Land Reform’s Persistent Failures

The ongoing struggle of farm workers at L.N. Agustin Farms Inc. in La Castellana, Negros Occidental, encapsulates the broader failures and injustices plaguing the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) in the Philippines.

Over three decades since its inception, CARP’s promise of social justice remains unfulfilled for many, particularly due to the misuse of land conversion tactics by landowners and inconsistent enforcement by government agencies.

The report of the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism on the case of L.N. Agustin Farms workers represented by Hacienda Vicenta Farm Workers Association (HVFWA), exposes the not so hidden ills of agrarian reform in the Philippines.

The heart of the issue lies in the misuse of land use conversion, a legal mechanism originally intended to facilitate the optimal use of land in line with the country’s development goals. However, it has been subverted into a tool for landowners to evade CARP coverage.

The case of HVFWA in L.N. Agustin Farms Inc. is a sad example. Despite clear evidence, including an onsite inspection by the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) and a certification from the National Irrigation Authority (NIA), indicating that the land is irrigated and thus non-negotiable for conversion, DAR’s Land Use Cases Committee (LUCC) granted the conversion application. This decision effectively nullifies the farm workers’ long-awaited claim to the land.

The bureaucratic red tape and potential corruption within DAR have further complicated the land reform process.

Former DAR Secretary John Castriciones’ initial decision to deny the conversion was overturned by the very committee he created, ostensibly to reduce corruption. This reversal, without substantial new evidence and in direct contradiction to the department’s own findings, raises serious questions about the integrity of the decision-making process.

The human cost of these bureaucratic failures is profound. The farm workers, some of whom have waited for over a decade for their land titles, have faced job loss, eviction, and the death of beneficiaries who never lived to see their promised land ownership materialize.

This prolonged injustice not only undermines the social justice goals of CARP but also perpetuates the feudal structures it aimed to dismantle.

The backdrop of El Niño-induced droughts underscores the critical importance of preserving irrigated agricultural lands.

With agricultural damage amounting to billions of pesos and widespread water shortages, the preservation of prime agricultural land is essential for food security.

The conversion of such lands, driven by misrepresented certifications and bureaucratic inefficiencies, threatens the nation’s ability to sustain its agricultural output and support its farmers.

To address these persistent issues, several steps must be taken:

-Strengthen Oversight and Accountability: There must be stringent oversight mechanisms to ensure that land use conversion applications are thoroughly vetted and based on current and accurate data. The role of LUCC and similar bodies should be reevaluated to prevent conflicts of interest and ensure accountability.

-Enhance Transparency: All stakeholders, particularly the farm worker-beneficiaries, should have access to relevant documents and be kept informed throughout the decision-making process. This transparency is crucial for building trust and ensuring fair outcomes.

-Expedite the Resolution of Pending Cases: The Office of the President’s review of the L.N. Agustin Farms Inc. case must be expedited. The farm workers’ prolonged wait for justice highlights the need for timely resolutions in land reform cases to prevent further human suffering.

-Reinforce CARP’s Objectives: The government must reaffirm its commitment to CARP’s original objectives by ensuring that all agricultural lands eligible for distribution are not unjustly converted. This includes revisiting and potentially reversing questionable conversion decisions.

The story of the farm workers at L.N. Agustin Farms Inc. is a microcosm of the broader challenges facing the Philippines’ land reform program. It highlights the need for robust legal frameworks, transparent processes, and unwavering government commitment to social justice.

Only through addressing these systemic issues can the promise of CARP be fully realized, paving the way for a more equitable and productive agricultural sector in the Philippines.


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