RIGHTS Network, a network of non-governmental organizations in the country working closely with the peasant sector on the speedy and full implementation of the agrarian reform program, has documented that farming and fishing communities hit by super typhoon Yolanda in Leyte and Samar continue to suffer as they are “still unable to avail of the support services and other programs from government agencies, international and local organizations” particularly for their long term recovery. The reason why there is a continued delay for their long term support program—like housing and livelihood—is that most of the victims do not have land tenure security or landless, thus their property rights for rehabilitation are always put into question by government agencies and various aid groups.

Seeing how crucial land ownership is for the victims to avail aid, RIGHTS Network called on the government to “fast track the resolution of pre-existing tenure and property rights questions, particularly the implementation of agrarian reform in favor of farmers with no land tenure security and land and housing rights for fisher folks with no housing tenure security.” “ The pace of resolution of this land security issue will determine to what extent is ‘building back better’ achievable for the affected farmers. The current pace of the implementation of agrarian reform in general, however, is very slow and this does not bode well for Yolanda survivors with land tenure issues,” said Ruelie B. Rapsing, Community and Development Officer of RIGHTS Network. Rapsing pointed out that government cannot adopt a “business as usual approach” in resolving land and shelter-related property rights questions in Yolanda affected areas. “Otherwise, ‘building back better’ will be a meaningless phrase.”

In their report, the group claimed that in their dialogues and consultations with storm victims, like those from Barugo, San Miguel and Alang-Alang in Leyte, many of them have yet to receive their Certificate of Land Ownership Award (CLOA) from DAR which, according to the group, should have been awarded to them years back. Also the group has found out that many local government units “have yet to accomplish their Comprehensive Land Use Plan or CLUP,” which is an equally crucial task for an LGU to identify suitable areas for the survivors to be relocated.

“Such long and tedious process would ultimately result in the paralysis of long-term relocation and shelter program for survivors,” RIGHTS Network said. Through a signature campaign, the group is now urging the Department of Agrarian Reform and the Register of Deeds to “take the lead in implementing the agrarian reform law” and the concerned local government units and the National Housing Authority to speed up its work in identifying suitable and strategic lands for relocation of displaced typhoon victims. More than this, RIGHTS Network said that government “must be able to exercise its power of imminent domain to acquire lands for the relocation of survivors within areas accessible to their sources of livelihoods.” Indeed, government’s power of imminent domain paves the way for a concrete solution to the issue of relocating landless Yolanda victims. The government should waste no time in implementing this lest the cycle of woes of our landless disaster victims continues as natural calamities hit the country every now and then. (Comments at naldronaldreyes@yahoo.com)