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Complete the emancipation of landless tillers Print
In the News
Friday, 20 March 2015 09:07

Edcel C. Lagman


Philippine Daily Inquirer


12:03 AM | Friday, March 20th, 2015

Land is a common denominator of man, the birthplace of both the filthy rich and the wretched poor. Land is also the great divide of humankind, the landlord’s haven and the tiller’s bondage. As man’s common resting place, land equalizes princes and paupers, the powerful and feeble, the famous and anonymous.

The insatiable quest for land underlies the history of wars and armed conflicts from prehistoric warriors to present-day combatants. Domestic land disputes mark litigations and jurisprudence. The curse of the landed gentry is the acrimonious quarrels among heirs and kin over a decedent’s landholdings.

Volumes of legal treatises have been written, numerous statutes enacted, and countless judicial decisions rendered on land disputes, titles, acquisition, ownership and possession.

Even as I write, there are two controversial bills on agrarian reform pending in the House of Representatives. House Bill No. 4296 proposes another extension up to June 30, 2016, of the Land Acquisition and Distribution (LAD) component of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law (CARL), by authorizing the Department of Agrarian Reform to continue issuing notices of coverage and accepting voluntary offers to sell from landowners. The other is HB 4375 creating the Agrarian Reform Commission to independently investigate violations of the CARL and the Carper (Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program Extension with Reforms under Republic Act No. 9700).

The Constitution has elevated agrarian reform to a state policy. It provides that the state “shall, by law, undertake an agrarian reform program founded on the right of farmers and regular farmworkers who are landless, to own directly or collectively the lands they till or, in the case of other farmworkers, to receive a just share of the fruits thereof.”

President Cory Aquino made agrarian reform her centerpiece program. Landlord-legislators in the 8th Congress tried to transform the centerpiece into a centerfold by stripping off the salient provisions of HB 400, the original bill instituting a Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP), with denuding amendments. The worst example is the “stock distribution option” (SDO) in lieu of land distribution, which made landless tillers stockholders of Hacienda Luisita Inc. What the beneficiaries would own under the scheme were not parcels of land as mandated by the Constitution but scraps of paper issued by the corporation dominated by sugar barons.

Despite the improvident approval of this “killer amendment,” the CARL is still a milestone social justice legislation to emancipate landless tillers from bondage and give them adequate support services and impartial agrarian justice.

Much belatedly, the Supreme Court in HLI vs Presidential Agrarian Reform Council (2011) struck down the SDO as neither a viable nor legal mode of land distribution. It confirmed that the only two modes are compulsory land acquisition and voluntary offer to sell under the Carper. This ended the then 23-year aberration which sanctioned “stock to the tiller” and negated “land to the tiller” in gross violation of the Constitution.

Agrarian laws impose timelines in the acquisition and distribution of agricultural lands, not to put an end to a continuing program but to compel implementers to expedite the process of land coverage for transfer to qualified beneficiaries, and to wield political will.

Since the deadlines expired without the DAR completing the LAD, two extensions had been previously made: by RA 8532 that extended CARP funding when it expired in 1998, 10 years after the CARL’s effectivity, and the Carper when the first extension expired in 2008. Another extension as proposed in

HB 4296 is necessary because after the expiration on June 30, 2014, of the second extension, the DAR admitted that 694,784 hectares covering 73,283 landholdings with 373,717 agrarian reform beneficiaries remain for acquisition and distribution as of Dec. 31, 2014. Of these, 158,698 hectares consisting of 13,342 landholdings are located in Aklan, Antique, Capiz, Guimaras, Iloilo, Negros Occidental I and Negros Occidental II, some of the dominant areas of resistance to the CARP.

