MANILA: Seven eight Philippine Catholic bishops have appealed to President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino to speed up the country’s extended land reform programme by undertaking an immediate top-to-bottom revamp of the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR).
“Mr President, please take quick decisive action that Carper be fully implemented and revamp the current leadership of DAR which underperformed these past two-and-a-half years,” the bishops said in their letter to Aquino.
Carper refers to the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Programme Extension with Reforms approved by Congress with an additional budget of more than $3 billion and whose deadline is to fall in July 2014.
The bishops described the DAR’s performance as “dismal” which could lead to an “agrarian reform crisis” unless Aquino would take a firm and decisive action on the issue like ordering a revamp.
They reminded Aquino that agrarian reform was the centrepiece of the social justice programme of his mother the late global democracy icon president Corazon Aquino aimed at improving the lives of millions of landless farmers in the countryside.
The programme “meant to address a long and deep issue of rural inequality that is one of the root causes of poverty and insurgency,” the bishops told Aquino.
Among the signatories in the appeal were Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle of Manila, Archbishop Jose Palma of Cebu in Central Philippines, the president of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines, and Ricardo Cardinal Vidal, also of Cebu.
The bishops pointed out that that in 2012, DAR reduced by half its target for land acquisition and distribution from 260,000 to 180,000 hectares.
But despite the reduction, they lamented that DAR continued to underperform as of Dec.13, 2012 by distributing only close to 54,000 hectares to deserving farmers.
One of the biggest properties ordered for inclusion in the government’s land reform programme by the Supreme Court was the 5,000-hectare Hacienda Luisita sugar estate in Central Luzon owned by Aquino’s family.