SPEAKER Ferdinand Martin G. Romualdez on Friday lauded President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. for signing the New Agrarian Emancipation Act, which frees more than half a million beneficiaries of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) from the shackles of indebtedness.
Romualdez, accompanied by several lawmakers from the House of Representatives, was among the government officials who witnessed President Marcos sign the law that condones P57.56 billion in debt of 610,054 agrarian reform beneficiaries (ARBs) tilling 1.173 million hectares of land.
“The groundbreaking legislation is a testament to President Marcos’ unwavering commitment to the welfare of our farmers and the promotion of agricultural development,” Speaker Romualdez said.
“By condoning these substantial debts, the Act aims to alleviate the burden on our agrarian reform beneficiaries, providing them with a fresh start and a renewed opportunity to enhance their productivity, improve their livelihood, and uplift the quality of their lives,” he added.
Ako Bisaya Party-list Rep. Sonny Lagon and Camarines Sur Rep. LRay Villafuerte said the signing of Republic Act (RA) No. 11953, or the New Agrarian Emancipation Act, is a “defining moment” in the Marcos presidency as it will truly emancipate over a half-million CARP farmer-beneficiaries from their decades-old debts, opening their access to rural credit and empowering them to make more productive the combined 1.17 million hectares that they till.
“This is a strong commitment of President Marcos and Speaker Martin to make the lives of our farmers better. We will continue to pass legislation that champion the interests of ordinary people,” Lagon, one of the principal authors of the law, said.
For Villafuerte, a principal author of RA 11953, the law is “a defining moment for President Marcos in his first year in office as it will provide badly-needed financial relief to more than 600,000 ARBs and their families, while at the same benefitting the country’s consumers as the higher productivity expected from these farmers’ debt condonation will eventually spell bigger harvests and cheaper rice and other food crops.”
Being freed from their unpaid amortizations, interests, surcharges and penalties on their CARP loans, these farmers will gain access to credit and thus be able to invest more in their croplands to improve their yields and incomes, he said.
“RA 11953 demonstrates President Marcos’ commitment to modernizing agriculture and boosting our farmers’ yields and incomes, which is in keeping with his government’s agenda to achieve food security, if not self-sufficiency, and make economic growth sustainable and inclusive for all Filipinos, including those in the agriculture sector,” Villafuerte, president of the National Unity Party, said.
Villafuerte added that condonation of the farmers’ CARP debts puts flesh into a provision of RA 11494 – the Bayanihan to Recover as One Act or Bayanihan 2 of which he was the principal author in the House of Representatives – giving financial relief to ARBs during the state of calamity declared by then-President Rodrigo Duterte because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
“The payment of interests, penalties and surcharges of loans used for land acquisition to any and all government agencies and government-owned or -controlled corporations (GOCCs) including Land Bank of the Philippines (LandBank) shall be condoned, and the remaining original principal value be restructured without interest thereon,” said Villafuerte, citing Section 4 of RA 11494.
This particular section of Bayanihan 2 states that: “All previous payment for interest be credited to principal payment instead: Provided, further, that the condonation of interests, penalties and surcharges from these loans shall be in conformity with the applicable general banking laws and regulations of the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas.”
“President Marcos’ signing of RA 11953 completes the genuine intent of the Congress to free our farmers from their bondage to generational poverty by condoning their CARP debts, which will gain them access to rural credit that will, in turn, let them make their lands more productive and boost their crop yields,” Villafuerte said.
Under existing laws, ARBs are required to pay for the land awarded to them in annual installments with 6 percent interest for a maximum period of 30 years. The measure condones all the unpaid amortizations of the principal debt, including interests and surcharges.
The measure also stops the execution of a final and executory administrative or judicial ruling solely due to the failure of an ARB to pay the amortization and interest that would disqualify him, and result in the cancellation of his agrarian reform title.
Agrarian reform lands forfeited solely due to the same reason shall be restored to the original beneficiaries.
“Hindi na maaagaw sa mga magsasaka natin ang 1.1 milyong ektarya ng lupa na sinasaka nila ngayon. Ligtas na sila sa pagbabayad ng utang at interes na nagpahirap sa kanila sa maraming taon.
Magagamit na nila ang pera nila sa pagpapalago ng ani at kita para sa kanilang pamilya,” the Speaker explained.
The government will also assume the obligation of 10,201 ARBs tilling 11,531.24 hectares of land to pay the remaining balance of the direct compensation due the concerned landowners under the Voluntary Land Transfer or the Direct Payment Scheme amounting to P206, 247,776.41 million.
Romualdez is confident that the new law will serve as a catalyst for rural development and contribute to the overall growth and prosperity of the nation.
“When our farmers are freed from the burden of debt, they would be able to invest more in their land and improve their productivity. This can lead to better yields and profits, which can help improve the lives of our farmers and their families,” the Speaker said.
The new law gains even more significance now that the country is facing the twin challenges of increased prices of farm inputs, particularly fertilizers, and the harmful effects of climate change on the agriculture sector, according to Romualdez.
Romualdez said the New Agrarian Emancipation Act demonstrates the determination of President Marcos to address the longstanding challenges faced by CARP beneficiaries.
He noted that the law also establishes comprehensive support services for ARBs, the lack of which was estimated to have resulted in over P400 billion in lost productivity annually for CARP lands.
Under the new law, ARBs shall also be automatically included in the Registry System for Basic Sectors in Agriculture of the Department of Agriculture which would entitle them to all support services given to the farmers by the DA and other government agencies.
The law likewise exempts ARBs from payment of estate tax. ARBs who fully paid their agrarian debt will be given priority of access to credit facilities and support services.
“This law is in line with the principles of social justice and economic empowerment, which have always been at the forefront of Pres. Marcos’ vision for our country,” Romualdez said.
The House approved its version of the measure, or House Bill 6336, in December 2022, while the Senate approved the counterpart measure last March.
The New Agrarian Emancipation Act is among the 33 pieces of legislation the House has approved to date, out of the original 42 priority measures of the Marcos administration identified through the Legislative-Executive Advisory Council.