Published on February 04, 2014, PhilStar.com:

Written by Rhodina Villanueva

MANILA, Philippines – The government has assured farmer-groups that the program of distributing lands to farmer-beneficiaries will not end when Republic Act 9700, the CARPER Law, expires in June.

Agrarian Reform Undersecretary Anthony Parugao said Section 30 of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program Extension with Reforms Law states that land acquisition and distribution may proceed for landholdings with pending proceedings even after June 2014.

A Department of Justice (DOJ) opinion concurs with this view, he added.

Catholic bishops fear that land distribution will not be completed within the timeframe set in the CARPER law.

Agrarian Reform Undersecretary for Field Operations Jose Grageda assured the bishops that the issuance of Notices of Coverage (NOCs) for landholdings to be acquired under Compulsory Acquisition is proceeding.

An NOC initiates the compulsory acquisition and distribution of private agricultural lands.

The Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) considers it as one proceeding referred to under the CARPER Law. DAR had begun fast-tracking the preliminary work leading to the issuance of NOCs in 2012. It resulted in a substantial increase in NOCs issued to landholdings above 10 hectares.

Due to limitations under RA 9700, NOCs for small landholdings – 10 hectares and below – only began to be issued starting April 2013.

Among those not yet issued NOCs are some 4,397 landholdings covering 43,676 hectares for which DAR has already requested certified true copies of title from the Land Registration Authority.

In addition, no NOC has yet been issued for 7,058 landholdings covering 69,339 hectares. These are the lands for which DAR has encountered problems like missing titles, unreadable titles, chop-chop titles, etc.

Grageda gave assurance that all measures are being taken to deal with these problems.

Additional NOCs for around 80,000 hectares, mostly for the small landholdings, are currently being prepared.

Grageda said NOCs already issued can be found in the DAR website.

“Anybody can check whether a particular landholding has been issued an NOC. In this same web page, anybody can report a landholding that he/she thinks should be covered by CARP,” he said.

Grageda said DAR has asked for the assistance and support of various civil society organizations in identifying CARP-able lands so they can be served NOCs.

So far, more than a thousand landholdings covering about 20,000 hectares have been added for compulsory acquisition.

Parugao said legislative initiatives for CARP extension will remove any and all doubts on the legal basis of land acquisition and distribution after June 30, 2014.

“As regards the perceived ‘sluggishness’ of the distribution of land, we have communicated to the various stakeholders, the bishops included, on several occasions the state of the land acquisition and distribution (LAD) balance,” he said. “Presently, the DAR is primarily distributing private agricultural land, most of which have to be acquired through compulsory acquisition.”

Parungao said distributing private agricultural lands requires more time and is more contentious.

“Titles of private lands have to be procured,” he said. “These titles have to be traced backward or forward to ensure that the owner on record is indeed the current owner. Landholdings identified for distribution has to be projected in the land classification map to ensure the landholding in question does not, for example, encroach into timberlands.”

Farmer-leaders of the Save Agrarian Reform Alliance (SARA) are appealing to DAR to enable public access to information on the present state of implementation of its LAD component.

“The appeal for DAR to end its secrecy in handling public information relevant to at least a million peasant families comes amidst not only the looming expiry of its LAD operations, but amidst a growing trend of land reform reversals and human-rights violations across the countryside,” the group said.

Jaime Tadeo, SARA spokesman, said: “DAR has come under fire for its role in the pork barrel scam. But while it is now investigating corruption charges, its transparency record continues to be half-hearted at best.”