Sunday, June 10, 2007

Why Agrarian Reform? —Three Moral Principles

At the beginning of this year, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines issued a pastoral statement on “The Dignity of the Rural Poor—A Gospel Concern.” We expressed our concern over the “inequitable distribution of the nation’s wealth and the endemic social injustices that underpin that evil.

We further pointed out that most notable effort of government at alleviating rural poverty has been the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program. Today, we observe the 19th anniversary of CARP. Once more, we reiterate the call made in our pastoral statement:

“We ask that the CARP, defective as it is, be finally completed next year as it has been targeted. And if it is not sufficiently implemented by then, the program should be further extended and funded more seriously and generously. But we ask that the law itself must be reviewed and improved.”

The killings last week of two of the Mapalad farmer leaders on the land that had recently been given to them as agrarian reform beneficiaries after a protracted struggle of more than ten years highlight the many obstacles to the full implementation of CARP— e.g., the myriad legal loopholes encountered; repeated delays in implementation; adamant landlord opposition pitting small farmers against small farmers: lack of political will of government agencies; and inadequacies on the part of local government and law enforcement units to provide security for agrarian reform beneficiaries.

What is happening in Had. Velez-Malaga is only a microcosm of what has been taking place in several other conflict areas of agrarian reform, such as the Bondoc peninsula in Quezon, Negros Oriental and Occidental, Iloilo, Mindoro Occidental, Batangas, Davao del Norte, Masbate, and Had. Luista in Tarlac. In one report submitted by a consortium of NGOs, since 1998 when CARP was extended the first time up to the present, 387 cases of human rights violations victimizing 18, 872 farmers and rural organizers have been recorded (PARRDS, 2007). Human rights violations take the form of extra-judicial killings, frustrated murder, illegal arrests and detention, physical assault, destruction of private property, arson, violent dispersal, etc.

It is in this that we can ask ourselves: Why agrarian reform? The social teachings of the Church point out three moral principles.

First is the universal destination of goods. “God destined the earth and all it contains for all men and all peoples so that all created things would be shared fairly by all mankind under the guidance of justice tempered by charity.” (Vatican I, 1965, Gaudium et Spes, 69)

The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church (2004) explicitates this further: “Christian tradition has never recognized the right to private property as absolute and untouchable…. Private property, in fact, regardless of the concrete forms of the regulations and juridical norms relative to it, is in its essence only an instrument for respecting the principle of the universal destination of gods; in the final analysis, therefore, it is not an end but a means. (177)

A second moral guideline is the principle of the common good. This is intimately linked to the dignity of every human person as being made in the image of God. The common god is described by the Second Vatican Council as “the sum total of social conditions which allow people, either as groups or as individuals, to reach their fulfillment more fully and more easily.” (GS, 26)

“The demands of the common good,” states the Compendium, “are dependent on the social conditions of each historical period and are strictly connected to respect for and the integral promotion of the person and his fundamental rights.” (CSDC, 166)

The admonition of Pope Pius XI in his encyclical, Quadragesimo Anno (1931), still rings true for the Philippine situation today: “the distribution of created goods, which… is labouring today under the gravest evils due to the huge disparity between the few exceedingly rich and the unnumbered propertyless, must be effectively called back to and brought into conformity with the norms of the common god, that is, social justice.” (197)

A third principle is the preferential option for the poor. Hence, the Compendium states: “The principle of the universal destination of gods requires that the poor, the marginalized and in all cases those whose living conditions interfere with their proper growth should be the focus of particular concern. To this end, the preferential option for the por should be reaffirmed in all its force.” (CSDC, 182)

President Ramon Magsaysay, the first Philippine President to advocate for land reform (and whose 50th death anniversary we observe this year), expressed this insight more concisely: “Those who have less in life should have more in law.”

This year marks the 40th anniversary of a major social encyclical, Populorum Progressio, or “The Development of Peoples.” Only two years after the completion of Vatican I, Pope Paul VI recalled the traditional view of the Church that large landed estates that “impede the general prosperity because they are extensive, unused of poorly used, or because they bring hardships to people or are detrimental to the interests of the country” can be expropriated by authorities for the sake of the common good. (PP, 24)

This year, to, is the 40th anniversary of the National Rural Congress convened by the Catholic Church in 1967. Reviewing this period, the bishops have decided to convene a second national rural congress “to make us meet in true Gospel fidelity our present social concerns.”

We join hands with all our farming and rural poor communities, non-government and people’s organizations, as well as government agencies and the business sector. Starting with the convening of diocesan-level rural congresses, we are ready to listen to the various rural sectors and discern with them and to plan “how we must as a people come together to work for the common good of the country” and of all of us “as children of the same Father in heaven.”

For the Central Committee of
the Second National Rural Congress

+Antonio J. Ledesma, S.J., D.D.
Archbishop of Cagayan de Oro
Vice-President, CBCP
10 June 2007

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