The Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) successfully completed the acquisition and distribution of four big sugar estates in Negros Occidental, installing 244 farmworkers in their newly-owned property covering a gross area of almost 500 hectares of land in the cities of Cadiz and Sagay.
The farmworkers-turned-new landowners erupted into cheers, with some shedding tears of joy, as DAR officials and employees escorted them to their respective haciendas to identify their individual farm lots.
The two-day event, which began last Monday, turned into a fiesta as the farmworkers in the sugar estates butchered their stock of pigs and chicken to share simple meals celebrating their transformation into land owners.
The biggest landholding distributed to farmworkers was Hacienda Cana-an in Barangay Mabini, Cadiz City whose gross area was 386.85 hectares of which 352 hectares were distributed to farmworker beneficiaries after the segregation of the retention area of the landowner and the non-CARPable areas in the landholding such as roads, eroded portions, and others.
Each of the farmworkers in Hacienda Cana-an were given almost three hectares of farm lots as there were only 123 qualified beneficiaries in the sugar estate.
The installation in Hacienda Cana-an on the morning of June 24 was the most festive as farmworkers from four farmers’ groups, including Task Force Mapalad, Katarungan and MARA, held their celebration independently of each other. The other group of beneficiaries is locally organized and has no national affiliation.
After the installation in Hacienda Cana-an, DAR personnel proceeded to Barangay Bulanon in Sagay City that afternoon to escort 36 farmworkers of Hacienda Vicente in their newly-owned farm lots covering 26.7 hectare.
The following day, June 25, DAR personnel trekked two kilometers on the muddy dirt road of Barangay General Luna in Sagay City to install 23 farmworkers in Hacienda Susan, which covers 23.7 hectares of land planted with sugarcane.
After lunch that day, the DAR officials and employees proceeded to Hacienda Rosemarie, also in Barangay General Luna, to install 43 farmworkers in the 50-hectare sugar estate.
DAR Assistant Secretary for Field Operations Teofilo Inocencio, who flew from Manila to supervise the installation activities, credited the success of the two-day event to the close coordination among farmers’ organizations and DAR personnel in Negros Occidental.
“We hope this level of cooperation among stakeholders in the agrarian reform program will help fast-track CARP implementation in Negros Occidental and replicated in other parts of the country,” Inocencio said.
Inocencio explained that installation activities are meant to assist farmworker-beneficiaries in identifying and occupying their CARP-awarded lands. Installation is crucial only in areas where tension may arise between previous landowners and qualified beneficiaries, as well as among farmworkers who are affiliated with different farmers’ organizations.
“In most part of the country, the beneficiaries given Certificates of Land Ownership Awards (CLOAs) assume possession of the land without the need of installation. We only resort to installation to prevent the possible outbreak of violence as a result of the land distribution,” he said.
“In some areas, tension is still high between the previous landowners and the beneficiaries. In other areas, the tension comes from different farmers’ groups that have conflicting claims on individual farm lots,” he added.
Unlike in rice lands where tenants occupy specific farm lots, Inocencio noted that farmworkers in haciendas have no permanent farm lots to claim as their own.
“We embark on installation activities also to help farmworkers identify the specific farm lots that they will now own,” he said.
The successful installation activities in Negros Occidental was part of the DAR’s ongoing efforts to distribute all CARP-covered lands before President Aquino’s term ends in 2016.
At the beginning of January 2013, there are still 93,000 landholdings covering 870,000 hectares that remain undistributed under the agrarian reform program. Of this total, more than 15,558 landholdings covering a gross area of more than 162,000 hectares of Phase 1-3A lands have been tagged as problematic due to pending cases or technical problems.
The technical problems in the land registration and titling system include missing titles, destroyed titles, and erroneous technical descriptions (open parcels, overlapping boundaries, timberlands that have private titles, etc.).
In Negros Occidental, for example, around 50,000 hectares of covered landholdings (as of the end of December 2012) have problems with technical descriptions that, when plotted, do not close (open parcels).
DAR Central Office personnel, in cooperation with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and Land Registration Authority (LRA), managed to resolve these errors for 8,900 hectares during the first quarter of 2013.
Of the remaining 870,000 hectares, an estimated 175,000 hectares will be retention areas of landowners. Under the law, a landowner may retain a maximum five hectares of land.
According to DAR officials, the remaining 695,000 hectares would be distributed to agrarian reform beneficiaries as follows: 160,000 hectares (2013); 240,707 hectares (2014); 180,707 hectares (2015); and 112,767 (January to June 2016).
DAR officials remain optimistic that the department has undertaken enough measures and reforms necessary, including closer coordination with other CARP-implementing agencies, to complete the land distribution in 2016.