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Agrarian reform in peril due to lack of fund

September 10, 2009 17:22:00
Lira Dalangin-Fernandez lira.fernandez@inquirer.net

MANILA, Philippines—Agrarian Reform Secretary Nasser Pangandaman on Thursday warned that the implementation of the newly-signed agrarian reform law could be in peril because of the meager budget appropriated to the department for 2010.

Presenting the Department of Agrarian Reform’s proposed outlay before the House committee on appropriations, Pangandaman said that the Development Budget Coordinating Committee (DBCC), which prepared the financial plan, approved only P19.7 billion for the operations of the department and the implementation of Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program with Extension and Reforms (CARPER).

The DA requested P23 billion, which was not approved, Pangandaman said.

Republic Act 9700 or the CARPER law allots P150 billion for the acquisition and distribution of some one million hectares of land over five years and for support services to the program beneficiaries.

If divided over five years, Pangandaman said that the department should get at least P30 billion budget for CARPER starting 2010.

The Secretary said that lack of funds could affect the department’s land acquisitions target.

“Our dilemma now is because based on the approved budget of the DBCC, we are only allowed to present P19.7 billion. We are afraid because our mandate is to acquire 200,000 hectares of land next year,” Pangandaman told the committee.

“With this budget, I’m afraid we cannot really cope up with our task to cover the one million hectares in the next five years,” he said.

He said the DA would ask Congress to augment its budget through a supplemental appropriation.

Interviewed on the sidelines of the hearing, Albay Representative Edcel Lagman said the committee “will look favorably” on the DAR’s request “so that they can meet their target and that we can implement the CARP extension.”

Lagman, vice chairperson of the panel, also stressed that the P150 billion fund for CARPER was a “continuing appropriation,” which means that the department does not need to ask Congress for it.

“They should not be constrained because Congress appropriated P150 billion for five years (to CARPER) and I think the executive cannot negate that,” Lagman added.

“The problem really is are there funds, because the appropriation is there, but the availability of funds is another problem. But if there are funds then it should be released because there are continuing appropriation,” he said.

Nueva Vizcaya Representative Carlos Padilla said he would ask Malacañang if the P30 billion estimated budget for CARPER is on top of the annual budget of DAR. He said it should also be made clear if there are available funds, otherwise, he said the landmark law would be just for show.

In its report, DAR officials said that of the total budget appropriated for CARPER, 53 percent will go to land acquisition, while 44 percent will go to program beneficiaries development, which include support services to beneficiaries to ensure the sustainability of the program.

Meanwhile, Representative Leonardo Montemayor of party list ABA-AKO asked Pangandaman to look into report that DAR employees have linked up with “syndicates” to exempt lands from CARP conversion.

Montemayor said he received reports that such practice was happening and it deprives farmer beneficiaries of lands.

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