Empirical studies by UP Los Baños, Asia Pacific Policy Center, Philippine Review of Economics, German Cooperation Study, World Bank, Asian Development Bank, former Neda director general Cielito Habito, and incumbent Neda Secretary Arsenio Balisacan have validated that agrarian reform beneficiaries, compared to nonbeneficiaries, have increased productivity, better incomes, enhanced self-reliance, improved standard of living and reduced rural poverty. Verily, without the imperative extension, thousands of expectant beneficiaries would be denied the same opportunity for a better life.

There is no overriding reason for some blocs of lawmakers to oppose the extension of the LAD because this is only ancillary to a binding legislative determination in 1988 for the enforcement of a nationwide agrarian reform program under the CARL, which was amended by Carper to cover all agricultural lands regardless of tenurial arrangement and produce. The inclusion in the CARP of the resisting landowners’ estates was a fait accompli 27 years ago.

The hacienda owners in Negros and Panay cannot continue resisting coverage simply because the timetable has lapsed, which deadline is extendable by congressional action. Congress has extended the LAD twice before and a third extension to complete the program is logical, reasonable and constitutional. The DAR’s lack of zeal and the landlords’ contrived opposition must not prejudice beneficiaries.

Land acquisition is not confiscatory. Just compensation is paid to the landowners who can then liberate locked-in capital in land for industrialization. Relevantly, the CARL is titled “An Act Instituting a [CARP] to Promote Social Justice and Industrialization.”

As long as agricultural lands exist for proper coverage, land acquisition and distribution must continue unhindered to accord fullest fealty to the constitutional mandate of distributing land to landless tillers.

Edcel C. Lagman is a former representative of the first district of Albay.

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"Desaparecido" Print
In the News
Saturday, 07 March 2015 12:17

Edcel C. Lagman


Philippine Daily Inquirer

1:39 AM | Saturday, March 7th, 2015

For the first time in Philippine cinema, three short films about victims of enforced disappearance were produced by the Families of Victims of Involuntary Disappearance (FIND), Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances (Afad) and Dakila-Collective for Modern Heroism under the CHR-Aecid Fortaleza Project. “Walang Paalam” (No Goodbye) was premiered at the UP Film Center on Feb. 26, a day after the 29th anniversary of the 1986 Edsa People Power uprising that toppled the Marcos dictatorship.

The four-day protest by multitudes rejecting the Marcos regime was not that spontaneous as it was in fact the culmination of long years of pocket resistance to martial rule in the countryside and urban centers as well as the picket lines of indignant and courageous strikers. It was sanctified and ennobled by the blood and tears of common folk who sacrificed life and liberty to pave the way for Filipinos to regain democracy at Edsa.

“Walang Paalam” features the three kinds of desaparecido: forcibly disappeared but surfaced alive (“Porferia”); disappeared and found dead (“Celio”); and continuing disappearance (“Hermon”).

“Porferia” narrates the story of Porferia Acuram, a church-based volunteer worker then on her third trimester of pregnancy, and her husband who were apprehended on July 19, 1989, in Misamis Occidental by the military on suspicion of collaborating with the New People’s Army. They were detained incommunicado, tortured and ordered to dig their common grave. The spouses maintained their innocence despite the brutality of their captors. They were rescued through the help of the community and the intercession of a local lawyer.

“Celio” is principally based on the mass abduction, torture and killing of farmers suspected as rebels in the 1980s in Zamboanga del Sur. It is a gripping story of a father whose son, a fresh high school graduate, was abducted by military elements together with numerous farmers of Tigbao and buried in unknown graves. In April 2001 Mang Celio reportedly helped FIND dig and identify the remains ofhis son, which were exhumed together with those of 11 other victims.

“Hermon” tells of the tragic struggle of young lawyer Hermon C. Lagman, whose militant advocacy helped workers demand their rights not only through legal processes but more importantly by mass action. He banded with the workers and together they fought for justice and the emancipation of the working class. In open defiance of the martial law strike ban, he spearheaded the strikes in La Tondeña Inc., Mead Johnson-Bristol Group of Companies, Atlantic Gulf and Pacific Co., and Solid Mills in 1975 and 1976.

