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Volume IV,  Number 21              June 27 - July  3, 2004            Quezon City, Philippines


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16 Years of Agrarian Reform
Lands are Back in the Hands of the Lords

(First of two parts)

The government claims that the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) is a success, even if it was supposed to end in 1998 but got extended until 2008 due to delays in the distribution of land and lack of funds. Farmers, on the other hand, claim to still experience feudal bondage and brand CARP as a bogus reform program. What is the truth behind the CARP’s accomplishment? How are the tenant-beneficiaries doing at present? This special report seeks to shed light on what has happened to the program, and, more importantly, the farmers, 16 years after CARP’s supposed implementation.


Photo by Ace Alegre

Sixteen years ago – or just two years after the fall of the Marcos dictatorship - an agrarian reform law was passed. The Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Act (CARP) was the fifth land reform law in 50 years after those proclaimed under Presidents Manuel Quezon, Ramon Magsaysay, Diosdado Macapagal and Ferdinand Marcos. CARP was declared the centerpiece program of then President Corazon C. Aquino but organized peasants and other sectors did not expect much from it, however. As a farmer leader then quipped, how can a genuine agrarian reform program be legislated by a landlord-dominated Congress and signed by a landlord President?

Fast forward to 2004. If official pronouncements were to be believed, genuine agrarian reform is a pipe dream no more.

A full-page government advertisement in a leading newspaper last June 10 described CARP as “a tribute to the sturdy and resilient Filipino farmers.” “After 16 years of meeting the challenges of providing productive lives to millions of farmers all over the country, the farmers are finally realizing their dreams,” the ad, published by the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR), said further.

Remembering the past

CARP was mandated by Republic Act No. 6657 signed by President Aquino on June 10, 1988. Upon its passage, the government promised to distribute lands in 10 years, i.e., until 1998, to about 8.5 million landless peasants, share tenants and agricultural workers “to liberate them from the clutches of landlordism and poverty.”

CARP covered “all public and private lands regardless of tenurial arrangement and commodity produced.” It included “the totality of factors and support services” such as credit extension, irrigation, roads, bridges and marketing facilities, among others. Overall, it envisioned “a nation where there is equitable land ownership with empowered agrarian reform beneficiaries who are effectively managing their economic and social development for a better quality of life.”

The next three presidents after Aquino echoed the promise of distributing lands and a better life to Filipino farmers. However, something else happened under Aquino herself and the presidencies of Fidel V. Ramos, Joseph Estrada and now, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. First, the original land distribution target of 24 million hectares was reduced by phases until it became just 4.7 million hectares. Then the 1998 deadline for the “full implementation” of CARP was extended by Congress for another 10 years. The main reason cited is the lack of budget allocations.

DAR figures: “distorted, bloated and unreliable”

According to DAR, around 3.4 million hectares of lands have been distributed to some 1.9 million beneficiaries as of May this year. DAR Policy Research Officer Narcisa S. Martinez said that these statistics are best proof that the agency is doing well on its task to implement the land reform act.

On closer look, however, the DAR reports tend to hide the fact that only half of the reported figures (or the final target after a process of reductions) have actually been distributed. Tenant-beneficiaries, on the other hand, are losing their lands back to the landlords, industrialists and real estate developers.

A DAR insider dismissed the department’s accomplishment reports as “distorted, bloated and unreliable.” Its latest accomplishment report, according to the agrarian reform officer in Central Luzon who spoke to this author on condition of anonymity, is unreliable. Having been assigned in various local and regional DAR offices in the past 21 years, he admitted witnessing “so many ways of fooling around with the law.”

In Zambales province, for example, some 12,755 hectares of land reportedly distributed by the agrarian department have been under investigation since 1999. The lands are supposed to be inalienable, being seashores, rivers, roads, titled properties and protected areas. In other words, they cannot be used for agricultural production. Initial investigation confirmed the bogus land distribution in this case. Surprisingly, those responsible were not sanctioned.

