MANILA, March 5, 2015– Farmers from different organizations said they would go on open hunger strike to pressure the government to pass proposed measures on land reform.

Addressing a press conference at the CBCP conference room in Manila on Thursday, Task Force Mapalad president Alberto Jaime said the plan is to hold the hunger strike either in front of the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) main office or outside Congress, both in Quezon City.

Farmers call for the passage of HB 4296 and HB 4375, which aim to extend the agrarian reform program. (Photo: CBCP News)

The farmers said holding dialogues with President Benigno Aquino III himself for three years on the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program 9CARP) has not produced significant results.

No clear answer

“Until now, there’s no clear answer from President Aquino,” Jaime said.

As time is running on CARP, the farmers seek the passage of twin measures House Bill 4296 and House Bill 4375.

HB 4296 aims to renew DAR’s authority to issue notices of coverage and provide adequate funding support services to agricultural landholdings that have not yet been placed under CARP, while HB 4375 seeks to create an independent Agrarian Reform Commission to review CARP and to investigate circumventions and violations of the CARP law.

Jaime said they will consult some Catholic bishops first before staging their hunger strike.

At least 81 prelates, including CBCP president Archbishop Socrates Villegas and Cotabato Archbishop Orlando Cardinal Quevedo have earlier called on Aquino and Congress in a letter to speed up the passage of the two measures to help the farmers.

There are still about 708,000 hectares of agricultural landholdings that have not yet been awarded to farmer-beneficiaries of the CARP based on the August 2014 data of the DAR, according to the prelates.

Pending at the House

Jaime said they are hoping that HB 4296 will at least be discussed in Congress before lawmakers go on recess on March 18.

He said when sessions resume in May, they want the measure to be passed on second reading before sine die adjournment of Congress in June this year.

In June 2014, Aquino certified as urgent the passage of HB 4296, but the House of Representatives has not yet passed the supposedly priority bill on third and final reading, eight months after the chief executive’s certification. Senate has already done its part by passing the counterpart Senate Bill 2278.

HB 4375, which also remains pending at the House, does not yet have a counterpart measure at the Senate and needs to be certified by the President as a priority measure.

Almost 300,000 hectares can still be covered by the CARP with the issuance of notices of coverage— yet a far cry from the 29,000 hectares earlier declared by the DAR as open to agrarian reform.

Top provinces with CARP land

The top five provinces with coverable lands are Quezon with 62,998 has.; Negros Occidental with 56,660 has.; Leyte with 52,089 has.; Aurora with 33,605 has.; and Palawan with 8,818 has. Nueva Ecija is sixth with 8,808 hectares based on the reports.

As one of the bishops who signed in the appeal to Aquino, Nueva Caceres Archbishop Rolando Tirona, chairman of the National Secretariat for Social Action (Nassa), said the Church cannot remain silent amid the cries of the farmers.

He also said Nassa, the advocacy, humanitarian and development arm of the Church, is one in condemning the injustices that peasants have suffered for almost three decades of implementation of CARP.

Tirona said there are thousands of peasants that are still without land after almost thirty of CARP implementation.

“We will continuously appeal to the sense of justice and compassion of the President and the Congress. While we welcome his respect for subsidiarity of government agencies, he is also duty-bound to directly look after the rights of the poor which must precede his decisions and actions,” Tirona said.

“We express our prayers and support with the religious groups, lawmakers and civil society organizations as the peasants will intensify their campaign to extend and overhaul the implementation of the 27-year old CARP,” he added. (Roy Lagarde/CBCPNews)