By Jonathan L. Mayuga & Bernadette D. Nicolas, February 20 2019; Business Mirror

Image Credit to Business Mirror

President Duterte has signed Executive Order 75, which mandates the distribution of government-owned lands under the second phase of the agrarian reform program.

A source privy to the signing of the new order confirmed to the BusinessMirror that the order will soon be uploaded in the Official Gazette.

The Office of the Executive Secretary and the Malacañang Records Office confirmed to the BusinessMirror that President Duterte has indeed signed the new EO but no copy is available for release as of press time.

Agrarian Reform Secretary John R. Castriciones earlier said the order will pave the way for the distribution of government-owned agricultural lands that were supposed to have been distributed under the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP).

No less than Castriciones expressed excitement on the prospect of the signing of the EO even as he affirmed President Duterte’s commitment to distributing land to landless farmers.

In earlier interviews, the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) Undersecretary for Legal Affairs Luis Meinrado C. Pangulayan said the distribution of government-owned lands under the Duterte administration will entail a cost of at least P10 billion on top of the annual budget of the agency under the General Appropriations Act (GAA).

Pangulayan said the proposed budget will ensure the distribution of vast tracts of government-owned lands to qualified farmer-beneficiaries under what CARP Phase 2 or second phase of CARP.

Pangulayan said then that a preliminary list of government-owned lands being eyed for distribution includes the 9,000-hectare Yulo King Ranch in Busuanga, Palawan; a 5,000-hectare land of the University of Southern Mindanao; the 5,200-hectare Davao Penal Colony; and a 100-hectare land of the Aurora State College of Technology.

Once signed by the President, officials of the DAR can now place the said lands, including all other government lands that qualify as agricultural land, under CARP.

The policy aims to accelerate and ensure the immediate identification and segregation of all unclassified lands of public domain and all lands owned by the government or by any of its agencies and instrumentalities by the government or any government agencies suitable for agriculture.

The EO mandates all concerned government agencies, particularly the DENR, to relinquish authority over these lands for immediate distribution.

The Duterte administration’s agrarian reform program or CARP 2 is anchored on the state policy to implement agrarian reform, citing Article XIII Section 4 of the 1987 Philippine Constitution.

Article XII Section 6, provides that the State shall apply the principles of agrarian reform for stewardship, whenever applicable in accordance with law, in the disposition or utilization of other natural resources, including lands of the public domain under lease or concession suitable to agriculture.

There are lands of the public domain that remain unclassified and are currently used for agricultural, or food production, or are suitable for agriculture.

Some of these lands remain idle and can be made productive to alleviate poverty in rural areas.

In explaining the process involved in distributing government-owned agricultural lands, Pangulayan cited EO 407 Series of 1990 and EO 448 Series of 1991, which were issued to accelerate the acquisition of lands of the public domain suitable to agriculture and their distribution under CARP.

However, EO 407 requires the prior issuance of a deed of transfer, which impedes the process if the agency or instrumentality fails or delays the execution of the required legal instrument.

Moreover, EO 448 Series of 1991 requires the DAR to determine the absence of public use of the said lands subject in coordination with the government agency or instrumentality, which delay the process if the agency or instrumentality is uncooperative.

He noted then that sometimes, the heads of government agencies or institutions find a way to avoid CARP coverage, thus, the failure of the DAR to execute its distribution.

In a related development, the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) called on the DAR to scrap DAR Administrative Order (AO) 1 to stop the massive land conversion of prime agricultural lands in the country.

DAR AO 1 streamlines the process of land-use conversion, which advocates of agrarian reform said, is the primary reason why vast tracts of agricultural land escaped CARP coverage.

At a news conference last week, Castriciones announced the move to fast-track the approval or rejection of a land-use conversion application.

Aside from the creation of the interagency special task force, the Duterte administration has also initially agreed to adopt “a whole-of-government approach” in the processing of applications.

While DAR officials said that the DAR AO 1 is still “a work in progress, the DAR AO 1 work both ways—for the landowner and farmer-beneficiaries.

Under the policy, even farmers who have not fully paid in full the amortization for their CARP-awarded land can apply for land-conversion, DAR Undersecretary for Policy, Planning and Research David D. Erro said.

Republic Act 9700, or the CARP Extension with Reform provides for the use of CARP-awarded lands as loan collateral.

“DAR AO 1 must go to the trash bin where it belongs. The DAR cannot simply act based on President Duterte’s whims and tantrums. It must give primal weight to the interest and welfare of farmers, our agriculture sector and the country’s food security,” Antonio Flores, secretary-general of KMP said in a news statement.