Rafael V. Mariano, the incoming secretary of the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR), on Monday said he will coordinate with the judiciary for the immediate turnover or transfer of agrarian-related cases filed in various courts against farmers to the DAR.
The move, he said, aims to boost the agrarian legal services (ALS) provided by the DAR to agrarian-reform beneficiaries.
Under Republic Act 6657, or the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law (CARL), the DAR is vested with the primary jurisdiction to determine and adjudicate reform matters, and to extend free legal assistance to farmer-beneficiaries affected by agrarian cases.
ALS is complemented by two other programs, namely, agrarian legal assistance under the Bureau of Agrarian Legal Assistance and the adjudication of agrarian cases under the DAR’s Adjudication Board. Some agrarian-related cases, however, end up in trial-court braches and state prosecutors.
Mariano said he wants to review these cases to determine if they are agrarian-related. As such, he said, the cases should be turned over or transferred to the DAR, which has jurisdiction over the cases.
“Many of the cases filed against agrarian-reform beneficiaries are trumped-up charges. These cases should be referred to the DAR,” Mariano, who spoke in Tagalog, told the BusinessMirror in an interview. Agrarian cases, he said, are often “criminalized” by landowners to harass farmers.
“If the cases filed against farmers are agrarian-related cases, these cases should be referred to the DAR,” he said. The process, Mariano said, is for state prosecutors or judicial court to refer the case to the DAR, which, in turn, will issue certification before taking cognizance of the case.
A farmer-leader who once led the militant Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas, Mariano said many farmers who are fighting for lands under the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) have been charged in court, and some have spent time or are still in jail for claiming their right to a piece of land promised under CARP.
“I’ve heard of farmers being charged for qualified theft for harvesting coconuts or mangoes from a land they are occupying as tenants. But, actually, the charges are fabricated to harass the farmers,” he lamented.
Mariano said that, at the Cojuangco-owned Hacienda Luisita alone, a good number of farmers who are fighting for land distribution were slapped with trumped-up charges.
In an earlier interview, Mariano recalled that one of the cases filed against a group of farmers was even initiated by the DAR when, in fact, the DAR should be the one mediating between the landowners and the farmers.
He added that once he assumes the position as agrarian-reform secretary, he will closely coordinate with the judiciary, as well as the Department of Justice (DOJ), to help address the problem.
Mariano added that he and his team had already received the transition report from the team of outgoing DAR chief Virgilio de los Reyes. “We are now looking into the report. There will be a few more meetings to discuss important matters before we officially take over,” he said.
Mariano is expected to bring in his own team to the DAR when he officially assumes the position on July 1, but said he will leave to the discretion of incoming President Rodrigo R. Duterte to appoint an undersecretary and assistant secretary for the department.
“We are looking at a smooth transition. Members of the transition team will not be automatically be appointed,” he said.
The implementation of CARP, Mariano said, will be a priority for his team. An inventory of the agrarian reform’s land-transfer program or land acquisition and distribution from 1972 up to 2016, he said, will be conducted.
“We want to know how many hectares have been distributed, how many landless farmers were awarded with lands, and how many of them have actually been able to pay amortization or completed payments,” he said.
Mariano added that the review will cover an inventory of cases involving land conversion, exemption and reversals rendered from the time agrarian reform was implemented.
“I want to stop the reversals and the circumvention of the law. The existing agrarian-reform law has many loopholes that is why I am pushing for the enactment of a genuine agrarian-reform law that will distribute lands for free,” he said.
Mariano added that he looks forward to productive discussions to clarify questions on matters concerning the DAR’s important divisions or sectors, such as legal affairs, field operations, finance, planning and foreign-assisted projects.
Mariano, likewise, said he will recommend to Duterte the reconvening of the Presidential Agrarian Reform Council (PARC) and the PARC Executive Committee.
PARC is headed by the President of the Philippines as chairman, the DAR secretary as vice chairman and the secretaries of departments of Agriculture, Environment and Natural Resources, Budget and Management, Interior and Local Government, Public Works and Highways, Trade, Finance and of Labor, and the National Economic and Development Authority, president of the Land Bank of the Philippines, administrator of the National Irrigation Administration, and three representatives of affected landowners to represent Luzon, the Visayas and Mindanao, six representatives of agrarian-reform beneficiaries with two each from Luzon, the Visayas and Mindanao, provided that one of them shall be from the cultural communities, as members.
On the other hand, the executive committee of PARC is composed of the secretary of the DAR as chairman, and such other members as the President may designate.
The PARC and the DAR have the power to issue rules and regulations, whether substantive or procedural, to carry out the objects and purposes of CARL.
“I really want to convene PARC to sit down and talk important matters. The outgoing administration, as far as I know, never convened PARC. This is important to tackle land conversions and other cases, such as cancellations, exemptions, or reversals,” Mariano said.
Under his leadership in the DAR, Mariano said he will oppose the massive land conversion that is causing the country’s agricultural lands to shrink, thereby affecting the country’s food-production capacity. “Land conversion should really be stopped,” he said.