The provincial DAR office was believed to carelessly rely on barangay (village) census as basis of land distribution targets. The local agrarian officials overlooked the fact that many supposed beneficiaries were no longer residing in the targeted CARP communities.

The DAR source cited many other land distribution cases including CLOA cancellations that remained unsolved due to lack of evidence and witnesses. Eventually, many lands were excluded from CARP coverage after secret deals between land reform officials, local government executives and landowners, he said. The whistleblower ends up in hot water as “corruption is systematic from the field surveyor/technician up to the high levels. Ang matapat ang siya pang maiiba at mapapahamak” (The true public servant is the one who finds himself intimidated).

Laments the DAR official: “It is a lonely, frustrating battle…When I was assigned in the province some years back, the regional director called me a few times. He said I should play it cool and that I should refrain from touching some landowners. Huwag ko daw isama sa CARP coverage” (Their properties should be exempted).

There are other ways by which DAR accomplishment reports are distorted. David Erro, executive director of the Sentro para sa Tunay na Repormang Agraryo (Sentra – Center for Genuine Agrarian Reform) - a Quezon City-based foundation offering legal services and assistance to poor farmers said, for instance, that to beat targets and deadlines, the DAR in the past released many certificates of land ownership award (CLOAs) although the beneficiaries have neither paid the required amount nor met other requisites.

To differentiate these CLOAs from those held by complying beneficiaries, DAR officials stamped the label “encumbered” or other annotations of encumbrances on the back of the certificates. The latter are as good as the original, many holders of encumbered CLOAs were told. The number of holders of the defective CLOAs is then padded to the accomplishment report.

Erro, who is a lawyer, clarified however that holders of this kind of CLOAs “cannot exercise acts of ownership unlike those holding regular certificates.” In fact DAR officials withhold the generated titles until the farmers themselves fulfill the requirements such as documents and payments.

Cancelled and taking back what was given

Another serious concern in CARP is the pattern of farmer-beneficiaries losing lands for different reasons. One of such reasons is government cancellation of the farmers’ land titles. 

In a March 2004 report titled, “Cancellation of Land Titles: Pulling the Rug from Under Agrarian Reform,” peasant group Kaisahan tungo sa Kaunlaran ng Kanayunan at Repormang Pansakahan (Kaisahan or coalition for rural progress and land reform) described the alarming trend of title cancellation among holders of CLOA and of emancipation patent (EP) as “bigay tapos bawi” (give, and then take back) scheme.

EPs have been issued since 1972 under Presidential Decree No. 27, the land reform program of the late President Ferdinand Marcos. The issuance of EPs lasted until 1989 when the Supreme Court (SC) ruled to stop their release.

As of May this year, DAR’s Management Information System (MIS) revealed that titles for about 380,000 hectares of farmlands have been cancelled. The incidence of title cancellation was highest in Southern Tagalog, followed by CARAGA region which comprises the provinces of Surigao del Norte and Sur and Agusan del Norte and Sur.

While DAR has yet to show disaggregated data on the current numbers and the reasons for cancellation, the usual reasons for the department’s action to cancel included erroneous coverage of land, erroneous entry of data and transfer action (or change of documents from EP to CLOA). Decisions of the DAR Adjudication Board (Darab) on cases involving retention, exemption, re-issuance of owner’s title, and correction of farmer-beneficiaries were also cited.

Yet another reason was the reclassification of land under which lands distributed, for unknown reasons, have suddenly been reclassified for residential, commercial and industrial uses by a local zoning ordinance or land use plan.

In the past 16 years, around 800,000 hectares of agricultural lands have been converted to other uses, based on government records. Land conversion, according to a source from DAR, is the “easiest way of circumventing the law.”


Based on DAR records, foreclosed properties due to non-payment of amortization totaled around 100,000 hectares. This implies that the economic conditions of farmer-beneficiaries did not improve significantly to enable them to sustain payment.    

