Agenda for Helping the Poor (Part 2)
Considering that the increase in rural poverty was greatly due to a very counter-productive comprehensive agrarian reform program (CARP), I would like to hear from the candidates at all levels how they are going to approach the new phase of agrarian reform. I would be terribly disappointed if they would support a continuation of the fragmentation of existing large tracts of land. We have done enough fragmentation. Whatever budget we will have in the future for agrarian reform, let the money be spent on the rural infrastructures that we denied the poor farmers over the years. Laws should be modified to allow the farmer beneficiaries (close to 5 million of them) to lease or even sell their lands to those who are willing and able to make their lands productive. We should hear from the candidates very concrete proposals for legislation or executive action on how to consolidate lands to attain economies of scale in the planting of coconut, sugar, palm oil, coffee cacao, rubber, and other high-value crops in the manner that banana and pineapple plantations were organized in Mindanao even during the direst period of agrarian reform in Luzon and the Visayas. I want to hear from the candidates how they will emulate Malaysia in the creation of nucleus estate plantations which enabled Malaysia to bring down poverty incidence to close to zero in the last century. As I have written in another column, Malaysia has a poverty incidence at zero or at least close to zero, thanks to corporate schemes like the Federal Land Development Authority (FELDA) or Federal Land Consolidation and Rehabilitation Authority (FELCRA) that reached a peak during the leadership of former Prime Minister Mahathir. A professional group under the leadership of Flor Orendain is consolidating 15,000 hectares of coconut farms in Nakar, Quezon to achieve this goal of replicating FELDA in one of the poorest provinces of the country. If successful, I hope this program will be replicated in many coconut regions such as those in Bicol, Eastern Visayas, and Mindanao.