(STAR) President Arroyo has certified as an urgent legislation the proposal to extend the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP).

Press Secretary Jesus Dureza and Presidential Adviser for Political Affairs Gabriel Claudio, in separate statements, said Mrs. Arroyo has certified as urgent the measure to extend the CARP for six months to allow a better deal for farmers wanting their own land.

Malacañang assured protesting farmers the CARP

extension is a priority policy of the Arroyo administration and Congress would not allow the program to lapse by yearend.

Officials issued the statement as the farmers vowed to continue their hunger strike at the Batasan complex of the House of Representatives until the CARP extension is realized.

The farmers claimed the last six-month extension made by Congress did not result in anything concrete due to lack of budgetary allocation.

The farmers are pressing lawmakers to pass a stronger CARP measure.

“It is understandable that the farmers feel that way. But let’s be realistic, Congress goes on recess tomorrow and the resolution extending CARP is a stop gap measure to give lawmakers, the farmers and other stakeholders time to come up with a better bill or a set of amendments that could be agreed upon by all,” Claudio said.

Lawmakers and Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) Secretary Nasser Pangandaman met Tuesday to discuss the possibility of forging the Joint Resolution for the six-month extension in the wake of the apparent difficulty by Congress to pass the proposed CARP extension with reforms bill before it goes on Christmas break.

Pangandaman, however, said the imminent signing of the Joint Resolution was stalled when some lawmakers proposed the land acquisition and distribution (LAD) component of the CARP must be stopped while the resolution is in effect.

Pangandaman admitted that he was among those who opposed the proposal.

Six months more

The House reluctantly approved last night the watered-down version of the CARP that only makes land distribution optional.

The House extended as well until June 2009 – by way of Joint Resolution 29 – the land acquisition and distribution component of Republic Act 6657, or the CARP law that is set to expire on Dec. 31 this year.

The Senate also approved the joint resolution, on a vote of 19 with two abstentions.

The Senate said there would be no new land acquisition under the CARP even if it was extended by Congress for six months.

Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile said DAR would continue to operate and pay off the lands it already acquired but there would be no compulsory acquisition.

“They will assist service and maintain the lands they have acquired, including the beneficiaries. They will pay all their obligations with the money they have in Land Bank (of the Philippines) as well as in the budget for 2009. But they cannot compulsorily acquire new lands until Congress shall have reviewed the whole thing,” Enrile explained.

Enrile said the Senate decided to just extend the old law because there were many things that must be corrected to ensure it would be more effective and beneficial to the farmers.

“It is one big consuelo de bobo for our farmers. By removing lands covered by compulsory acquisition from DAR’s jurisdiction for the next six months, Congress will render the program inutile,” Bayan Muna Rep. Teddy Casiño replied.

“What we will have is a zombie CARP with no heart and soul,” Casiño said while pointing out a majority of the 238-member House are wealthy landowners.

The new resolution will now cover only those agricultural lands that owners would voluntarily sell or distribute to farmers, or which are called voluntary offer to sell (VOS) and voluntary land transfer (VOT).

Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman, one of the authors of the joint resolution, along with Speaker Prospero Nograles and House Majority Leader Arthur Defensor, said the exclusion of private agricultural lands is a “virtual requiem for the program.”

“What happened is a preview of the eventual demise of CARP,” Lagman said after an all-party caucus.

“It is regrettable that the consensus in the House is to limit the LAD to the volition and discretion of landowners by removing compulsory acquisition by the Department of Agrarian Reform of the remaining CARPable lands,” he added.

Anakpawis party-list Rep. Rafael Mariano warned the new scheme “will surely lead to the massive eviction of peasants and land-grabbing in the countryside.”

A farmer-based and policy research group Centro Saka, Inc. (CSI) urged Congress to hold a special session to finalize the proposed extension of CARP.

“The CARP extension bill should have been passed into law last June 2008. The legislators have already been given ample time to further deliberate on the bill. It’s about time that they approve it for the benefit of the landless farmers and farm workers,” said Romeo Royandoyan of the CSI.

“The Joint Resolution... extending the CARP for another six months is unacceptable,” he said.

But Malacañang said the President has already certified the joint resolution to extend the CARP for another six months.

“The President has certified as urgent a joint resolution extending CARP in its present form for six months to at least forestall the termination of the program and give Congress in consultation with farmer beneficiaries and other sectors concerned more time to come up with a commonly acceptable version of a final CARP extension law,” Claudio said.

“We are confident that Congress will exhaust all means to see to it that CARP will not be allowed to lapse at the end of the year.”

Claudio said congressional leaders and Malacañang are “conscious of and sensitive to the anxiety of farmer beneficiaries in not allowing CARP to lapse at the end of the year.”

Dureza said once Congress resumes session, the crafting of a better CARP bill would be among the top agenda.

“Hopefully, this will culminate in the passage of a law that will further enhance the agrarian reform program,” he said. –With Aurea Calica, Delon Porcalla, Katherine Adraneda

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

All rights reserved