CLARK FREEPORT — Agrarian Reform Sec. John Castriciones said here yesterday his team in the department is mulling to ask Pres. Duterte to use his powers to enable the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) to distribute some 620,000 more hectares of lands to farmers nationwide.
The huge area was left behind when the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) expired in June, 2014, scrapping the power of the DAR to issue notice of coverage (NOC) to owners of agricultural lands subject to land reform, Castriciones told Punto during a “stakeholders’ summit” held by his agency here the other day.
Castriciones said Duterte is chairman of the Presidential Agrarian Reform Council (PARC) which has the power to revive provisions of the defunct CARP and that his team in the DAR is coming out with a proposal to the council to enable the President to issue land reform directives.
Several proposals have remained pending in Congress reviving CARP, including one backed by militant partylist congressmen seeking free land distribution.
Agrarian Reform Undersecretary Luis Pangulayan of the legal department said that the land reform program was supposed to cover over a million hectares nationwide, but that only about 500,000 hectares were issued with NOC’s when CARP expired in 2014.
He said DAR has continued to perform its functions in areas already under CARP, including plans to curb the practice of agrarian reform beneficiaries (ARB) leasing back their lands to former landowners engaged in agri-businesses.
Undersecretary for Support Programs Rosalinda Bistoyong cited problems with ARB’s who lease back to former landowners the lands already awarded to them.
“We are coming out with policies to discourage this. They have been entering into agreements covering leases lasting 30 years, subject to renewals, even without guidance of DAR,” she lamented.
Such problem is most widespread in Mindanao, she added. Pangulayan reported that since the late Pres. Marcos initiated land reform in 1972, at total of 4,761,831 hectares have been covered, benefiting a total of 2,805,872 land tillers as of 2016.
He cited studies indicating it would take 10 more years for DAR to complete its mission to distribute lands under land reform.
Castriciones said his agency has been holding stakeholders’ assemblies in various regions to get their sentiments on DAR’s plans to discourage such practice by assisting them build homes right in their farmlands.
“If they live in the lands they till, they would care for it more and would not lease them out,” he said, even as he stressed the need to come out with a scheme wherein various government agencies would provide them various assistance to make them productive in their lands.