Carping on CARP

Dean dela Paz / The Next Page

Recently, a crusted and cloyed issue nearly a third of a century old, albeit one that resurrects and recurs every so often, reared its intrusive head and merited not just a banner headline in at least one of the major broadsheets but a sudden and unscheduled emergency meeting called by a troubled and deeply disturbed Benigno Aquino III.

Clearly, there were other more pressing matters that demanded his focus. The majority of his constituency had now tilted the other way, believing as they did that he could do better to think things through before rashly putting lives and limbs in harm’s way. But, as anachronistic as it sounds, an ancient issue resurrected, and perhaps, in some bizarre way, it had become timely for Aquino as it was a welcome distraction.

For many, however, akin to a bad penny, its reappearance is as invasive and as it is indiscreet. The question of unwillingly bequeathing productive capital such as land and property to those who simply work the soil has long been addressed but resurfaces every-so-often and repeatedly challenges our economic and social sensibilities, pitting what has become a question of social responsibility against what some think of as greed and profit, or which, others still, simply think of as the demands of economic productivity.

The spectrum is wide. But reality has settled the debate. For many farmer-beneficiaries, land, post-agrarian reform and once transferred, is simply seen as property – one to be sold for a quick buck. For businessmen, it is capital property – a means to continue, sustain and increase economic wealth well beyond the present.

Late last week the emergency meeting with congressional leaders was called to ensure the approval of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program Extension with Reforms (Carper) by June 11, 2015. If approved, this would be the nth time in an undying series of resurrections for a program that had since long died a painful death, resurrected, died again and now, like the undead Dracula, threatens another eternal extension.

Reacting to a letter sent early this month by members of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, Aquino chanced upon the opportunity to digress from current controversies, thus, quickly agreeing to “give new life and a glorious finish” to the 27-year-old agrarian reform program by approving a pending bill that while still stalled in the House of Representatives has long passed at the Senate.

His is a tenuous and curious move, at best. As a congressman, he defended the corporatization paradigm instituted by Hacienda Luisita as an alternative means of land ownership that had all but distorted CARP, necessitating its various deaths and subsequent resurrections. That he would now advocate its eternal continuance is, at the very least, strange.

Agrarian reform is an old issue. It is an issue that had at one time been the centerpiece agenda of an ideal-driven government to reinstall lost social justice after decades of authoritarian oppression, and perhaps, eons more of inequity and economic debasement. In some ways, the impetus for the original program was a kneejerk reaction called for by the burning passions of the moment, heightened from decades of guilt and a righteous advocacy to set things right.

In hindsight, one can see that either Corazon Cojuangco Aquino was the right person to advocate for and spearhead CARP, or she was, from the very start, the most incongruous for an ambitious field-changing program that founds its roots on land ownership under the firm control of the privileged gentry. That the arguments can go in either direction not only speaks volumes of the superfluous legacy directly related to agrarian reform but also the dysfunctional factors that surround the program.

As cruel fate would have it, the resurgent debate in CARP is now before Cory’s son. That is unfortunate. In the word “cacique,” all that has gone wrong, and all that has prevented real agrarian reform can be summed up.

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