Government Urged to Review RP-China Deal

By Roy Lagarde
CBCP News Online

MANILA, April 2, 2008—A senior member of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) urged the government to review an agreement that allows China to utilize 1.2 million hectares of idle and under-utilized land in the Philippines.

Cagayan Archbishop Antonio Ledesma said that while the government has suspended the deal, the fear that it might be implemented again is still reigning.

Ledesma said the agribusiness deals that the government has ventured with China are “highly questionable” because it perils the country’s food security.

He said that the lack of transparency in the signing of the agreement was also “palpable” with stakeholders.

Such transactions, he said, would negate or undermine the country’s agrarian reform program and would even endanger “our fragile” environment.

“The RP-China agribusiness ventures were rushed in the guise of economic progress and in the name of bilateral economic cooperation, and should be reviewed,” Ledesma said.

In the agreement, China will help the government in the development of infrastructure projects in the identified 1.2 million hectares.

Because it is a lease agreement, China will bring technology management and take over the land, and implement their priorities.

Ledesma underscored that such agreement is disadvantageous to the country and to the millions of farmers who might be affected.

Department of Agriculture secretary Arthur Yap suspended in September 2007 the 1.2 million-hectare deals.

But still some local government units and special government agencies are trying to identify and consolidate thousands of hectares of land, which the Chinese investors can take over.

The bishop then urged the government to just fast track its implementation of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program instead of pushing for the said agreement.

He said officials should strengthen agrarian reform communities to make them more productive and improve the food productivity capacity of the agriculture sector.

Ledesma said the government must let the people freely determine their path to development.

As needy farmers, the prelate said, have no resources, financial or otherwise, they have to remain mainly on the assistance of government.

“We encourage our government to provide opportunities that would allow every person’s true worth to flourish and enjoy the fullness of human life,” he said.

“A step towards such realization would be for government to develop with the people a new development paradigm that shall protect for the rural poor our food sovereignty and our environment,” he added.

Ledesma is the chairman of the National Rural Congress II set to be held this year—a CBCP initiative aiming to look into the fundamental causes of rural poverty.

It also pushes for CARP review to other social justice issues affecting farmers, small fishermen, indigenous communities and rural women.

The CBCP reconvened its NRC after 40 years to look closely into the government’s CARP and the end of the program by June.

The NRC-II is now conducting consultations at the diocesan level to have a full grasp of the land reform situation at the grassroots.