Farmers and land rights activists welcomed the Philippine government’s decision to grant a one-year moratorium on payments on land amortization but said it “is not enough.”
“Lands should be distributed at no cost to farmers and agrarian reform beneficiaries,” said former Agrarian Reform secretary Rafael Mariano.
“Free land distribution is just and necessary and the only acceptable means of agrarian reform,” he added.
On September 13, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. signed an executive order imposing a year-long moratorium on payments on the annual amortization and interest payments of agrarian reform beneficiaries.
Agrarian Reform Secretary Conrado Estrella III said the executive order on moratorium is a prelude to the fulfillment of Marcos’ commitment to pass a law that seek to pardon unpaid land amortization and interests.
“We always think about the farmers’ welfare,” said Estrella, adding that the one-year moratorium and condonation of farmers’ loan payment “will lead to freedom of farmers from debts.”
Mariano, who is chairperson emeritus of the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas, said free land distribution “should have been enacted a long time ago.”
Philippine laws, however, “obliged agrarian reform beneficiaries to pay for amortization payments with an interest at a high six-percent per annum.”
Zenaida Soriano, chairperson of Amihan National Federation of Peasant Women, said the moratorium may “temporarily help ease the burden” of the farmers.
But she said “it is not enough for farmers to recover from the losses caused by neoliberal policies in agriculture and rising costs of production.”
“We will ensure that the farmers’ interest for free land distribution will not be used to push provisions that will eventually lead to landlessness and reconcentration of lands to the few,” said Soriano.
Peasant groups claimed that the moratorium will only benefit 654,000 Agrarian Reform beneficiaries out of the 13.7 million total registered farmers.
Zoe Caballero, chairperson of the National Network of Agrarian Reform Advocates-Youth, urged the government to look into the real problem of the agriculture industry.
“The absence of new land reform program, non-recognition of the problem of land use conversion, and the continuing policy of agriculture liberalization will only worsen the situation of Filipino farmers,” said Caballero.