12/16/2008, 00.00
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Filipino bishops and priests join hunger strike by landless farmers

by Santosh Digal
The Catholic Church is asking for an extension of the law on the distribution of land, scheduled to expire at the end of December. The norm has led to the distribution of 9.12 million hectares of arable land.

Manila (AsiaNews) - Filipino bishops and priests are joining the hunger strike initiated by a group of farmers. At the basis of the protest is a request to extend the law on the distribution of land - the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program, CARP - scheduled to run out at the end of the month.

Broderick Pabillo, auxiliary bishop of Manila, and Fr. Archie Casey have given their support to the demonstration started 15 days ago by eight farmers in Quezon City, northeast of Manila, in front of the government office on agrarian reform. The protest then moved to the heart of the capital, in front of parliament. At the moment, 36 people have joined the hunger strike.

The CARP, promulgated in 1988 under the presidency of Corazon Aquino, was intended to distribute "all public and agricultural lands" in order to address the situation of extreme poverty in the country, as well as uproot one of the main causes of social revolt. The provision, at least at the beginning, served only to enrich the major landowners - including the families of Aquino and Arroyo - at the expense of farmers, who have become increasingly poor.

The law was supposed to be in force for 10 years, but poor application convinced members of parliament to extend it for another 10 years, until the end of December, 2008. Yesterday, Ramon Arguelles, archbishop of Ripa - a diocese in the province of Batangas, south of Manila - joined the hunger strike, to demonstrate his support for the farmers.

Solidarity is being expressed by Cardinal Gaudencio Rosales, archbishop of Manila, by Archbishop Angel Lagdameo, president of the Filipino bishops' conference, and by Cardinal Ricardo Vidal, archbishop of Cebu: the prelates have sent a joint letter to the speaker of the house, Prospero Nograles, and to Juan Ponce Enrile, president of the Filipino senate, calling for an extension of the law.

In recent years, the department for the environment and natural resources has distributed 3.96 million hectares, and the department for agrarian reform has provided 5.16 million hectares, for a total of 9.12 million hectares. That leaves another 2.17 million to be distributed before the law would lose its effectiveness.

The proposal to extend the law on the distribution of land is being contested by some representatives on the left: according to these members of parliament, it would favor landowners and would not resolve the problems of farmers.

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