For his resolute crusade to promote and protect workers’ rights, Lagman was taken by state agents on May 11, 1977, on Edsa. He remains missing after 38 years, six years more than his age of 32 at the time of his disappearance. “Hermon” also highlights the continuing torment of families, particularly the victim’s mother who endlessly grieves for her missing son and in her old age imagines that he would still reappear.

Enforced disappearances escalated to 882 documented incidents during martial law and did not taper off during the Cory Aquino presidency, which had 825 recorded cases. There were 94 cases during the Ramos administration; 58, Estrada; 340, Arroyo; and 25, the incumbent.

Verily, repression of dissent is endemic to all regimes. The state’s violation of liberty, freedom of association and free expression by enforced disappearance is both global and rooted in antiquity.

Persia had the “eyes and ears of the King” (Gli occhi e le orecchie del re), Spartans employed a secret police known as “Krypteia,” while the Roman Empire under Nero had the Praetorian Guards.

The Spanish term desaparecido, meaning “disappeared people,” refers to victims of state terrorism in Latin America during the 1970s and 1980s. In the infamous “death flights” in Chile and Argentina, particularly during Operation Condor by the military juntas, the victims’ bodies were jettisoned from airplanes into the sea.

To end the impunity unabashedly enjoyed by perpetrators, Republic Act No. 10353 was enacted on Dec. 21, 2012, to penalize enforced disappearance as a separate offense distinct from kidnapping, arbitrary detention, murder and other common crimes. It lists three elements of the crime: 1) any form of deprivation of liberty of the victim by agents of the state or their privies; 2) refusal to admit the deprivation of liberty or concealment of the fate or whereabouts of the victim; and 3) placing the victim outside the protection of the law. RA 10353, which also facilitates the identification and prosecution of offenders, is the first in Asia and has been hailed as a model legislation.

A companion law, which also originated from the House of Representatives, is RA 10368 providing for reparation and recognition of victims of human rights violations during the Marcos regime. Highest priority for compensation is given to victims of enforced disappearance, which is acknowledged as the worst kind of human rights violation.

The vast majority of the victims of enforced disappearance are farmers and workers. This is symptomatic of the correlation between economic inequity and the perpetration of involuntary disappearance. Mass poverty impels marginalized, oppressed, but politicized farmers and workers to voice their grievances against government, and even to rebel. Under the guise of a counterinsurgency campaign, the military and police resort to abduction, torture and extrajudicial killing to quell dissent and quiet discontent.

But the right to dissent is ascendant to the fear of repression. And so the tug-of-war continues. This will only end with the economic deliverance of the masses from the clutches of poverty and the fringes of despair.

Edcel C. Lagman is a former representative of the first district of Albay.

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Stunted Unionism Print
In the News
Wednesday, 25 February 2015 10:06

Stunted unionism

Edcel C. Lagman


1:39 AM | Wednesday, February 25th, 2015

On Jan. 23, 2002, the Supreme Court in Gerardo Rivera et al. vs. Hon. Eduardo Espiritu et al. rendered an unprecedented and unsettling decision legitimizing the abrogation of the collective bargaining agreement between Philippine Airlines and the PAL Employees Association and banning the forging of a CBA for a period of 10 years.


That CBA abrogation, coupled with the enforced absence of a CBA for one decade, was malevolently machinated by the PAL management, inordinately supported by then President Joseph “Erap” Estrada and finally sanctioned by the Supreme Court. It eroded the gains of trade unionism in the Philippines and set back the labor movement by decades.


“Can you eat the CBA?” was Erap’s admonition to PAL workers at the height of the PAL-Palea labor dispute in September 1998. It was either an expression of patent bias against workers or a reckless endorsement of the inflexible antilabor position of management.


“Workers eat their CBAs,” meaning that workers eat precisely because they have their CBAs. This was the retort of a crusading and fearless labor advocate and leader, whose assassination 13 years ago was marked last Feb. 6.


