The Comprehensive Agrarian Reform will expire on June 30.
Where do we go from here? We cannot remain oblivious to the plight of the poor famers. It is useful to review some of the guiding principles that come from the treasury of Church social teaching.
First, capital (including land) exists for the sake of labour, because the human person is a ‘labouring being’ who fulfills his vocation in the dignity of human labour.
Second, the human person is more important than material things. Human beings must not be placed second to the land that they till.
Third, the private ownership of the world’s resources cannot and should not be the reason that God’s sons and daughters are denied access to these resources for the achievement of their full stature as human persons. In other words, in the ethical order, the right to use precedes the right to own and private ownership is justified only to the extent that it allows for the more efficient use of the world’s resources.
The hard facts are disturbing. In 2011, the Agrarian Reform Communities Level Development Assessment (ALDA) showed that 54% of households among agrarian-reform beneficiaries fell below the poverty line. Due to this, we now have a class of newly-landed Filipinos, the majority live below the poverty-line. This is what prompts observers to recognize a new class of farmers: “the landed poor“.
What is clear is that distributing expropriated land to beneficiaries and leaving them to their own resources does not serve the purpose of agrarian reform, for it is very well possible that the beneficiaries, lacking the wherewithal and the skills render of their new holdings that were hitherto productive now unproductive. The generous allocation of funds for farm inputs, unless accompanied by an uncompromisingly rigid system of accounting and transparency, will only line the pockets of those who have remorselessly profited from public funds!
In this respect, the Church will do its share, and dioceses and other ecclesiastical jurisdictions are urged to activate their social action commissions to police, observe and report on the allocation, distribution and application of public monies and funds targeting farm productivity.
Regrettably, some farmer-beneficiaries of agrarian reform have had recourse to the subterfuge of alienating their newly-acquired property in the underground market in an attempt to make quick money, frustrating the very purposes of land distribution. In this respect, legal reform towards allowing farmer-beneficiaries to lease or mortgage their property when such contracts should hold out the promise of higher productivity for the land and higher standards of living for our farmer-beneficiaries must receive serious study. But we, your pastors, must warn against every scheme that would have land that has already been distributed, gathered in the hands of those would once more amass tracts of land in contravention of the equitable purpose of land-distribution. What this problem points to is the importance of the formation of our farmer-beneficiaries, including their Christian formation as ‘stewards’ of this world’s resources, particularly land.
And where a farmer-beneficiary regrettably chooses to leave his holding idle, to abandon it or to leave it unproductive, there has to be some legal mechanism by which the land reverts to the scheme of re-distribution so that it may be awarded to farmer-beneficiaries who have the willingness and capacity to render it more productive and to serve the common good.
There is finally, the problem that 70% of Certificates of Land Ownership Awards issued are, thus far, collective. These involve one million farmers and two million hectares. In effect, the legal rights of the individual beneficiary are not yet settled. Consigned to a state of uncertainty, this acreage cannot be productive, nor can the supposed beneficiaries enjoy the rights that the law intends them to have. This is a matter to which the Department of Agrarian Reform must turn, with urgency and resoluteness.
The Moral Reponse
In summary, while the task of re-distribution is apparently done, the government’s efforts — in tandem with the initiatives to the private sector, particularly our Catholic laity — should go into rendering these new holdings productive. A more responsible system of allocating, distributing and applying government funds and resources towards farm productivity must be set in place coupled with people’s efforts at rendering transactions transparent and responsible officials, accountable. Where legislative reform is necessary to enable leases and mortgages of acquisitions towards higher levels of productivity and a rise in the living standards of farmer-beneficiaries, these must be enacted. But the Philippine Church must, with all haste and diligence, involve itself in the formation of our farmer-beneficiaries so that rather than devising ways of circumventing the law by alienating their holdings and contradicting the purposes of land-distribution, they may be true stewards of this world’s goods.
From the Cathedral of Saint John the Evangelist, Dagupan City, June 6, 2014
+ SOCRATES VILLEGAS, D.D.
Archbishop of Lingayan-Dagupan