By Roy Morilla, Jay Cuesta and Gerry Albert Corpuz
MANILA, Philippines-Big landlords in the Philippines will get their own pork barrel amounting to P 4-B in total agrarian reform subsidy courtesy of a party list group supported by the camp of President Benigno Simeon “Noynoy” Aquino III in the last May 2010 elections.
Leaders of various farmer groups from Negros Island and Hacienda Luisita sugar estate in Tarlac province said the P 4-B support fund for bridges and infrastructures clinched by Akbayan party list will chiefly benefit the big landlords across the country like the family of President Aquino who still control the 6,453-hectare Hacienda Luisita and the 11 huge land estates in Negros Occidental own by the President’s uncle Eduardo “Danding” Cojuangco Jr.Yesterday, farmer leaders took turns in assailing the P 4.05 B pork barrel fund awarded by allies of the President in the House of Representatives to Akbayan party list, a staunch supporter of the present administration.
The Akbayan party list group said the P 4-B fund they sought from Congress was meant to provide support infrastructures and agricultural support and credit to agrarian reform communities (ARCs) and new farmer beneficiaries of the extended land reform program.
But in press conference held at Serye Café and Restaurant in Quezon City, farmer groups Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP), the National Federation of Sugar Workers in Negros (NFSW-Negros), the Luisita based farm worker groups United Luisita Workers Union (ULWU) and Alyansa ng mga Manggagawang Bukid sa Asyenda Luisita (Ambala) and Unyon ng mga Mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA) rebuked Akbayan party list.
The activist peasant leaders asserted only big landlords and foreign agribusiness groups engaged in production of export crops and who control and dictate the operations of ARCs will benefit from the P 4 B pork barrel fund sought by Akbayan party list.
“And that made the four-billion peso fund a pork barrel for big agribusiness, contrary to claim of Akbayan party list that the funds were meant to uplift the poor condition of new farmer beneficiaries under the extended land reform program,” they said.
The KMP and its staunch allies reminded Akbayan party list that land ownership in ARCs are only nominal and that the landlords and foreign agro-corporations still dictate what kind of crops should be planted in these agrarian reform areas.
They also said Akbayan should be reminded that even family of President Benigno Aquino III who controls the 6,453 hectare Hacienda Luisita and Danding Cojuangco who operates at least 11 haciendas in Negros Island are also exploiting the ARC mode as a supplement to non-land transfer schemes such as Stock Distribution Option (SDO), joint venture and corporative farming to evade free land distribution and keep their lands for lifetime.
“Representatives of Akbayan party list are fooling millions of farmers across the country when they claimed that the P 4 billion infrastructure fund is meant to support fresh agrarian reform beneficiaries under the bankrupt CARPer regime. The ARCs operate under the whims and caprices of feudal lords and big agro-corporations, so it is a pork barrel set aside for these all time greedy entities. There is also no land reform to speak of under CARPer,” leaders of KMP-Negros, NFSW-Negros and UMA said during the press conference.
The KMP and its staunch allies said the ARCs are bogus land reform models, adding that land ownership in these communities are nominal because the farmers who possessed the lands are coerced to lease their lands to landlords and big agribusiness corporations for the production of cash crops and export crops.
For his part, KMP deputy secretary general Willy Marbella dismissed the P 4-B pork barrel fund to Akbayan party list a product of politics of payback to the highest order.
“The P 4 billion in total cash prize for Akbayan party list is an exchange deal for Akbayan support to the candidacy of President Aquino in May 2010 election. It is grandslam prize money for Akbayan for acting as the fourth communications group of Malacanang in the House of Representatives. In a nutshell, the P 4 billion Akbayan pork barrel is another form of government procurement of P 4 billion worth of political loyalty and patronage,” the KMP official said.
Marbella urged the House of Representatives to recall the P 4-B agrarian infrastructure fund to prevent big landlords and other groups with sinister agenda from the partaking fund and instead re-channel the four billion peso fund to support and production subsidies for rural producers across the country.
The KMP leader said the P 4-billion Akbayan pork barrel fund for agrarian infrastructure could be added to the palay procurement program of the National Food Authority (NFA) to enable the food agency to raise its palay buying capacity to 10 percent from the current 4 percent.
“We don’t want that P 4 billion worth of hard-earned taxes to go to big landlords and people with cruel intentions against the farmers. It is only politically, morally and legally correct for Congress to recall the highly questionable
P 4 billion and re-channel it to other social justice measures such as direct production subsidies to farmers and other rural producers,” added Marbella.
The P 4 B fund awarded to Akbayan will be sourced from the P 110.6 B given to the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH). According to Cavite Rep. Jose Emilio Abaya, chair of the House Committee on Appropriation, Akbayan Rep. Kaka Bag-Ao lobbied for the P 4 billion pork barrel agrarian fund for fresh beneficiaries under CARPer.
The KMP believed the P 4 billion pork barrel fund for Akbayan party list was in exchange for the support of the party list group to the proposed P 21-B budget of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) for its conditional cash transfer (CCT) program currently being questioned by over 100 congressmen and Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago at the upper chamber of the House.
The KMP also assailed Akbayan for drumbeating the success of CARPer as basis for its agrarian advocacy. Citing a recent study made by independent think tank Ibon Foundation, the KMP noted that last year, the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) only managed to distribute 64,329 hectares of land out of the official target of 163,014 hectares under the extended land reform, and therefore big chunks of agricultural lands are still in the hands of big landlords and corporate groups, asserting further the P 4.05 B agrarian infrastructure fund will go to the hands of landed few.
Of the 64, 329 hectares distributed, 42, 428 hectares are private agricultural lands, but only 1,777 hectares or 4 percent of the total private agricultural lands were distributed through compulsory acquisition, and 96 percent were acquired under the voluntary offer to sell scheme.
Citing the same Ibon study, the KMP argued that only 17,501 hectares were distributed from January 2010 to June 2010, and that only 1,061.51 hectares or 6% were distributed through compulsory acquisition. Meanwhile, land distributed through the voluntary offer to sell mode – which landlords used to their advantage by dictating the price – covered a bigger 7.7% or 1,340.44 hectares.
The activist farmer group also said land distributed through the voluntary land transfer (VLT) mode – which allows landlords to retain control over their landownings by choosing whom to transfer land ownership to – covered the largest percentage at 40.7% or 7,119.14 hectares, all of which are landholdings over 50 hectares.
“The lands are still in the hands of the landed elite based on the own records of DAR. By design, by orientation and by practical means, the P 4 billion pork barrel fund alloted to fresh agrarian beneficiaries is a misnomer, a wholesale fraud and a triple platinum fund raising campaign for near future high crimes of corruption. It will only benefit the 11 haciendas of Danding in Negros and the President’s feudal empire in Hacienda Luisita,” the KMP added.