Farmers score DAR for slow processing of claims

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 29 April) – Farm workers slammed the slow pace in the processing of claims of beneficiaries by the Department of Agrarian Reform and raised fears that many will not be awarded titles before the June 30 deadline.

Representatives from different chapters of Katarungan from Davao del Norte, Compostela Valley, Davao Oriental and North Cotabato said the agency was taking its time in awarding titles to beneficiaries and are yet to start on other land claims.

At a press briefing held here Monday, the group demanded that President Benigno S. Aquino III order agrarian reform agencies to issue notices of coverage (NOCs) “swiftly and decisively.”

However, in a statement dated February, the DAR said that section 30 of Republic Act 9700 (Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program Extension with Reforms) provides that the acquisition and distribution will still continue even beyond the June deadline.

Agrarian Reform Undersecretary Anthony Paruñgao said Congress is already working on a bill that would clarify whether lands acquired and distributed after the deadline would still be legal.

The DAR added that lands 10 hectares and below, the NOCs were only distributed starting April 2013.

“To date, the DAR is primarily distributing private agricultural land, most of which have to be acquired through compulsory acquisition,” Paruñgao said.

DAR issued two years ago 25,841 NOCs which covered 239,337 hectares for land more than 10 hectares, according to the statement.

In 2013, the DAR issued around 30,558 NOCs for 281,192 hectares of landholdings.

National Anti-Poverty Commission labor sectoral representative Malou Cueto Tapia said that in Mindanao, there are 8,124 hectares of lands that have yet to be distributed to beneficiaries, with the properties coming from at least 70 landholders.

The landholders comprise both government and private-sector properties.

The land titles were located in the four provinces, with processes that have started as early as 1999.

“Does this mean that the government is not interested in awarding the lands to the farmers?” Tapia said.

In Compostela Valley, Katarungan-ComVal representative Rolando Torentira said farmers found it difficult to process their certificate of land ownership awards (CLOA), with some claims still at the ocular inspection level even in 2014.

Torentira said support services for farmers were also problematic, citing a difficulty in applying for loans from the Land Bank because of stringent requirements.

He said around 31 ARBs tried to avail of a Land Bank loan but were not permitted because they were identified as non-stock, non-profit entities.

Katarungan-North Cotabato representative Juliet Cordero said in their province at least 5,000 hectares of land have not been distributed yet.

Similar problems were found in Davao del Norte, according to Katarungan-Davao del Norte representative Dionisia Malaya.

She said the province’s declared distribution balance amounted to 2,385 hectares, with at least 1,900 hectares not being declared by the DAR as CLOA awardees as of 2013.

The group asked the Aquino government to issue all notices of coverage before the June deadline.

The DAR as well as the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, the group said, should account for more than one million hectares of land and show a list of landholdings per area as soon as possible.

The group also criticized the DAR announcement that the land reform distribution was “almost complete.”