MANILA, Philippines (2nd UPDATE) - Farmers and Malacañang officials on Friday held a dialogue for land distribution.
The farmers belonging to Task Force Mapalad are calling on President Benigno Aquino to complete the distribution of land under the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) by 2014, when the CARPER Law expires.
They wanted to seek an audience with the President but Aquino is currently in the United States in an official state visit.
The President was represented in the meeting by Budget Secretary Butch Abad, Agrarian Reform Secretary Gil delos Reyes, presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda and Presidential Management Staff head Julia Abad. Landbank President and CEO Gilda Pico was also present.
The Palace heard the concerns of the farmers and also conveyed to them what the administration has done in terms of agrarian reform.
The dialogue lasted for more than 4 hours, with the farmers being given the chance to air their concerns and their specific cases -- the long wait that they have endured for land in different parts of the country, mostly in negros occidental, bukidnon, and davao oriental, as well as the police brutality that they had to bear.
Faster land distribution
They want the distribution of lands fast-tracked in the next 2 years, given the looming expiration of the CARPER Law.
The administration reiterated its full commitment to agrarian reform.
It admits that the distribution of land may not be completed by 2014 given opposition from some land owners and technical complications, but it believes that the process of distributing land may continue beyond 2014 as long as the notices of coverage have been issued.
Lacierda described the meeting as extensive and very fruitful, saying it has paved the way for a better understanding.
The farmers are especially thankful to Catholic bishops for supporting them, paving the way for the meeting in Malacañang.
Lacierda said the meeting was attended by 27 farmer representatives headed by Manila Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo, former Sen. Nene Pimentel, Bishop Bernardino Cortez, Association of Major Religious Superiors of the Philippines officials, members of the Task Force Mapalad, and other people's organizations
"There was frank exchange of concerns and solutions were discussed by the parties," Lacierda said.
"We will be briefing the President after he returns from the US. The meeting was extensive and very fruitful. The dialogue has paved the way for a better understanding and the Aquino government reiterated its full commitment to agrarian reform," he added.
Meeting with Aquino
During the meeting, an an agreement was made for Aquino to personally meet with the farmers after he arrives from the United States.
This was announced by Pabillo in a press conference at Mendiola right after the dialogue inside Malacañang.
Lacierda also confirmed the development.
He said Aquino would like to meet with the farmers and the Palace is just hoping to confirm the schedule.
"Yes, we're hoping to schedule it," Lacierda said in a text message to ABS-CBN News.
The farmers will stat at the Caritas office in Pandacan as they await the confirmation as to when the President can meet them. - reports from Willard Cheng, ABS-CBN News