I was at the meeting last night where Bishop Pabillo decided — above the objections of civil society members who were concerned for his welfare and apprehensive about his chosen mode — to go on hunger strike to call for the passage of the CARP Extension with Reform Law. At first, I too was voicing my apprehension over his decision. If it did not work, if Congress would not budge, what will happen? But seeing his determination, we knew that a decision had been made and the times had imposed upon us a duty to come together as one and support it.
I would be the first to admit that I am incapable of doing a hunger strike. Skipping just one meal a day makes me grouchy and makes my head hurt. That is why I have nothing but deep respect and admiration for a man who made the difficult decision to take this mode of protest.
After twenty years, the agrarian reform law is once more on the threshold of uncertainty. Without a new law, funding for land acquisition and distribution is set to expire. After December 31, 2008, the DAR will no longer be granted funds to continue the process of redistribution. After December 31, 2008, farmers who do not own the land they till will have no more hope of owning it. After December 31, 2008, yet undistributed landholdings will never go to the farmers and will forever be held by the original landowners.
Last week, on Wednesday, landed congressmen floated a new proposal, said to be their quid pro quo for passing the law: take away COMPULSORY ACQUISITION. My head spun upon hearing this. Without the compulsory nature of agrarian reform, agrarian reform is dead.
Agrarian reform is precisely the act of a State exercising its power to break up elite interests over huge landholdings, even amidst opposition of a self-interested few. Without compulsory acquisition, the Constitutional mandate of agrarian reform is rendered nugatory and the gains that can still be expected shall no longer be reaped.
It also bears emphasizing that most of the lands yet undistributed are located in agrarian reform hotspots, where landowner resistance has resulted not only in non-redistribution but also in oppression and outright violence. If they have succeeded in retaining their lands under a legal regime where compulsory acquisition is worded into the law, it is sheer foolishness to expect them to give up their lands when acquisition and distribution is at their option.
Brother Utoy, who I know only online and because he stumbled on my blog, tagged me to write a prayer for the next President. I had been putting off doing this because I was not really in 2010 mode, and admittedly see little hope in the leadership of this country.
My only prayer is this: that finally, finally, they be put first.
And that the day would finally come when no one — whether bishop or farmer — would need to go on hunger strike so that no farmer in the countryside would ever have to go hungry again.