says.
Only 57 percent of farmers have formal access to credit through the government’s Agrarian Production Credit Program, which has a pass-on interest rate of 15 percent.
Meanwhile, some villagers are not as lucky as the Amuraos. They did not get their land titles.
Buena Guiem, 51, a single mother who provides for four of her seven children, did not meet the requirements and has no money to travel to Manila to follow up her case. She only works on the farm and cleans the laundry of some of her neighbors to earn a little extra money.
The absence of government support services has engendered what has been called the "arriendo system," a form of informal lease for a fixed period, usually between two and three years. Farmers cede their land to a financier who controls the land.
With no help from the government and no access to a decent credit line, the farmers simply have to find alternatives.
The arriendo system, however, has hijacked genuine agrarian reform. In Hacienda Luisita, poor farmers rent their lands to “arriendadors” for three years in exchange for about US$180 a year per 6,600 square meters.
Outsiders then till the land while the farmers work on sugarcane plantations. The system is illegal, but the Department of Agrarian Reform is not doing anything about it.
In Pando, a congressman is offering to rent the farmers’ land. The farmers said it is a government tactic because most "arriendadors" are political allies of the president.
Under the government’s land reform program, farmer-beneficiaries have a right to integrated support services. The only farmers, however, who have so far received that support were village officials.
The delivery of support services should have started alongside the preparation for actual land transfers. But the villagers of Pando say they will not just give up on farming despite the difficulties.
Roger Amurao, one of Felix’s nine children, was able to plant rice and corn with the help of the National Secretariat for Social Action of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines.
The organization provided Roger with a water pump to irrigate the land. He was also able to make improvements to his house. What used to be a hut made of grass became a concrete bungalow. Roger can now afford to send his children to school.
Roger’s wife, Rosario, still works as a maid in another village. She said that having their own piece of land allowed them to save a little bit. Being able to grow food is also an advantage. But she too has to work for the education of the children.
Some women have become beneficiaries of the government’s Conditional Cash Transfer program. Roger’s family receives about US$20 a month. Unfortunately, it is the only form of support that they get from the government.
Salome Gueidon is a student from the University of Montreal and an intern based in Manila with the regional NGO Focus on the Global South.