Cancel CARP debts!

July 14, 2019

Forgiveness, like charity, begins at home.

And while we are at it, why not start charitable forgiveness with those  who absolutely have nothing or were reduced to penury by tilling the land to grow food for others to feast on?

Is there a greater, more outrageous irony than this? Poor, hungry, starving, and, worse, debt-strapped farmers.

Yes, the very same people who feed the rest of us are deprived of the means to keep themselves and their families nominally nourished and while mightily trying to shake off the chains that bind them to debt masters.

Quite thankfully, a bill condoning all the debts farmers incurred in owning lands under the government's Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program  has been filed in the Senate.

Filed by Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto, the measure seeks the write-off of all unpaid amortizations, interests, penalties, surcharges on loans secured under CARP.

Once this mass amnesty of farmer's obligations is approved  by law, "the agrarian reform beneficiaries shall be deemed rightful owners of the lands awarded to them".

Landowners whose properties were subjected to land distribution would still be paid, Recto explained. "Their right to be paid on time and based on the legal contracts will be honored and will not be impaired."

In one official report, only P2.5 billion of the P14.3 billion in amortization for loans granted to awardees of CARP from 1987 to 2004 was paid.

Collection performance by the Land Bank of the Philippines on CARP loans, on the other hand, was about 51 percent as of March 2015.

The veteran lawmaker said the total amount of land reform loans for forgiveness is small compared to the hundreds of billions in private sector loans it had written off over the past 40 years.

"We have bailed out banks, paid for white elephant projects, amortized foreign loans of dubious benefits, lost money in bankrupt firms, entered into joint ventures which left us holding the bag," Recto said.

"Government has a history of being generous to corporate deadbeats whose loans we guaranteed and eventually assumed. But we have not extended the same consideration to the farming poor," he lamented.

"When can government be a white knight to indebted farmers who are being squeezed between rising production costs and falling crop prices?" Recto said.

The former Socio-economic planning chief  said condoning the loans would be taking a big load off farmer's backs and also from offices that manage these receivables.

"There is a huge administrative cost in managing this important aspect of the agrarian reform program. In fact, in one study, the system to collect loan payments from CARP beneficiaries was not fully put in place due to the high costs required," he explained.

Recto said wiping off nonperforming CARP loans serves the ends of social justice, "under whose canopy agrarian reform was pursued, in the hope that emancipated farmers will be able to improve their lives, feed the nation and grow the economy."

"It is also time to emancipate them from debt," Recto said.