AS A CONTINUING PROJECT OF SOCIAL JUSTICE
Not too long ago I issued a statement on the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program and its implementing law, lauding its achievements as well as candidly pointing out the challenges that still had to be hurdled. The CBCP is once more being asked about the expanded and enhanced version of the program and whether it remains not only legally but morally justified.
Agrarian Reform as Moral Imperative
Unless the expropriation of privately owned property serves the higher cause of social justice, agrarian reform cannot hardly (be) justified. When it casts itself off from this moral mooring, land reform merely becomes disguised confiscation by the State of private property. This also means that the underlying motive as well as the defining criterion for any enhancement, expansion or amendment of the agrarian reform law presently in place must be social justice — and this is exactly what is disturbing because our Legislature that has not seen urgency in other matters of national concern involving social justice cannot credibly enact an enhanced or improved agrarian reform law unless it takes all the demands of social justice in their entirety to heart.
Some Concerns of Law Reform
The present spate of investigations into questionable acquisitions by officials of government of considerable tracts of land — often in scandalous proportions — leaves no doubt that the law has in several ways been circumvented and persons otherwise disqualified from amassing vast tracts of land in contravention of the law have in fact done so. Genuine law reform and resolute law implementation must address this.
It is also a fact to which many of our pastors throughout the country bear witness that farmer-beneficiaries have, through some subterfuge, successfully alienated their acquisitions, defeating the purpose as well as the intendment of the program. While on the one hand, this speaks of a downright irresponsibility on the part of farmer-beneficiaries, it also suggests that they needed assistance from government, from the Church, from NGOs to succeed in their new roles as land-owners bad sadly, at least according to their perception, received no such assistance.
Clearly, therefore, the nagging problems of the redistribution of land resources in this country cannot be solved by the mere passage of laws or the amendment of legal provisions. The Church, for one, is called to that charity that takes the form of empowering new land-owners so that they may truly enjoy the self-determination that characterizes persons as God’s free sons and daughters.
Family Fragmentation and the Vacuity of Land Reform
Agrarian reform envisioned the family as an economic unit, endeavoring to give each family that portion of God’s earth on which it labored so that together, having impressed the marks of their personhood — both as individuals and as a family — on the land, it would be truly be theirs. But this idyllic picture is slowly fading, sliding over into the realm of fiction, for the sad reality is that the Filipino is now very frequently a fragmented family, youngsters setting as their priority migration to some foreign land with the result that continued ownership of the land their parents once lovingly tilled becomes a matter of indifference.
Again, it is clear that the issue goes far beyond legal considerations and touches on the very mission of the family and life apostolate of the Church. Agrarian reform, the CBCP continues to hope, should be a potent instrument of social cohesion and the flourishing of the family as the domestic church.
THE CBCP THEREFORE requests the Legislature to consider the foregoing points in its project to expanding and enhancing the agrarian reform program, even as it calls on various church groups, lay groups in particular, as well as NGOs, to do their part to see to the meaningful fruition of this program.
From the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, November 12, 2014
+ SOCRATES VILLEGAS
Archbishop of Lingayen Dagupan