Senators eye creation of new agency after agrarian reform dept fulfills mandate

Gillan Ropero, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Oct 06 2020 02:51 PM

MANILA - At least two senators on Tuesday said they are considering the creation of a new agency once the Department of Agrarian Reform completes its mandate to distribute land.

Sen. Imee Marcos said there was a proposal to create a Department of Rural Development, while Sen. Ralph Recto said he was considering to file a measure creating a Department of Fisheries.

The agency is also in a "quandary" as to what will happen once it completes the distribution of the remaining 150,000 hectares of land, its chief John Castriciones told senators during a hearing on the agency's proposed 2021 budget.

In charge of the national agrarian reform program, the agency's mandate is to ensure "equitable land distribution, ownership, agricultural productivity, and tenurial security for, of and with the tillers of the land towards the improvement of their quality of life," according to its website. 

The DAR, with a proposed budget of P8.8 billion, aims to distribute some 40,000 hectares of land in 2021, he said. The proposed budget is 7 percent less than this year's P9.526 billion, he added.

"At this point in time we are also in some sort of evaluation with regards to what will happen to the department after we have concluded with the distribution of lands," Castriciones said.

"Under the Constitution there's a provision there which states even after the distribution of lands intended for agrarian reform, the function of the department will continue its agrarian justice delivery and support services entitled to our agrarian reform beneficiaries." 

When asked if DAR might fulfill its mandate in 2 to 3 years, Castriciones said, "Barring no complications we will be able to deliver and comply with the completion of our delivery of the land acquisition and distribution."

Sen. Cynthia Villar, head of the Senate committee on agriculture, food and agrarian reform, proposed delegating agrarian reform justice delivery to the Department of Justice, but Castriciones said the service was a "specialization" of the DAR.

Villar, meantime, questioned Recto's proposal as fisheries make up only 15 percent of the country's agriculture versus 33 percent of livestock and 53 percent of crops.

"Baka naman magreklamo ang livestock, poultry and dairy kasi mas malaki sila, mas marami sila tapos mas maliit ang budget nila kasi ang inaasahan ng gobyerno private sector-led," she said.

(Livestock, poultry and dairy farmers might complain because they have more members but they have a small budget because government relies on the private sector.)

Recto said there was a need to create a separate agency for fishermen as "they are often forgotten."

"Mas malaki ang karagatan natin kesa sa land area natin (Our sea area is bigger than our land area) that’s why I was saying there might be a need for a Department of Fisheries," he added.

The DAR's proposed budget is considered admitted for Senate plenary consideration and approval, Villar said.

She, however, asked the DAR to submit a list of agrarian reform beneficiaries tilling minor crops and to focus on funding them.

"'Yung major crops (beneficiaries) niyo ibigay niyo na sa Department of Agriculture, mag-focus na lang kayo sa minor na wala kaming legislation on that like rubber, banana and other crops," she said.

(Give your list of major crops beneficiaries to the Department of Agriculture, focus on the minor crops because we have no legislation on that.)