What Agrarian Reform Means to Me

Farmer-Leader Oscar Castillo (middle) meets with other CARRD BOT members

Ka Ocs is a farmer-leader and CARRD’s former Executive Director. He was one of the few people who possess the gift of real community organizing; and through that, he was able to help several farmers and farm workers to own the land that they till. What’s funny is that, while he was able to do this feat for others, he remains to be a leasehold farmer until now. He never used the influence that he has gained in the course of his engagements to promote his interest. As a matter of fact, his godson is no other than the current DAR Secretary, Virgilio delos Reyes. In spite of this, he is allowing the law to take its due course. He patiently waits, and he encourages other farmers in his ranks to respect the law. You see, the manner of acquisition for his landholding is slightly different with that of the other estates covered by CARP, that’s why it takes longer as well.

He was CARRD’s Executive Director for more than a decade. His leadership inspired people; and his down to earth demeanor encouraged farmers to speak up, to aspire that — farmers though they are, they are capable of doing great things.  He thrived and survived in a world with know-it-all professionals and political figures. Type his name on your browser, and you will know what I am talking about.

Oscar M. Castillo

I was born into a farming family. My father is a tenant-farmer tilling the land he does not own. I grew up in the farms helping my parents in farm works. Others may call it child labor.

I became a fulltime farmer myself when I got married. Also as a tenant- farmer tilling the land I do not own. I know by heart the life and hardships of being a tenant-farmer.

Experiencing hard life, I began to realize the unfairness of the tenancy system. I got less than 50% of my produce. The absentee landowner doing nothing got more than 50%.

Discussions with fellow farmers about our miserable situation started as we began negotiating with the landowner for a just and fair sharing. Sympathetic groups and individuals from concern sectors assisted us in analyzing our problems and issues.

Planning our moves carefully, we decided to form an organization to serve as our vehicle to carry out our struggle. That was the birth of KASAMA in Western Batangas in 1984. Sympathetic groups and individuals assisted us in the study of Agrarian Reform Laws and our rights and responsibilities as farmers. We became Farmer Paralegals.

We began working for a just and transparent sharing system moving gradually towards the conversion of tenancy relations into a leasehold system. We succeeded and our organization was recognized by the community and the government, especially the DAR at both local and national levels. From being tenant-farmers we were elevated into leaseholders paying fixed rentals on the land we till.

After the EDSA People Power Revolution in 1986, we took the opportunity to campaign for a comprehensive agrarian reform program. We started by launching nationwide consultations among farmers groups and organizations in coming up with an AR program concept from the farmers’ point of view. This culminated in the formation of a national umbrella to spearhead our campaign. That was the birth of PAKISAMA a national federation of farmers’ organizations here in the Philippines.

Knowing the strength of the counter lobby of landowners against AR we joined forces with other peasant organizations existing during that time together with people of good will from all sectors of society such that we became the Congress for a Peoples’ Agrarian Reform (CPAR)

With the help of support groups, CPAR drafted a Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Bill, which was submitted to then President Corazon Aquino and later to the Philippine Congress. Through our extensive and rigorous nationwide campaign we gained the support of almost all sectors of society to push for the passage of this bill. The result was the watered down version of our proposal, The Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law (CARL) of 1988 also known as R.A. 6657.

Having the law in place, the next problem was its implementation. Strong landlord resistance coupled with land deal scandals rocked the early days of implementation.

Fortunately in 1992 a new DAR secretary was appointed. Things looked brighter because he came from the ranks of the NGO community with a progressive outlook. Strong partnerships were established among the ranks of the NGOs and POs, which facilitated the program implementation. Though the law is far from perfect thousands of farmers benefited from its implementation.

The program, which was expected to be implemented in 10 years or until 1998 was extended for another 10 years up to June 2008 due to delays and problems in the implementation. According to practical estimates it will not be finished at the scheduled time. Maybe, another extension is what we need!

At any rate we have a law, which is being implemented; though there are delays and difficulties in its implementation, thousands of farmers have benefited from the program.


