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PHILIPPINES: Day 2: Solo protest seeks land reform extension



PHILIPPINES: Day 2: Solo protest seeks land reform extension

Manila, December 3, 2008 -- A Filipino priest, known in the Philippines as the "running priest", held a solo protest inside the Philippine Congress in Quezon City on December 2 calling upon legislators to consider as a priority, the extension of the land reform law.

Before he resumed his daily 15-kilometre run together with farmers, Fr. Robert Reyes, went inside the Congress' main lobby where he offers his daily prayer for the farmers and reaffirmed the latter's demand that a bill which seeks for the extension of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) with reform be passed promptly before the year end.

There are serious concern that once the year ends without passing a law extending it and by including reforms, the plight of landless farmers will hang in the balance; and that those who are supposed to be beneficiaries under the CARP, would have no other means or legal remedies at all to seek ownership of the lands they till.

Although the implementation of the law itself is inadequate and ineffective; however, either not having or losing the legal obligation on part of the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR), the implementing agency of the land distribution programme, to pursue land reform ownership would become even more extremely difficult.

Two decades after the land reform law took affect; thousands of hectares of land all over the country have failed to have been awarded to farmers.

In Negros Occidental alone, a local group called Task Force Mapalad (TFM), said the claims of a total of 11,239 hectares of land covering 134 haciendas by about 5,731 farmer beneficiaries remain pending at all levels of the CARP process. This includes the 157 hectares of land owned by President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo's husband, Jose Miguel Arroyo, in Isabela.

The DAR's huge backlog in the distribution of lands under the Land Acquisition and Distribution (LAD) claims has also since been aggravated by the needless and the deliberate delays in the processing of farmer's applications, landlords either using their political influence upon the government agencies or threatening them with legal action; and political interference to subvert the supposed to be ordinary process of land distribution.

Before leaving the Congress lobby to resume his daily run, Reyes, also a staff member of the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC), displayed his placard on which the demands for the CARP's extension is written. Reyes also offered a short prayer on behalf of the farmers in front of a wall where the pictures and names of the members of the Philippine Congress are displayed.

On his way out, Reyes joined several other farmers who were waiting for him at the gate outside the Congress compound; and shortly after they resumed their run towards the head office of the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR). It was Reyes' and the farmer's second run as part of their daily 15-kilometre run in ten days.

One of those joining Reyes and the farmers in their run was Reiko Sembad, a 22-year-old student of Cultural and Tourism Studies from a university in Tokyo. Reiko, like other farmers who joined the run, did not mind the scorching heat and exhaustion during the run.

The farmers, including the elderly, who joined the second day run were even wearing flip tops and trousers. However, despite not wearing running gear and not prepared, their endurance and willingness to complete the run was moving.

In the afternoon, Reyes held a mass inside the farmers' makeshift tents where they apparently been staying on protest for the past several weeks in front of the DAR. It is also the place where eight farmers from the Arroyo land are holding their indefinite hunger strike.


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About AHRC: The Asian Human Rights Commission is a regional non-governmental organisation monitoring and lobbying human rights issues in Asia. The Hong Kong-based group was founded in 1984.

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