House panels to tackle pro-farmer, worker bills

WHILE the Government of the Philippines (GPH) and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) are set to start talks on February 15 to forge a Comprehensive Agreement Socio-Economic Reforms (CASER), the House of Representatives will also start deliberations on Wednesday on legislations aiming to uplift the social and economic conditions of farmers and workers across the country.

The House committees on agrarian reform and labor and employment will separately conduct hearings this Wednesday on House Bill 374 or the Genuine Agrarian Reform Bill (GARB) and House Bill 375 or the P125 across the board wage hike bill.

Anakpawis party-list Representative Rafael Mariano, main author of the bills, said that the “twin measures will address the long-standing demands of peasants and workers and pave the way for a just and lasting peace.”

“The armed conflict is deeply rooted from extreme poverty and social injustice suffered by the Filipino people and should be addressed by concrete measures addressing the problems.  A just and lasting peace cannot be achieved through abstract and empty peace rhetoric,” the Mariano said.

Government chief negotiator Alexander Padilla said that this week’s talks will be the first in a series of meetings that will focus on the remaining substantive agenda agreed upon by the GPH and the NDF. These are socio-economic reforms, political and constitutional reforms, and the end of hostilities and disposition of forces.

Mariano said that “if the Aquino administration is really sincere in pursuing peace, the President must push for socioeconomic reforms by certifying House Bills 374 and 375 as urgent measures.”

Mariano described the “free distribution of lands to landless tillers” as “the heart and soul” of a genuine agrarian reform program embodied in HB 374.

“The break-up of land monopoly and foreign control of our lands will liberate millions of farmers from feudal bondage and address the root causes of the armed conflict,” Mariano said.

In stressing a need for a new agrarian reform program, Mariano criticized the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program Extension with Reforms (CARPER) which he said worsens the anti-peasant and pro-landlord character of its predecessor, RA 6657 of the CARP of 1988.

“The worst and most vicious features of CARP like the non-land transfer schemes, land-use conversion and reclassification, leaseback agreements, and agribusiness venture arrangements remains intact under the CARPER law,” the peasant lawmaker said.

On the other hand, the P125 wage hike bill, Mariano said will give “immediate economic relief to workers facing stagnant wages and skyrocketing prices of basic commodities and services.”

“A substantial legislated wage hike will help millions of workers cope up with dire poverty,” Mariano said.

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