Land acquisition and distribution to poor and landless farmers have been going on in the Philippines for 30 years under the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP). 

Based on records of the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR), about 4.8 million hectares have been awarded to 2.8 million agrarian reform beneficiaries (ARBs) since CARP’s implementation. The program had a total expenditure of PHP 286 billion or an annual average of PHP 9.87 billion from 1987 to 2016—a hefty sum over a long period of implementation, prompting many to ask about CARP’s impact on its beneficiaries.

In a 2017 study of PIDS, authors Marife Ballesteros, Jenica Ancheta, and Tatum Ramos wrote that the accomplishments of CARP in terms of area covered and number of beneficiaries have been significant. Reformed area covered 70 percent of estimated nonowner-cultivated agriculture lands, benefiting about 54 percent of agricultural households in the country. CARP has also supported the distribution of about 2.5 million hectares of alienable and disposable lands and the issuance of stewardship rights for forest lands and leasehold rights for agricultural lands not covered by land reform.

Also reported in other studies were the positive effects of CARP on the beneficiaries’ welfare. For example, a 2015 survey of ARBs led by Erniel Barrios found that being an ARB has positive effects on total household income due to better access to various government interventions. Beneficiaries have also largely profited from the rapid increase in rice yield made possible by the Green Revolution technology. A 2009 World Bank study also found that 52 percent of CARP beneficiaries who were poor in 1990 became nonpoor in 2000. 

However, Ballesteros and her co-authors cautioned that these outcomes were generally observed in areas where the lands covered have higher productivity. They added that it was also unclear as to what components of CARP have improved the welfare of beneficiaries since the effects were similar between families who obtained their land through the program and those who acquired their properties through purchase or inheritance. Also, there was no clear evidence of CARP’s success in terms of increasing investments in agriculture and enhancing access of farmers to formal credit.

Moreover, they reported that common issues like poor targeting and lack of efficient land record system continue to delay the program’s completion. Targeting has been hampered by the absence of parcel-based information on land use and ownership, making the process vulnerable to the influence of landowners and local officials, including those from DAR. This has resulted to ownership conflicts between landowners and ARBs as well as the cancellation of titles due to coverage of exempt or excluded properties and issuance of titles to unlawful beneficiaries. 

The authors noted, however, that while the implementation of the program may have been flawed, revising the law is unnecessary as there are only a few large sizes of agriculture lands left for distribution. For now, what can be done, they recommended, is to facilitate the resolution of long-standing issues (e.g., ownership conflicts, cancellation of titles, default on land payments by ARBs) and the completion of transfer of awarded lands to rightful owners. Government also needs to focus on programs to modernize agriculture, with adequate provision of support services to small farmers to access new technologies, credit, infrastructure, value chains, and markets. Together with the Department of Agriculture, DAR can support policies and programs toward consolidating farm operations for economies of scale and developing social enterprises. The department should also adopt a progressive land taxation scheme to deal with issues on landownership concentration. The said scheme can be supported by ongoing process improvements (e.g., digitization of records) in agencies that handle land administration, such as the Land Registration Authority and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

You may access PIDS studies on agrarian reform from the Socioeconomic Research Portal for the Philippines. Simply type ‘agrarian reform’, ‘CARP’, ‘poverty, agriculture, land management,’ ‘property rights’, and other relevant keywords in the Search box.

The Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program after 30 Years: Accomplishments and Forward Options

The Cost of Redistributive Land Reform in the Philippines: Assessment of PD 27 and RA 6657 (CARL)

Land Reform and Changes in Land Ownership Concentration: Evidence from Rice-Growing Villages in the Philippines

Post-2008 CARP: Extension with Critical Reforms

CARP Institutional Assessment in a Post-2008 Transition Scenario: Implications for Land Administration and Management (LAM)

Has Land Reform Improved on Landownership Inequality? Evidence from Philippine Rice-Growing Villages

CARP Institutional Assessment in a Post-2008 Transition Scenario: Toward a New Rural Development Architecture

Targeting the Agricultural Poor: The Case of PCIC's Special Programs

Regional Integration, Inclusive Growth, and Poverty: Enhancing Employment Opportunities for the Poor

Property Rights in Land Reform Areas

Poverty and Agriculture in the Philippines: Trends in Income Poverty and Distribution

Land Rental Market Activity in Agrarian Reform Areas: Evidence from the Philippines