S. Mindanao high risk area for agrarian reform ? DAR exec

Rodolfo Inson, DAR 11 regional director, told reporters the region's agrarian justice situation is "troublesome" and is one of two high risk regions in the Philippines for agrarian reform because of resistance of landowners to the program.

The other region is sugar-rich Western Visayas.

The department has started relocating its central office here from Quezon City earlier this year, following President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo's thrust on the super regions.

Inson said aside from landowners wielding power to resist the program, another problem is disunity among petitioners in contested estates subjected for coverage.

"The least we could get here is a case in court, the worst is death," he said, pointing to unidentified landowners as culprits.

Inson talked to reporters Thursday a day after farmers and agrarian reform petitioners called DAR incompetent in implementing agrarian reform during the 19th anniversary of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP).

But he said the concerns raised by the groups separately in a picket and press conferences are "meritorious and legitimate".

Inson said the department is faced with constraints, including budget to pay landowners whose lands are covered by the CARP, and their resistance, oftentimes forceful, to subject their lands for redistribution.

He said they can only pay the landowners with "fair and just compensation" as provided by Republic Act 6657 (Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law) based on available budget.

Inson said as of December, DAR accomplished 96 percent, or 207,144 of the 214,990 hectares it has targeted for redistribution in the region before 2008.

He said a big portion of the remaining 7,800 hectares are owned by powerful landowners.

Leaders of farmers organizations, however, questioned DAR's accomplishments. They challenged DAR to be more transparent of its computations.

Inson said landowners' resistance has become a major stumbling block in agrarian reform, admitting he understands the landowners' sentiments.

"In my 32 years in the work, I have never seen a landowner smile at me," he said, adding it is not easy for them to accept the government is keen on implementing the program.

He said landowners try to evade coverage by contesting the coverage notices they issued to initiate the process of redistribution or put up security forces to block the process.

Farmers and agrarian reform petitioners have also censured DAR's capacity to provide support services such as road, bridges, water systems, training, among others.

Inson said around P2.7 billion international support were channeled to foreign-assisted projects (FAPS) in 56 agrarian reform communities (ARCs) since 1988.

But the same number of ARCs rely only on local funds, which he claimed makes beneficiaries earn lesser income than those belonging to FAPS.

He also said they need lawyers to attend to agrarian cases filed in adjudication boards in the provinces of Davao del Sur, Davao del Norte, and Compostela Valley, but there are no takers for the job.

Inson debunked accusations that DAR employees are conniving with landowners to impede CARP's implementation.

He said the job is difficult, risky, and life threatening.

He said he is ready to submit himself and the DAR employees for a lifestyle check as part of an investigation for alleged corruption.

Inson said, however, he feared for his life after receiving death threats for a number of years already. He believes the landowners issued the threats, adding that the farmers “could understand our work.”

He said he has asked the national office to transfer him to Caraga region where he believes he is safer.

He announced that in July, they will install 27 beneficiaries in the 29-hectare property of the ARCAL Development Corporation in Gov. Generoso, Davao Oriental, one of the issues brought up by farmers from Task Force Mapalad Wednesday when they picketed the DAR office.