The Supreme Court’s unanimous and controversial decision was in the agenda of the 2002 annual conference in Geneva of the International Labor Organization, where the Philippines’ antilabor policies were widely criticized—to no avail. The decision became final and executory even as the local labor movement was stunted and imperiled.


Today, the data on the labor scenario are pathetic. Of the total active workforce, 34,388,000 are from the private sector and 2,922,000 from the public sector. Of those employed in private enterprises, only 1,420,286 or 4.13 percent are unionized; of the total government employees (national government agencies, local government units, government-owned and -controlled corporations or GOCCs, and state universities and colleges), only 518,047 or 17.7 percent are union members.


Of the 17,029 registered labor unions in the private sector, only 1,227 or 7.2 percent have existing CBAs. And of the 1,824 registered personnel associations or unions in the government sector, only 360 or 19.7 percent have collective negotiating agreements.


These are truly dismal figures. But what is more tragic is the dwindling number of actual strikes for the past five years, with only eight strikes in 2010, two in 2011, three in 2012, one in 2013, and two in 2014 recorded nationwide, not because of better work conditions, increased wages or industrial peace, but because of stunted unionism which is aggravated by globalization and unremitting contractualization.


The proliferation of strikes is never encouraged. Strikes are lawful weapons of last resort when reasonable bargaining and negotiations fail. But the absence of strikes is not indicative of workers’ contentment but of their apathy and helplessness under the overwhelming ascendancy of capital and the indifference or pressure of government.


This ominous trend must be reversed. Otherwise, the partnership between labor and capital will crumble with the continuing marginalization of Filipino workers.


The expanded membership of the association of rank-and-file personnel in GOCCs and government financial institutions or GFIs is a beacon of hope in public-sector unionism. Kamaggfi (Kapisanan ng mga Manggagawa sa GOCCs at GFIs) includes in its roster the workers’ unions in profit-generating government agencies. The combined net profits in 2014 of the Social Security System, Government Service Insurance System, and Land Bank of the Philippines alone amounted to P102.2 billion.


Kamaggfi, chaired by Amorsolo Competente, the president of Alert and Concerned Employees for Better SSS, must hurdle serious challenges. Its most formidable challenge is waging a successful campaign for the enactment of a long-delayed statute implementing the constitutional grant of the right to strike to government personnel. There is no pending bill of this import in the 16th Congress.


Section 3 of Article XIII of the 1987 Constitution provides: “[The State] shall guarantee the rights of all workers to self-organization, collective bargaining and negotiations and peaceful concerted activities, including the right to strike in accordance with law.”


The right to strike by private-sector workers is safeguarded, implemented and regulated by the Labor Code. But there is no counterpart legislation for public-sector employees on this matter. Hence, executive and administrative issuances deny the right to strike to government employees in the absence of an implementing law. This vacuum persists despite the Supreme Court’s suggestive observation in Social Security System Employees Association et al. vs. Court of Appeals et al. (1989) that “in the absence of any legislation allowing government employees to strike, recognizing their right to do so, or regulating the exercise of the right, they are prohibited from striking.” There is thus critical immediacy for the enactment of an implementing statute.


The right to strike by public-sector employees is imperative in government enterprises engaged in banking, insurance, transport, utilities, tourism infrastructure and energy. These are precisely the state businesses whose personnel unions are Kamaggfi members. These government employees must share in the fruits of their labor above the minimum benefits provided by law, which enhancement can be achieved through collective negotiations and concerted activities, including the staging of strikes, if necessary.


Philippine unionism badly needs a shot in the arm. The Kamaggfi can administer the requisite initial dose. Its activism can influence the revival of unionism in the public and private sectors. Legitimate, responsible and vigilant unions are indispensable institutions to preserve the partnership of workers with private capital and the government.

Edcel C. Lagman is a former representative of the first district of Albay.


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