Impressed with her performance in the Commission on Immigration and Deportation, President Corazon Aquino appointed Miriam Agrarian Reform Secretary in 1989. The president ordered her “to put everything in place, institute reforms and help plug loopholes in the present agrarian reform law.”
Miriam lost no time in overhauling the department’s policies. She instituted three major policies in agrarian reform. First, to concretize the basic philosophy of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law (CARL), she stressed that all doubts on the inclusion of lands in the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) should be resolved in favor of inclusion.
Second, under her term, the DAR policy was to prefer the contract-growing principle over the lease-back arrangement, particularly with respect to corporate farms or plantations. Under the lease-back arrangement, the tiller would end up as the lessor who receives rent and remains a mere laborer of multinational corporations. In contrast, the principle of land to the tillers would still be practiced under the contract-growing scheme. The contract grower would have a say on how much would be produced and in marketing the produce.
Third and most important, under her term, the DAR shifted its land acquisition thrust from the voluntary offer-to-sell (VOS) scheme to compulsory acquisition of lands to hasten the pace of the CARP.
The VOS scheme implemented during her predecessor’s term was riddled with anomalies and corruption. Miriam assumed her duties when the DAR was being rocked by the highly controversial and fraudulent Garchitorena land deal. The former agrarian reform secretary was forced to resign due to the scandal.
One of Miriam’s first acts as agrarian reform secretary was to halt all land transactions under the VOS method, and order the investigation of all past and pending transactions.
Miriam sent Notices of Compulsory Acquisition to big landowners, including relatives of President Aquino, forcing them to sell some 5,000 hectares of land in northern Tarlac province.
Miriam’s boldest move as agrarian reform secretary was to ask President Aquino to inhibit herself from deliberations of the Presidential Agrarian Reform Council (PARC) on the stock distribution scheme of Hacienda Luisita. The president was the chairperson of PARC, while Santiago was its vice chairperson.
The Cojuangcos availed themselves of the CARP’s stock-transfer option scheme allowing the President’s family to distribute shares of stocks to the Cojuangco corporation instead of distributing land titles from the estate. Critics decried the scheme, saying it allowed the owners to retain control of the estate.
Miriam endorsed to Congress an alternative “people’s agrarian reform program” (Parcode) drafted by the Congress for People’s Agrarian Reform, a coalition of farmers’ groups including the militant Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) and the conservative Federation of Free Farmers (FFF). She said the Parcode was a “superior piece of legislation” and “rational, highly logical, and consistent.” The Parcode put land retention limits to five hectares.
Under the CARL, the retention limit was 11 hectares, which virtually exempted 75% of all agricultural lands from land reform. Miriam’s endorsement was hailed by farmers’ organizations.
As a senator, Miriam supports agricultural workers and seeks meaningful implementation of agrarian reform.
From an April 2008 interview:
On the proposed extension of the CARP Law
I am in favor of the CARP extension. I filed a similar counterpart bill here in the Senate and I will ask the chair of the Senate committee on agrarian reform to schedule it for public hearing, or, if it has already been heard, to submit its committee report.
We really have to extend the CARP for the reason that it has failed in its objectives. Ang tagal-tagal na ng ating CARP, pero hindi ito nakatulong sa ating mga magsasaka. Hindi rin ito nakatulong sa ating supply ng bigas.
Ang pilosopiya ng CARP ay ibigay sa magsasaka ang lupa mula mga nagmamay-ari ng lupaing agrikultural, para ang nagtatanim ay siya ring may-ari. Kabaligtaran ang nangyari dahil nakakita ang mga may-ari ng lupa ng loophole. Nag-apply sila for conversion ng lupa nila para hindi tawaging agricultural ang lupa nila para hindi mapasailalim sa CARP, at tawagin itong residential, commercial o industrial. Exempt na nga sila sa agrarian reform, kikita pa sila ng windfall profits.
Pinagbawal iyan ng ating batas, pero dahil sa graft and corruption sa agrarian reform, nagawa pa rin nila iyon. Tatanggapin na lang ba natin iyan na nagtagumpay ang mga crooks na ito sa paglinlang sa ating mamamayan tungkol sa agrarian reform. Hindi tayo nakakakamit ng tunay na repormang agraryo dahil ang mga maliliit na magsasaka ay walang pera kapag naghihintay ng ani nila, dati nanghihiram sila sa kanilang landlord. Ngayon, kapag wala na silang pera, binebenta nila ang kanilang lupa na nakuha nila sa agrarian reform. The effect is we have not given land to the landless.
Also, hindi sila kumikita sa kanilang ani dahil hindi sila binibigyan ng gobyerno ng support services gaya ng fertilizer, irrigation, at postharvest facilities. In effect, the agrarian reform program has been a big disaster to our country. Dapat ipakulong natin ang mga absentee landowners na nakakita ng palusot sa agrarian reform.
Hinihikayat ko ang Senado na imbestigahan ang Department of Agrarian Reform kung ano ang mga pangalan ng mga tao at korporasyon na nakakuha ng conversion, gaano kalawak ang lupang na-convert nila, at ano ang nangyari sa conversion nila.