1. I think the relative success of AR in the Philippines had to do with the following factors;
 The strong clamor, conviction and solidarity of farmer leaders and farmer organizations
 The strong support of civil society groups and other sectors
 The time was perfect enough as a new democratic government through people power was established
2. AR as a social justice measure is a must if we are to eradicate exploitation, hunger, and poverty in the rural areas. Without AR genuine development will not take place.
3. A government dominated by the elite will not implement a genuine AR program unless pressured by strong lobbying by farmers and support groups.
4. It is really difficult to implement AR in an elitist democratic set up; but it can be done.
5. Government alone cannot implement AR without the active participation of the farmers and other sectors of society.
6. AR does not end with the transfer of lands alone. Necessary support services like credit, technology, and infrastructures should be put in place for it to succeed.
7. Peasant organizations and cooperatives play a very crucial role throughout the AR process— before, during, and after.
8. For a small farmer like me, owning the land we till spells the difference between poverty and prosperity, or practically it could mean life or death, because that small piece of land is our life.


The Journey of Ka Oyong


Ka Oyong (second from left) discusses land tenure issues with CARRD Assistant Director Joy Demaluan (left) and farmers from Bgy. Pooc, Balayan, Batangas

Aster De Alban 

CARRD’s AR work in Batangas can be best summed up in Gregorio “Ka Oyong” Ellao’s journey towards land acquisition.

Ka Oyong was born on November 28, 1947 to farmer-parents in Gimalas, Balayan, Batangas. He started assisting his father in farm work at the young age of 13. In 1970, Ka Oyong met and married Tomasa Leonardo Ellao, the woman who would be his partner for life and the mother to his five children – Froilan, Leoncio, Margarita, Ramona and Marivic.

Despite the rigors of farm life and his growing brood, Ka Oyong would find time to participate and assist AR advocates and fellow farmers in pushing for the passage of R.A. 6657 or the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law (CARL). Like the thousands of farmers in the country, his hopes of a just and better future were bolstered through the enactment of the said law in June 1988. This was also the start of a beautiful relationship between Ka Oyong and CARRD.

CARRD, cognizant of Ka Oyong’s potential invited the latter to be an active participant in its various endeavors particularly in its paralegal efforts in the area. Ka Oyong became a member of the Center’s original group of paralegals trained to assist fellow farmers in the realization of their dreams to own the land they and their ascendants have been tilling for decades. Up to this day, despite having successfully acquired his own parcel of land in 1993, Ka Oyong remains to be one of CARRD’s most trusted and hardworking paralegals.

Ka Oyong likewise became a member of the NAGKASAMA MPC, one of CARRD’s partner cooperatives whose constituency is composed of farmer beneficiaries in Western Batangas. Ka Oyong’s admirable disposition, active participation and almost self-deprecating attitude earned for him the lasting respect of his co-members in the organization.

When asked of what he thinks of the existing land reform program in the country Ka Oyong said “Sa marunong sa batas ay maganda ang repormang agraryo pero sa hindi ito ay palso”, thereby reiterating his belief that every farmer must be given the benefit of fully comprehending the basics of the law and its implementing program, CARP.

Although, grateful that his dream of owning a parcel of land has been realized, Ka Oyong still considers the fact that all his five children are now professionals with Nautical Science, Computer Programming, Computer Science and Customs Administation degrees as his and his wife’s sweetest triumph.

Ka Oyong has this to say to his fellow farmers “Lakasan pa ang loob at wag padala sa panghihina para makamtan ang inaasam na lupa. Kailangan din ay pahalagahan ang lupang nakamit at mas dodoblihen ang sipag para gumanda ang ani.”


Organic Rice Farmer Sees Youngest Son Graduate

Aster De Alban


Nanay Ofelia dela Cruz chats with former Provincial Agrarian Reform Officer Rodrigo Hoderial

On March 2007, organic rice farmer Ofelia Dela Cruz saw her youngest child graduate from college. This was her sixth trip to the stage as one of the proud parents.

Nay Ofelia recounts how hard it was to support all of her seven children with the family’s meager income. Both she and her husband are rice farmers in Brgy. Salngan, Passi, Iloilo. It was difficult enough to put food on their table, but they were steadfast in their goal to send all of their children to school. Farming is their life and no matter how noble they consider this livelihood, they were determined to give their children a college degree.

“Debts were piling up. Our organic rice produce would only get us at the most 7 pesos per kilo from traders. They would then sell this for about 30 pesos per kilo in the market. It can be very frustrating. But that is how it is. We cannot really ask for a higher price because they might not buy our product in the end, she said in Filipino.

In a study conducted by the Philippine Development Assistance Program (PDAP) it was mentioned that there has been a growing demand for chemical-free products like muscovado and organic rice. Considering this, one would think that organic farmers will reap in bigger benefits. Nay Ofelia said that they do not really see any difference in the farm level. Assistance usually comes from civil society organizations like the Center for Agrarian Reform and Rural Development (CARRD).

