DAVAO CITY — A peasant group expressed fear the agricultural lands in the Philippines will become more open for grabbing by landlords and big foreign agro-corporations.
The threat was raised as the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) wants to maintain agri-business venture agreements (AVAs) to re-concentrate agricultural lands to landlords and foreign agro-corporations.
For the Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Arikultura (UMA), granting more powers for the Presidential Agrarian Reform Council (PARC) over cases involving AVAs in the country will lead to the preying of more agricultural lands to landlords and foreign corporations.
And DAR is eager to accord more powers to PARC over the number of cases of AVAs in the country, UMA asserted.
“AVAs are agreements between private multinational and local plantation corporations and big landlords with the agrarian reform beneficiaries (ARBs), settlers, indigenous peoples (IPs) and even landlords,” said John Milton “Butch” Lozande, secretary-general of UMA in a statement issued on Monday, June 11.
The scheme such as AVA, Lozande added, is also part of the government’s adherence to neo-liberal policies, dictated by among others, by the World Trade Organization (WTO) and the World Bank (WB) to devote large areas of lands and water resources for export-crops, mostly under the effective control of agribusiness transnational corporations.
He also hit DAR for being negligent in its obligations in AVAs between ARBs and corporations “such laxity was apparent in the result of the research on AVAs conducted by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and DAR in 2016.”
The research found out that only 4.75 percent lands subjected to AVAs or 57,000 plus hectares out of 1.2 million hectares were registered with DAR.
It was also learned during the research that none of the 433 AVA contracts executed between various ARBs/ARBOs (Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries Organizations) and agribusiness companies by December 2015 were reflected in DAR records.
During the duration of the research, FAO only secured 57 contracts of AVAs from various provincial offices of DAR.
In the same statement, UMA quoted a portion of FAO report that states: “Very few contracts are actually reviewed and approved by DAR, because companies tend to feel very proprietary about their agreements. In addition, DAR personnel have limited technical capacities to review the validity and desirability of the AVAs. Although from a strictly legal point of view, contracts which have not been approved by the DAR are null and void, in accordance with section 4.9 of DAR Administrative Order No 9 s. 2006, this provision has not been strictly enforced by DAR nor the parties involved.”
“So, if DAR has this dismal record covering only 4.5% of the agricultural lands under AVA, how can it say that it wants to grant more powers for the PARC over AVA cases?” UMA asked.
In the midst of such discrepancies in handling AVAs, the group wants the government to enact House Bill 555 or the Genuine Agrarian Reform Bill (GARB) which they said is now “gathering dust in Congress”.
UMA also wants the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte to sign the Comprehensive Agreement on Social and Economic Reforms (CASER) in the upcoming peace talks with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) this coming July. (davaotoday.com)