As the streets of Manila cleared after a particular busy day on Monday – busy even by the high standards of the rowdy Metro area – we take a look back and assess the dominant topic of the week.
It has been quite an eventful past couple of days for us IPON Observers on Negros as well. Amongst Hacienda tours and visits to government officials, we kept a watchful eye on the highly anticipated State of the Nation Address (or SONA, as it is colloquially known in the Philippines) by President Benigno S. Aquino III. Accompanied by violent protests in Manila, including the occasional burning of Aquino-like puppets in the streets of the Capital, the President went on, unimpressed, to deliver his speech. As we pointed out in our last blog, it was a point of great interest amongst many activists whether or not he would address the subject of human rights abuses in the Philippines and the current process of the CARP. Our partner organisation Task Force Mapalad (TFM) had already announced beforehand that if Aquino would not follow up on his promises to announce measures to curb the ongoing violations of international human rights – or at least acknowledge the very existence of such problems – and bring the CARP Reform to a satisfying conclusion, they would answer with a protest march on Manila. Before we go any further and consider the consequences, let’s take a quick look at the speech itself. President Aquino did indeed not comment on the human rights situation in his country right now. The general focus of the SONA was on economic topics – complete with a great many statistics and numbers to stress the current upward trend – and the pledge to fight corruption and promote transparency. Now, measures to emphasise good governance are indeed noteworthy and their implementation a necessary tool to increase government performance, but surely that is no reason to ignore the other big problems that exist in Filipino society. Violations and abuses of human rights are still very much present and the perpetrators can still be found among state actors. Ignoring this is a fatal sign that arbitrary judgement continues to be an official matter.
What Aquino actually did, was to comment on the CARP process. Or, to be more precise, he briefly mentioned the ongoing land reform on his very own Hacienda Luisita and acknowledged delays with regard to the program as a whole. In addition, he had some tips for independent farmers on how they would be able to make some extra income by planting additional crops. The transcript of the relevant paragraph can be read here:
If there is one topic my name is often associated with, that would have to be Hacienda Luisita. I would like to inform you that back in February, in compliance with the decision of the Supreme Court, the Department of Agrarian Reform has completed the list of qualified beneficiaries for the land in Luisita. According to Secretary Gil de los Reyes, the process to determine the beneficiaries’ lots began last week, and the turnover of these lots will begin in September of this year.
As for other large tracts of land: We have long tasked the DAR, DENR, LRA, and Land Bank to develop a framework for speeding up the parceling out of land. I would like to remind everyone: Correct data is the first step to the orderly implementation of CARPER. But we inherited a land records system that is problematic and defective. This is why, from the start, the DOJ, LRA, DENR, and DAR have worked to fix this system, and now we are at a point where we can guarantee that in the next year, all notices of coverage will have been served for lands covered by comprehensive agrarian reform.
Considering the length of the SONA this brief reference is wholly unsatisfying, both for us as human rights observers, as well as for the farmers affected. Indeed, the process of land segregation at Hacienda Luisita is far from over, with several groups still vying for possession of land. Furthermore, problems with correct data surveys still hamper proper land processing and it remains doubtful that the CARP can be properly finalized within the tight deadline until next year.
The TFM will therefore make their voices be heard and try to get the country’s and the President’s attention when they organise their rally in Manila. Said protest is planned to start in early August and will last as long as the farmers do not receive an appropriate response from the government. We will continue to monitor the situation to make sure that human rights defenders can undertake their protest march actions free from threats or violence.