Land Reform in the Philippines: Coming Full Circle

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MANILA, Philippines —  The Philippine government and impoverished farmers had an acrimonious relationship for thirty years. The disadvantaged rural farming community inherited a long-standing Spanish labor system that placed land ownership into the hands of the wealthy while farmers were essentially sharecroppers.

In 1988, the government passed the Comprehensive Agrarian Land Reform Program (CARP). The program was created to end unfair land ownership practices by divvying up the land and providing proper documentation to its rightful owners, or Agricultural Reform Beneficiaries. Beneficiaries include farmers, farmworkers, landless owners, and tenants who cultivated the land for years.

Although the CARP was a well thought out strategy, the government rarely enforced it. The majority of Beneficiaries were not as business savvy as affluent landowners and were frequently taken advantage of. Thankfully, the World Bank will lend financial support of more than $370 million, allowing farmers to finally experience true land reform in the Philippines.

Comprehensive Agrarian Land Reform Program

In 1988, the CARP was passed to redistribute earmarked and public farming lands to Beneficiaries regardless of previous land lease agreements. The CARP aimed to mitigate poverty faced by Beneficiaries by increasing income, establishing equitable land ownership, allowing access to new agricultural technologies, creating employment for more farmers, and eliminating land ownership clashes.

While the land reform law should have been good news for all involved, only 52% of Beneficiaries were able to get land ownership documentation. Since the CARP’s inception, the government did little to enforce land reform by regulating wealthy, large landowners. This resulted from a conflict of interest, as members of the legislature were landowners that used their influence to create ambiguities within the CARP. This gross oversight led to violence. Some Beneficiaries were murdered while others faced harassment and illegal eviction.

1998 saw some positive developments. Due to Beneficiaries’ persistence, the CARP was amended and became known as the Comprehensive Agrarian Land Reform Program Extensions with Reforms (CARPER). This amendment gave the government more time to allocate the land equitably and work toward the elimination of conflict with large landowners. By 2013, less than 13% of Beneficiaries were without secured land ownership. In the years following 2013, progress was still being made.

Support to Parcelization of Lands for Individual Titling Project (SPLIT)

In 2020, the World Bank created the Support to Parcelization of Lands for Individual Titling Project (SPLIT) program, which will provide a loan totaling more than $370 million to the Philippines. The monies will fund efforts to efficiently assist the Philippine government in distributing landowner documents to more than 700,000 Beneficiaries that still have unresolved claims. Achim Fock, World Bank Acting Country Director for Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Thailand, stated, “Many farmers who were granted lands under the country’s agrarian reform program have been waiting for individual titles, sometimes for decades.”

With the financial backing of the SPLIT Project, the Philippine government can expedite the process of getting land titles to their rightful owners. Once the land claimants possess their titles, they can benefit from increased income and access to modern farming technologies and equipment.

Originally, the land reform process was violent and maligned with unfair practices. However, beneficiaries were steadfast in securing their land rights.

Land tenure is a means of ending poverty. In 2020, land reform has come full circle in the Philippines.

– Kim L. Patterson

Photo: Pexels

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