TWENTY YEARS OF AGRARIAN REFORM IN THE PHILIPPINES:
A Fulfilled Promise or a Compromise Deal?
I. Introduction: Agrarian reform at a Crossroads
Agrarian Reform in the Philippines faces a major crossroads as the law providing for a Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) is set to expire this year. Four different responses to this challenge have emerged: 1) terminate CARP, 2) simply extend CARP, 3) Extend CARP with reforms, 4) Junk CARP and replace it with a new law.
To simply extend CARP is not a major line of discourse. Even to its proponents, simple extension is either an expedient move that should be followed by reforms given the formidable opposition to CARP in Congress or the least controversial choice in the face of the manycornered fights and debates over CARP. These leaves the other three options in the center of the national discourse over agrarian reform.
Those favoring the termination of CARP, mostly identified with big landowners and agribusiness interests, argue that CARP, despite the hundred billion pesos spent on it, has been a big failure in delivering on investments and productivity in agriculture and consequently, poverty reduction. They also cite that many farmer beneficiaries have given away their lands through purchase or mortgage after a short period. Many in the pro-termination camp propose that the land markets be allowed instead to operate freely to enable investments to come in and thus boost productivity and bring poverty levels down.
At the other end of the spectrum, the radical left bloc calls for junking CARP altogether and replacing it with a totally new bill that will ensure the break-up of land monopoly in the country and the free distribution of agricultural lands to the peasant tillers. They point to the low and sluggish performance of CARP and the many loopholes in the law, aside from the collusion of the government with landed and agribusiness interests, to support their radical position.
This paper traces the history of land tenure in the Philippines and shows the positive and negative impact of CARP. It will respond to the question of whether CARP is a compromise legal instrument. The paper discusses the present condition of the Philippines, including the human rights violations in agrarian reform. It will look into the role of the Catholic Church in the unfolding arena of contentions over agrarian reform and CARP. It looks into the evolution of the Catholic Church from an institution which for centuries under Spanish and later American colonialism had been very closely identified with landowners to that one that advocates, through the bishops, CARP extension with reform, while displaying its potentials and limits in accompanying the social movement in the pursuit of a better agrarian reform.
The paper will put in context the best possible option to implement agrarian reform in the Philippines. The Philippine government admits that CARP will not yet be completed by June 2008. The question now is: should CARP be extended once again to accomplish its goals?