Volume V, Number 16 - August 31, 2023
Amid a crippling rice shortage and the continued lack of a genuine agrarian reform program, the Marcos administration enacted its ‘New Agrarian Emancipation Act’ (NAEA). Hailed as the regime’s landmark agrarian reform legislation, the NAEA creates an illusion of replacing the failed Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP). In reality, the NAEA merely continues CARP’s flawed policies including the failure to enact free land distribution. The only consolation offered by the new law is its promise to write off farmers’ debts – a long-standing demand of the peasant class that should have been implemented decades ago likening the NAEA to ‘old wine in a new bottle.’
While the NAEA provides relief to more than 600,000 ARBs (Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries), the condonation of agrarian loans is neither a new idea nor is it a solution to widespread landlessness by any measure. If anything, writing off agrarian debts should have been done decades ago because it is clear that ARBs cannot possibly afford to buy the land they till. Only a genuinely redistributive and free land distribution program consistent with the long-standing demand of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) can fulfill the genuine emancipation of the Filipino peasant class.
NAEA fails to address the major problems surrounding CARP particularly on the issue of genuine land distribution. CARP’s land acquisition component expired in 2014 and the GRP has since stopped acquiring private lands for distribution to farmer-beneficiaries. Instead, it has focused on its backlogs and distribution of ‘government-owned lands’ which relies on the voluntary identification of GRP’s government agencies. It must be noted however that undistributed private agricultural lands compose 92% of the total land area that should have been distributed under CARP.
The NAEA fails to cure the fatal defects of CARP in the form of loopholes that allow the reconcentration of land to big landlords. This in turn has enabled landlord families and agribusiness corporations to retain and regain control of huge tracts of land that have been redistributed to the landless tillers ‘on paper.’
To make matters worse, the GRP has made the land conversion process easier by reducing documentary requirements and shortening the process from six down to just one month. This has progressively resulted in the contraction of prime irrigated rice lands, a major factor in today’s rice crisis.
In addition, Marcos Jr’s policy of relying on rice importation, instead of developing the local rice industry, has benefited mainly Marcos cronies in the grains import business. The rice crisis is further compounded by the unbridled conversion of productive rice fields and the failure of CARP to break land monopolies. In the grand scheme of agrarian issues plaguing Filipino farmers, the NAEA’s promise of ‘emancipation’ are empty words meant to obscure the continued monopoly of land ownership in the hands of the landlord class amid widespread peasant landlessness.