Recent surveys by the Center for Peasant Education and Services (CPES) in Southern Tagalog and Central Luzon regions showed that three out of five holders of CLOA or EP have sold their rights or mortgaged then abandoned their properties without payment.

Asked to explain why they sold their land, farmers surveyed by CPES said they lack capital to sustain or improve farm production. Some farms were also converted to residential or commercial uses. This was resorted to often because farming prospects were compromised by water drain, pollution and other problems brought about, so the farmers said, by non-agricultural activities around the farms.

The same surveys revealed that those who bought the CARP-awarded lands were the landlords themselves as well as businessmen and real estate developers.

Corroborating the CPES surveys, the DAR source said that when a beneficiary sells his farm to his former landlord, the latter pays the remaining obligations of the farmer. When fully paid, the landlord, through the farmer, applies for change of owner’s name after claiming wrong identification of the beneficiary.

Project Development Institute (PDI), a non-government organization, shared the same observation. In an interview with this author, Julio Rodrigo de Guia of PDI said that in one of the institute’s areas of operation in Tarlac, about 30 out of 100 CARP beneficiaries gave up their lands in the past five years after realizing that farming was no longer a viable source of income. But in other areas where PDI facilitated socio-economic projects to improve production and to introduce other sources of income, the farmer-beneficiaries stayed.

For PDI, DAR’s mishandling the delivery of support services could partly explain CARP’s failure. The law allots only 25 percent of the total CARP funds to be used exclusively for support services like farm-to-market roads, bridges, irrigation facilities, etc. The remaining 75 percent will be sourced out from the donor communities or international funding agencies.


Poverty, according to Research Officer Raul Espere of CPES, remains the major reason why tenant-beneficiaries are forced to surrender their rights and lands to buyers and mortgagees.

“It is quite ironic that this is the reason why CARP was implemented - to solve rural poverty. If this is the same reason why lands are being given up, then, it only shows that CARP dismally failed in meeting its objectives,” Espere said.

Danilo Ramos, secretary general of the militant Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP – Peasant Movement in the Philippines), offered his own assessment of CARP. He said: “Pagkatapos ng CARP sa 2008 (when the extension period ends), naibenta na ulit ng mga benepisyaryo ang lupa sa mayayaman dahil wala namang pag-asang umunlad ang kabuhayan ng magsasaka sa taas naman ng gastos sa produksyon. Wala namang suportang pautang at iba pang serbisyo ang gobyerno kaya magigipit uli ang benepisyaryo, mababaon sa utang, mapipilitang ibenta ang lupa” (When the CARP ends in 2008, the beneficiaries would have re-sold the land to the rich because their livelihood cannot be expected to improve with the high cost of production. There is no credit support and other services from the government so the beneficiaries end up in a tight fix, go indebted and are forced to sell the land.)

Ramos argues that the root of this flawed land reform program is in the very concept of compensating the landlords and making the farmers pay for the lands. “Nasaan naman doon ang katarungan? Ang naging papel lang ng gobyerno sa programang ito ay ang pagiging middleman sa bentahan ng lupa sa pagitan ng may-ari at ng magsasaka. Reporma ba ‘yun?” (Where is justice in this case? The only role of the government in this program is to serve as a middleman in the sale of land between the owner and the farmer. Is this reform?), he says.

Given a distorted DAR accomplishment report, Ramos said the sum of failures would offset the claimed number of distributed lands or outbalance whatever “little gains” CARP has accomplished.

By 2008, the KMP leader says, another land reform program would be needed as the CARP lands – or those that government claims were transferred to tenants - are back in the hands of the landlords. “Wala nang katapusan ang pagrereporma sa lupa dahil ayaw naman talaga ng gobyerno na tapusin” (Land reform is never-ending. The government does not want to end it anyway).  Bulatlat.com

Part II: Are Filipino Peasants Better Off Now?

Sidebar: Ex-President’s Hacienda Workers Score Crackdown

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