Like a farmer who knows the lay of his land, militant peasant leader Rafael Mariano has readied his to-do list for his first 100 days as agrarian reform secretary.
His order of business includes filing cases against illegal and premature land conversion, reviewing agribusiness, leasehold and stock distribution arrangements between landowners and tenants, and seeking to condone bank penalties on unpaid farmer payments.
He will also ask President-elect Rodrigo Duterte to convene the highest agrarian policymaking body for the first time in six years, and order an inventory of all agrarian reform beneficiaries since the 1970s.
His priority case, however, is the Hacienda Luisita sugarcane plantation in Tarlac owned by President Aquino’s Cojuangco relatives.
Mariano said he would personally hold a “consultation” with Hacienda Luisita farm workers, this time with the authority of the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR).
The 59-year-old former Anakpawis representative has promised to himself that no farmer, whether an agrarian reform beneficiary or not, will be ejected from his land on his watch.
“Maybe my advantage is I come from a family of farmers, I have more than 30 years [in the peasant movement]. So I will do my best to defend agrarian reform. It’s my continuing advocacy: genuine agrarian reform,” Mariano said in an interview on Friday.
The longtime leader of Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas has just concluded a four-day conference with DAR officials from all over the country.
New law needed
“I told them, ‘You know where Ka Paeng Mariano is coming from.’ I know that the existing agrarian laws and programs have inherent flaws, limitations and imperfections. But it is my continuing advocacy to implement a genuine agrarian reform program and my advocacy is that we need a new law [for that],” he said.
Since the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program Extension with Reforms (CARPer) lapsed on June 30, 2014, the DAR can no longer issue notices of coverage to a still substantial number of private agricultural landholdings, mostly in the Negros provinces.
Mariano, author of “genuine agrarian reform” bills that never made it past the landlord-dominated House of Representatives, said he “urged” DAR officials to study the bill since they would defend the proposed measure once refiled in July.
He said he would ask Duterte to certify the bill urgent, along with the free irrigation and coconut levy bills.
Order of business
His order of business for his first 100 days in office are:
Order a quick inventory of the 2.7 million farmers who have supposedly been awarded a total 4.7 million hectares from 1972 to 2015 to find out if the farmers still control the land.
Reintroduce the genuine agrarian reform bill in Congress.
Encourage farmers’ groups to file petitions for a notice of coverage of their agricultural land even if the DAR’s authority to issue a notice of coverage has lapsed, since the department will start the documentation process.
Immediately review past orders issued on land exemption, exclusion, retention, conversion and cancellation of titles given to beneficiaries to find out how much agrarian reform-covered land have been taken back from farmers.
Review and file charges against landowners in cases of “illegal, premature and unauthorized conversions,” citing a violation by Tarlac Development Corp. in Hacienda Luisita.
Validate the stock distribution option in Hacienda Luisita and other haciendas in the Negros provinces.
Ask the Land Bank of the Philippine board of directors to condone the penalties imposed on arrears of farmers who are still paying their amortization.
Ask Duterte to convene the Presidential Agrarian Reform Council (PARC) within the first 100 days to resolve with finality several cases on appeal.
Review agribusiness contracts and agricultural leaseholdcontracts between landowners and tenants covering 3 million hectares, whether the contracts are already disadvantageous to the farmers.
Mariano said the DAR had the authority to fix the lease rentals.
“I will be there. We will try to hold a consultation with agrarian reform beneficiaries in Hacienda Luisita in the first 100 days,” he said.
“That’s why I want to convene the PARC to set this clear policy and I will suggest this to President Duterte: that no farmer can be evicted from the land he tills whether he is in an area covered by an agricultural leasehold, an agribusiness venture agreement or even in an area that is not yet covered by land acquisition,” Mariano said.TVJ