A decade of waiting
Farmers press Congress: Pass House Bill 555 or Free Land Distribution bill
After President Rodrigo Duterte recently signed the Free Tertiary Education Bill into law, farmers and land reform advocates from different sectors are also clamoring for the immediate passage of House Bill 555 or the Free Land Distribution Bill that seeks to provide social justice to landless farmers, and the distribution of all agricultural lands for free to actual tillers, farmers and all those willing to till the land.”
“Free land distribution is long overdue. Congress cannot simply dismiss nor delay the Genuine Agrarian Reform Bill (GARB) any further. There is a glaring absence of a genuine agrarian reform program that is needed to address landlessness and rural poverty in the country,” said Danilo Ramos, chairperson of KMP.
“We are calling on Congress to approve the free land distribution bill or GARB that has been pending at the backburner of the Lower House for the past ten years. Let the free land distribution bill see the light of day and give farmers what is due to them,” the peasant leader said.
Under House Bill 555, free land distribution will cover all public and private agricultural lands exceeding five hectares, lands that have been declared and/or reserved for non-agricultural uses but remain unutilized and undeveloped including military and school reservations and lands that have been reclassified or converted for commercial, industrial or residential uses but have remained undeveloped and previously used for agricultural purposes.
Farmers reiterate to the Duterte government the need for a genuine agrarian reform policy. Genuine and comprehensive agrarian reform is one of the six sectoral outcome and legislative agenda included in President Duterte’s Philippine Development Plan 2017-2022. Among the priority legislative agenda for agrarian reform in Duterte’s PDP are free land distribution, security of tenure, condonation of interest in the non-payment of amortization, utilization of coconut levy fund, free irrigation services, and agrarian justice.
“Free land distribution should be at the core of a genuine agrarian reform program. A genuine agrarian reform program is necessary to replace the bogus, pro-landlord Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program Extension with Reforms (CARPER) that expired in 2014.”
First filed in 2007 by Anakpawis Partylist, GARB has been pending for a decade now at the Lower House despite overwhelming support from the public and various national government agencies. Now with 28 co-authors, the bill was already thoroughly discussed by legislators since the 12th Congress and was supported by farmers and sectors nationwide in the series of on-sight Congressional public hearings sponsored by the Committee on Agrarian Reform. But the pro-farmer measure never passed the Committee level.
“Free land distribution will liberate farmers from paying high amortization rates, land rent and usury that adds up to the high production cost. In principle, the Duterte government agreed to the distribution of one million hectares of land for free to one million agrarian beneficiaries until 2022. We are calling on Congress to legislate GARB,” Ramos concluded. ###