02/10/2009, 00.00
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Manila, 500 farmers march for extension of agrarian reform

by Santosh Digal
The law guarantees the distribution of land to poor farmers in the country, but expired last December. The Catholic Church is calling for it to be extended another 10 years. The archbishop of Cagayan de Oro denounces a conflict of interest among members of parliament.

Manila (AsiaNews) - A protest march to ask for the extension of the law on agrarian reform (CARP). The initiative involved about 500 of the country's farmers, who left from the province of Negros Occidental, in the southern Philippines, toward Manila.

The march began last February 7, and concludes today in the capital. Before arriving in downtown Manila, the farmers gathered at the offices of the Filipino bishops' conference, in Intramuros; the final stage of the voyage is the palace of Malacañang, the residence of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

The CARP, promulgated in 1988 under the presidency of Corazon Aquino, was intended to distribute "all public land and rural areas" in order to address the situation of extreme poverty in the country, in addition to uprooting one of the main causes of social revolt. In the beginning, the provision merely enriched the large landowners at the expense of the farmers. The law was supposed to be in effect for 10 years, but lack of application convinced members of parliament to extend it for another 10 years, until December of 2008.

The Filipino Catholic Church is asking the government for another extension of five or ten years, to guarantee further distribution of land among the poor. According to the latest figures, there are still 1.3 million hectares to be assigned, including a little more than 440,000 in Mindanao.

Vicente Navarra, the bishop of Bacolod, is calling on the Filipino president and the House of Representatives to listen to the requests of the farmers. He emphasizes the "full support" of the Catholic Church for the farmers' struggle for the extension of the CARP, believing it to be a "preferential option for the poor." Antonio Ledesma, archbishop of Cagayan de Oro, complains of the lack of "political will" among members of parliament, and a conflict of interest: many parliamentarians, in fact, are landowners or relatives of large property owners, who have no interest in extending the provision.

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