TACLOBAN CITY– An official of the Caritas Philippines, the social and development arm of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), has expressed doubt that the national government’s land reform program will be fully implemented for the benefit of landless farmers in the country.

“Nothing is happening. Just promises,” said Jing Rey Henderson, Caritas Philippines’ head of communications and partnership development said in an interview with Leyte Samar Daily Express.

“When did the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program start (CARP)? It has become a Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program Extension with Reforms (CARPER). The World Bank also helped infuse millions of funds for its implementation. But until now, it is still the same. Farmers continue to till their lands as tenants, not as owners,” he added.

Since February 19, 2024, hundreds of landless farmers from Negros Occidental in the western Visayas region and Batangas in the southwestern part of the Luzon staged a campout and rally at the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) headquarters in Quezon City to demand the immediate distribution of private agricultural lands (PALs) as promised in 2023 by President Ferdinand Marcos, Jr.

“The marchers from Negros Occidental want Marcos all 12 haciendas covering 4,654 hectares controlled by the late business tycoon Eduardo Cojuangco distributed to thousands of landless farmers,” said Lanie Factor, national deputy coordinator of Task Force Mapalad (TFM), a national federation of farmers, farm workers and individual advocates working for agrarian reform and rural development in the Philippines.

In a statement, Factor said the farmers “want Marcos to fulfill his promise to distribute all lands covered by CARP quickly and not wait for 2028,” which is the President’s end-of-term in office.

Over 500,000 hectares of PALs have remained to be distributed to the landless farmers, the group said.

Meanwhile, Danny Carranza, secretary-general of the Kilusan Para sa Repormang Agraryo at Katarungan Panlipunan (Katarungan), reiterated their support for the “aspirations” of Marcos Jr. to seek permanent solutions to agrarian issues and uphold the genuine land reforms initiated by his late father, former President Ferdinand Marcos, Sr.

“We laud President Marcos’ vow to find a permanent solution to the real problems confronting agrarian reform. We urge President Marcos to heed our call and take concrete steps toward realizing the true essence of agrarian reform in the Philippines,” Carranza said in a statement.

Given the complexity of the situation, Carranza believed the current state of agrarian reform “can only be resolved if the government will make it a priority program and will exercise political will to implement it.”

Carranza proposed some permanent solutions to the current situation of agrarian reform in the country.

These include the government under Marcos Jr. to end all forms of violence and human rights violations against farmers and potential agrarian reform beneficiaries; and look into the situation of farmers under Joint Venture Agreements, such as in the case of the Cojuangco lands in Negros where farmers are calling for the non-renewal of the scheme that only deepened their poverty and insecurity as the majority of them are now being disqualified. (RONALD O. REYES)