Philippine Bishops Assail "Ineffective and Slow" Farm Reforms

Increasing Tension on Negros Island

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MANILA, Philippines, JUNE 15, 2003 ( The four bishops of Negros Island criticized the “ineffective and slow implementation of the Agrarian Reform Program” established by the government 15 years ago.

The program “is still very far from reaching its goal of distributing land and justice to its tillers or workers,” the bishops said in a statement.

A major problem in Negros, the “sugar bowl” of the Philippines, is the distribution of land to farmers who for generations have worked in private-owned estates, the Misna missionary agency reports.

The secretary of agrarian reform, Robert Pagdanganan, admitted recently to Negros farmers that it is difficult to implement the land-reform law on the island. The landowners there are rich and powerful, and the landless farmers are on the verge of starvation.

In a joint pastoral message commemorating the country’s 105th Independence Day, the four bishops of Negros Island in the central Philippines said today that although the country has attained independence “from centuries of political and economic domination by Spain” and freedom from American colonial rule and the Japanese occupation during World War II.

But, they added, the “truest and deepest” freedom is freedom from selfishness and greed and “justice toward our neighbor.”

The four bishops who issued the statement are Vicente Navarra of Bacolod, John Du of Dumaguete, Patricio Buzon of Kabankalan, and Jose Advincula of San Carlos.

The prelates added that they support efforts to achieve and sustain integral freedom, including socioeconomic, political, moral and spiritual freedom.

Likewise, they support the political and economic struggle of the Filipinos to free themselves from oppressive and exploitative issues, such as the convening of Congress into a Constituent Assembly without consulting the people.

They also cited the Purchased Power Agreement, which they said adds unfairly to the economic burden of the people. Among other problems, the bishops also cited the passage by government officials of the Reproductive Health bill, “which has provisions that may prove inimical to human life and are morally objectionable.”

The bishops urged the Filipinos to be “vigilant and carry on their struggle for freedom, buoyed by courage, hope and trust in God’s loving care for our nation.”

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