Agrarian Reform Secretary Rafael "Ka Paeng" Mariano has enjoined senators to pass a new law that will expand the coverage of the government's agrarian reform program and introduce a free or low-cost land distribution scheme.
During Monday's deliberation of the Department of Agrarian Reform's (DAR) proposed P10.1 billion budget for 2017, Sec. Mariano urged the Senate Committee on Finance headed by Senator Loren Legarda to seriously study the possibility of passing a new agrarian reform law.
"At present, DAR's legal mandate still emanates from Republic Act No. 6657 or the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law of 1988. This law continues to give DAR the power to acquire, administer, distribute, and develop agricultural lands for agrarian reform purposes even after expiration of the period for Land Acquisition and Distribution in 2014. However, there remain several limitations in our current legal mandate," Sec. Mariano told the Senate panel.
"This is why we take this opportunity for the Senate to also help the department in passing a new agrarian reform law that will expand the mandate of the DAR and facilitate the coverage of more than 621,000 hectares of agricultural lands not yet covered by our agrarian reform program," the secretary explained.
Sec. Mariano said that the new legislation should consider coverage of lands previously exempted or excluded from agrarian reform coverage at the least cost, if not free, to farmers.
The new legislation should also address problems encountered and presently faced by our agrarian reform beneficiaries, especially payment of amortization under pain of foreclosure by the Land Bank of the Philippines, the secretary added.
Sec. Mariano emphasized that only about a quarter of the 906,997 beneficiaries of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) have completed payment of lands distributed to them.
"When we reviewed the books, it was obvious that our farmer beneficiaries are finding it extremely difficult to pay their monthly amortization. This is a big policy issue that the Legislature should address," Sec. Mariano said.
Leaner 2017 budget
For fiscal year 2017, the recommended DAR budget as included in the FY 2017 National Expenditure Program (NEP) amounts to P10.14 billion.
As compared to the FY 2016 Budget of the Department per General Appropriations Act of P10.4 billion, the FY 2017 DAR budget is down by P241.9 million.
The allocation covering direct costs for land tenure improvement and the distribution of 95,000 hectares of agrarian lands totals P1.2 billion.
Data from DAR shows that from 1972 to 2015, 4.69 million hectares have already been distributed, of which 2.6 million hectares are private agrarian lands, while 2.1 million hectares are non-private lands.
DAR forward estimates show that there is a balance of 621,085 hectares for land acquisition and distribution, which is target for distribution to 568,575 agrarian reform beneficiaries.
For 2016, the national budget funds the distribution of 105,000 hectares to 379,236 agrarian reform beneficiaries. For 2017, meanwhile, DAR aims to cover 95,000 hectares for 95,454 beneficiaries.
DAR also allocated P391.5 million for agrarian legal services, P119.1 million for the development of agrarian reform policies, and P833.5 million for support services which include farm mechanization projects and the extension of production credit to farmer beneficiaries.
"Using this proposed P10.1 billion budget, the DAR under the Duterte administration seeks to efficiently serve our farmers through the provision of ample support services, speedy resolution of agrarian disputes, and protecting the rights and welfare of our poor peasants," Sec. Mariano concluded.
Source: Philippine Information Agency