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27 June 2008

Arroyo certifies urgent CARP extension bill

By Lira Dalangin-Fernandez, Maila Ager

MANILA, Philippines — President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has certified as urgent a bill extending the life of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) for five more years, her spokesman Ignacio Bunye said Tuesday.

Bunye said Arroyo has already written Senate President Manuel Villar and House Speaker Prospero Nograles about her wish to enact as soon as possible House Bill No. 4077, under committee report 506, entitled "an act sustaining the implementation of CARP, extending the acquisition and distribution of all agricultural lands, instituting necessary reforms and appropriating funds thereof."

In the House, Nograles said he has directed the immediate passage of the CARP extension bill on third and final reading either Tuesday or Wednesday.

If not extended, the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law will expire on June 13 when Congress adjourns. The law, originally enacted in 1988, has already been extended once, for 10 years.

Nograles said he has instructed Majority Leader Arthur Defensor, also chairman of the House committee on rules, to facilitate the approval of the bill, calling it a "vital component of the government’s agricultural and fisheries modernization program."

The bill, which provides for an allocation of at least P100 billion for the land acquisition and distribution, has been pending on the floor for three weeks now, according to its principal author and chairman of the House appropriation committee, Albay Representative Edcel Lagman said.

Lagman commended the presidential certification of the bill as urgent, saying this would give an "unequivocal signal" to the members of the House of Representative, more particularly those allied with the majority coalition, that its immediate passage has the firm support of the President herself.

"A presidential certification will discourage, if not foreclose, long-winding and repetitive interpellations and recurring questions of quorum coming from the members of the majority coalition, which delay the passage of the bill," Lagman said.

Earlier, Akbayan Representative Risa Hontiveros accused Arroyo’s brother-in-law, Negros Occidental Representative Ignacio Arroyo, of blocking the passage of the CARP extension bill.

She claimed the so-called "Negros bloc" in the House was out to protect the Arroyo family’s lands from being distributed to landless farmers and accused them of resorting to "under-the-table tactics" such as questioning the quorum in the House to block the passage of the CARP extension bill.

More than 200,000 hectares of the 1.1 million hectares that the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) has yet to distribute to farmers, she said, are in Negros.

Nograles said the bill would probably be subject to amendments recommended by the Congressional Oversight Committee on Agricultural and Fisheries Modernization co-chaired by Representatives Abraham Mitra of Palawan and Juan Edgardo Angara of Aurora.

His support for CARP extension, the Speaker said, is anchored on the premise that land conversion has been suspended and all lands subject to land reform should only be used for food production and corporate farming.

"If we extend CARP without suspending these land conversions, there will be no ’CARPable’ lands that will be left for us to farm. Agrarian lands should be used only for food production," Nograles said in a statement .

The proposed legislation also provides for the creation of a joint congressional oversight committee to strictly review and monitor the implementation of the program during the five-year extension.


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