CARRD has an ongoing organic rice production project with the Salngan Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries Multi-Purpose Cooperative (SARBMPC) of which, Nay Ofelia is a member. This project provided SARBMPC with their own solar dryer. A rice mill exclusively for organic rice is set to be built this month. This will be a big help in getting certification for their organic rice since requirements are very strict.

With all these, Nay Ofelia hopes that they will eventually get a better price. A higher income would mean her fellow rice farmers will afford a better standard of living and more of their children finishing college.

And Then What?

Joe-Anna Marie Casidsid-Abelinde

This was written some time in 2010, when I was first hired as a Research and Advocacy Officer at CARRD. I was clueless then. Agrarian reform was not exactly a foreign concept. But my knowledge of it was as distant and as passive as Mt. Apo. I know for a fact that Mt. Apo is the tallest mountain in the Philippines, but I only know that much. 

Sumilao and Hacienda Luisita. Farmers walking or waging a bloody battle for the right to own a piece of land in their own country. I’ve associated these images with agrarian reform… or rather, I have associated agrarian reform with these images. They were disconcerting, but they were an alien struggle for someone like me – who, upon growing in a colorful community in Tundo, was more at home with the squalid living conditions of the pedicab drivers and the kanto tambays, some of them seek the fruits of their existence in a bottle of Cossack or a stick of Mighty; or mothers who pass the time by playing bingo or by talking about the latest love affairs or pregnancies in the neighborhood; or children who buy soft drinks and cupcake for their breakfast, lunch and supper in the nearest sari-sari store – whoever says that food needs to be served in a table?

Fate has put me in social work. I never imagined myself being involved in the lives of other people. I’ve harbored a strange discomfort in a crowd, even when the crowd is comprised of familiar faces. I was not fond of dealing with people and going outside of my comfort zone, and I often just walk out of the scene rather than force myself to talk with them; but I guess it was my greater fear of Mathematics that has tipped the scale in my future career choice. As a late enrollee in a state university, I was left with social work and engineering. I have chosen social work without even thinking what it means. That time, it has appeared to me, a salvation from a life of numbers.

Farmers from Bgy. Consolacion Dumalag Capiz protest against the long delay of the resolution of their land dispute against a group of land grabbers

After graduating, I worked for four years in a sponsorship organization that caters to the health and education needs of children in the poorest urban communities. I’ve been really happy with the people I worked with, and never in my wildest dreams did I imagine myself doing social work for other causes besides children.

But a few days ago, I found myself hired in an organization, which advances the rights of rural farm workers for land ownership and agricultural sustainability. That is not exactly an ideal career transition, but somehow, I am happy that an opportunity for further learning has been opened for me. Agrarian reform, at that very moment, still carries the imagery of Hacienda Luisita and Sumilao in my consciousness. Like most people, I thought that land reform issues start and finish with land ownership. We do not pay much attention to the lives of those who have been awarded with a land to till for their own. For most of us, particularly for those who live in the urban areas, the story of agrarian reform is about the dramatic struggle for land ownership, with landlords using arms in order to protect their interests and with the DAR and NGOs serving as mediators. The struggle would end in the awarding of land titles to the tearful farmers and after that they will live happily ever after until the end of their days; or if not – then it becomes a tragic story and a source of angst of the oppressed over the pot-bellied rich (but then its also just an imagery, because the rich could easily afford liposuction whenever they want to).

But it’s not really like that. Some of those who were awarded with lands are often forced to re-sell their farms for lack of starting capital or technical skills or access to markets. You see, these things have been provided by the landowners before and it is not very easy for a farmer who has two hectares or so to go to the market and sell his produce (especially when he has to travel long distances in rough roads – even his carabao won’t accompany him). His land is also too small to serve as loan collateral in major institutions like Land Bank of the Philippines. His only hope is through credit cooperatives, which must be initiated by farmers from his own ranks. But these credit cooperatives could not access loans from financial institutions as well – particularly if they lack the necessary credentials to ensure that they have the capacity to pay back the loan, and so on and so forth.

This is a sad story – particularly at a time when the country is beset with an increasing shortage of food supply for its people; at a time when agriculture is needed to boost the nation’s development, and potentially reduce poverty in the rural areas, where it is more rampant. It’s a sadder story that agrarian reform issues are – at the outset, connected with rallies and long struggles. But the saddest part? Thinking of happily ever afters when the real battle has only commenced. It’s like being so moved and inspired in the EDSA rallies and not doing anything about it, where memory serves to impress the spectators of conversations and story-telling and then what?