MANILA, Philippines -- Agrarian Reform Secretary Virgilio delos Reyes on Friday said it is "grossly unfair" to say that his department is slow in distributing lands to farmer beneficiaries under the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP).
His statement comes after Catholic bishops called for his resignation due to DAR's alleged slow action.
In an interview with ANC's "Headstart," delos Reyes said it is unfair to compare DAR's performance under his leadership with the previous administrations.
He said: "In previous decades, we have been distributing government-owned lands and those which are done by way of voluntary land transfer. That is very easy. The government owns the land; you put a title; you distribute it. And those which are done by voluntary land transfer, there is already an agreement between the land owner and beneficiary then you give it. No problem. No conflict."
He noted that around 60 percent of the lands that have been distributed by DAR for the past 20 years has been under that mode.
"Only 7 percent was done under compulsory acquisition which means the owner does not want to give it; he's not going to cooperate; he has a title; you have to pay him and then you transfer it to the beneficiary," delos Reyes said.
"So when you compare to the past, I think it's grossly unfair," he continued.
Land record problems, missing land titles
Many other factors hamper the government's move to fast-track land reform. These include problems in land records and missing land titles.
He said these problems have been around even before he headed the agency.
Delos Reyes said in 2011, just months after he joined DAR, they had to "exhume" about 45,000 folders of land titles and make an inventory of the lands that they are to distribute.
"About 45,000 folders in the entire country were exhumed. Yes, they were literally buried. We took them; we opened them. We got all the employees; we hired extra people, put them in hotels and began to open all folders," he said.
The secretary also claimed that as early as 2012, he already admitted to the Catholic bishops that DAR would not be able to finish the land distribution by 2014, which is the time the law expires.
'2014 is a false deadline'
Delos Reyes said one reason why bishops continue to criticize him is because they are "misinformed" on the law.
Contrary to the fear of some bishops that distribution will stop once the law expires in June 30, 2014, he claimed it can continue beyond 2014.
"The problem with the target set by many people, including the bishops who I believe have been misinformed, is that they have set 2014 as the deadline for complete land distribution," he said.
"The bishops were heavily involved in pushing for this law that we have right now and I'd like to call their attention to Section 30 of the same law that they had a big hand in pushing...which says if there is an open case by June 30, 2014 which is the deadline, it means it can go beyond June 30, 2014."
"2014 is really a false deadline... It's like December 21, 2012 -- it's not the end of the world," he added.
Delos Reyes said he is ready to have a dialogue with his critics to help them see the situation in a "different light."
"I'm prepared to face you and to talk to you about what is really happening. I am prepared that if you want to visit our offices all over the province and examine the record that we have, perhaps you might see a different light," he said.
He also addressed the bishops' concern that DAR should extend more services to farmers.
Delos Reyes said that aside from the agency's land distribution, the Department of Agriculture is also helping and guiding the farmers in what they should do with their lands.
"So that when a farmer makes a decision, his option to make money or improve his life through that land should be there," he said.