03/18/2009, 00.00
PHILIPPINES
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Filipino lawmakers back bishops on land reform

by Santosh Digal
Senators say they will extent terms of land reform for five more years. Poor farmers will benefit from the measure. About 1.3 million hectares have not yet been assigned, 440,000 in Mindanao alone. Bishops demand all land be available for redistribution to farmers.

Manila (AsiaNews) – Filipino lawmakers said they plan to extend the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) for five more years to benefit the country’s poorest farmers. In doing so they are heeding a call made by catholic bishops who recently launched a campaign on behalf of landless peasants.

The senators made the promise to pass the measure before CARP expires in June at a closed-door meeting with representatives of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, other church groups and nongovernmental organisations, including Caritas Manila.

“The Senate leadership gave its commitment to pass Senate Bill 266 before the [June] deadline. . . . The leadership committed itself to pushing this Senate bill extending for five years,” a senator said.

Earlier this month President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo came out in support of the extension.

Adopted in 1988 the law was supposed to be in effect for ten years, but lack of application convinced members of Congress to extend it for another ten years, until December of 2008. An additional six-month extension was approved by Congress (Resolution19) till June of this year

But farmers and CARP backers criticised the extension for not including the compulsory acquisition of private lands component to help poor farmers.

By excluding this component Resolution 19 excludes 64 per cent of lands that might benefit large landowners.

The Bishops’ Conference has opposed Congress’ approval of Joint Resolution 19, which it views as “unconstitutional.”

“Joint Resolution 19 must be stricken down. It is clearly unconstitutional since the Constitution mandates that the State shall undertake the just distribution of all agricultural lands,” the Bishops’ Conference said in a statement.

According to the latest figures, some 1.3 million hectares are available for redistribution, including a little more than 440,000 in Mindanao.

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