Emancipation law gives ARBs fresh start to boost productivity

By Wilnard Bacelonia and Zaldy De Layola

July 7, 2023, 1:45 pm Updated on July 7, 2023, 5:23 pm

<p><strong>DEBT-FREE</strong>. An agrarian reform beneficiary (ARB) is thankful to President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. after receiving a land title in an awarding ceremony that highlighted the signing of New Agrarian Emancipation Bill into law at the Malacañang Palace’s Kalayaan Hall on Friday (July 7, 2023). Signed as Republic Act 11953, the Palace-sponsored law aims to condone the PHP57.557 billion principal debt of 610,054 ARBs nationwide.<em> (PNA photo by Rey Baniquet)</em></p>

DEBT-FREE. An agrarian reform beneficiary (ARB) is thankful to President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. after receiving a land title in an awarding ceremony that highlighted the signing of New Agrarian Emancipation Bill into law at the Malacañang Palace’s Kalayaan Hall on Friday (July 7, 2023). Signed as Republic Act 11953, the Palace-sponsored law aims to condone the PHP57.557 billion principal debt of 610,054 ARBs nationwide. (PNA photo by Rey Baniquet)

MANILA – Lawmakers commended President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. for signing the New Agrarian Emancipation Act that will serve as a catalyst for rural development and would contribute to the overall growth and prosperity of the country.

“The groundbreaking legislation is a testament to President Marcos' unwavering commitment to the welfare of our farmers and the promotion of agricultural development,” Speaker Ferdinand Martin G. Romualdez said in a statement.

He said Republic Act 11953 would free 610,054 Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries (ARBs) from the shackles of indebtedness as the new law aims to condone PHP57.56-billion debt of ARBs tilling 1.173 million hectares of land.

Under old law, ARBs are required to pay for the land awarded to them in annual installments with 6 percent interest for a maximum period of 30 years. The measure condones all the unpaid amortizations of the principal debt, including interests and surcharges.

“By condoning these substantial debts, the Act aims to alleviate the burden on our agrarian reform beneficiaries, providing them with a fresh start and a renewed opportunity to enhance their productivity, improve their livelihood, and uplift the quality of their lives,” Romualdez said.

Under the new law, the government will also assume the obligation of 10,201 ARBs tilling 11,531 hectares of land to pay the remaining balance of the direct compensation due the concerned landowners under the Voluntary Land Transfer or the Direct Payment Scheme amounting to PHP206,247,776.

“When our farmers are freed from the burden of debt, they would be able to invest more in their land and improve their productivity. This can lead to better yields and profits, which can help improve the lives of our farmers and their families,” Romualdez said.

Romualdez said RA 11953 demonstrates Marcos’ determination to address the longstanding challenges faced by the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) beneficiaries.

He noted that the law also establishes comprehensive support services for agrarian reform beneficiaries, the lack of which was estimated to have resulted in over PHP400 billion in lost productivity annually for CARP lands.

With the condonation of their loans, the ARBs shall also be automatically included in the Registry System for Basic Sectors in Agriculture (RSBA) of the Department of Agriculture which would entitle them to all support services given to the farmers by the DA and other government agencies.

The law likewise exempts ARBs from payment of estate tax. ARBs who fully paid their agrarian debt will be given priority of access to credit facilities and support services.

“This law is in line with the principles of social justice and economic empowerment, which have always been at the forefront of Pres. Marcos' vision for our country,” Romualdez said.

Agriculture-driven economic growth seen

Senate President Pro Tempore Loren Legarda is hoping the New Agrarian Emancipation Act would bring meaningful change and contribute to the welfare of Filipino farmers, paving the way for agriculture-driven economic growth.

Legarda, a co-sponsor and co-author of the New Agrarian Emancipation Act in the Senate, believes this measure marks a significant step toward historical and social justice for Filipino farmers.

She acknowledges that while this act might not completely address all their challenges, it is a crucial effort toward mitigating issues concerning land ownership and reducing the burden of loan payments.

"Equipping our farmers with the necessary support and assistance from the government should be the top priority of any administration to strengthen food security and enhance overall economic productivity," Legarda said in a news release.

The lady solon underscored the need to empower and uplift the agricultural sector.

The passage of the New Agrarian Emancipation Act signifies the government's commitment to addressing the plight of farmers and promoting sustainable agriculture practices in the country.

Romualdez and Legarda joined Marcos, Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri and Senators Cynthia Villar, Imee Marcos, Sonny Angara and Sherwin Gatchalian, and other government officials in the momentous signing ceremony of the law.

Senator Imee Marcos said the approval of the New Agrarian Emancipation Act is the first concrete step towards fulfilling the vision of her late father, President Ferdinand E. Marcos Sr. who signed Presidential Decree (PD) No. 27 or the "emancipation of tenants from the bondage of the soil" on Oct. 21, 1972.

"I am personally gratified that my work in the Senate has allowed me to somehow continue my father's legacy. Shortly after I assumed office during the 18th Congress, I filed SBN 849 entitled "An Act Fulfilling the Emancipation of Tenants from the Bondage of the Soil," the senator said.

She also thanked his brother, the President, for sharing their father's vision and making agrarian reform a priority in his administration.

"For indeed, the patrimony of our nation not only lies in the richness of our soil but in the freedom and fullness of those who toil for it," she said.

Defining moment

Camarines Sur Rep. Luis Raymund Villafuerte lauded the signing of the New Agrarian Emancipation Act as a "defining moment" for Marcos in his first year in office.

"It will provide badly-needed financial relief to more than 600,000 ARBs and their families, while at the same benefitting the country’s consumers as the higher productivity expected from these farmers’ debt condonation will eventually spell bigger harvests and cheaper rice and other food crops," he said in a statement.

He said the President's signing of RA 11953 completes the genuine intent of the Congress to free farmers from the bondage to generational poverty by condoning their CARP debts, which will gain them access to rural credit, which in turn, will let them make their lands more productive and boost their crop yields.

“RA 11953 demonstrates President Marcos’ commitment to modernizing agriculture and boosting our farmers’ yields and incomes, which is in keeping with his government’s agenda to achieve food security, if not self-sufficiency, and make economic growth sustainable and inclusive for all Filipinos, including those in the agriculture sector,” Villafuerte added. 

Meanwhile, Senator Ramon Revilla Jr. said Marcos gave a “big win” to the farmers who provide food for the country.

Isa itong malaking panalo para sa ating mga magsasaka na ngayon ay hindi lang may sariling lupa na sasakahin, kung di sila rin ay wala nang utang na papasanin ukol dito (This is a big win for our farmers who now not only have land to till, but are now also freed from the burdens of debt),” he said in a statement.

"Hindi lang 610,054 agrarian reform beneficiaries (ARBs) ang makikinabang sa tagumpay na ito kung di ang kani-kanilang ring mga pamilya (Not only the 610,054 ARBs will benefit from this success, but also their respective families),” he added.

The new law specifically covers farmers or farmworkers who were granted lands under Presidential Decree 27, Republic Act 6657, and Republic Act 9700, and who have outstanding loan balances payable to the Land Bank of the Philippines (LBP) and private landowners as of Dec. 31, 2022. (with reports from Filane Mikee Cervantes/PNA)