Farmers in Barangay Pagan, Kitaotao, Bukidnon, till the land to plant rice. ( file photo)

DAVAO CITY, Philippines — As peace talks between the government and the communists will focus on free land distribution, a militant farmers group urged Congress to pass a new agrarian reform law.

“The Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) is already advocating free land distribution but the proposed measure for a new land reform program with free land distribution is still pending at the House of Representatives for almost a decade now.  Malacanang should certify it as urgent and Congress should consider it for approval when session resumes next month,” Antonio Flores, secretary general of Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas.

“The government agreeing to free land distribution is new. Present and previous land reform programs from PD 27, RA 6657 to RA 9700 required farmer beneficiaries to pay for land amortization with annual interests. Oftentimes, farmer beneficiaries lose their awarded lands due to their inability to pay,” Flores said.

He said all branches of the government should cooperate towards this goal of free land distribution, especially the Congress that is mandated to legislate significant policy reforms.

“Doing so would provide a conducive environment for the advancement of the peace talks that could proceed towards the ultimate resolution of the armed conflict,” he said.

After the fourth round of peace talks on April 6, the bilateral teams from the National Democratic Front of the Philippines and the Government of the Republic of the Philippines, will convene on April 20.

The bilateral teams are composed of three members from each party and supervised by a member from each Reciprocal Working Committee on social and economic reforms and an indefinite number of experts from both sides.

The formation of the bilateral teams, which was agreed during the third round of talks in Rome, Italy in January this year was tasked to accelerate the negotiations on social and economic reforms. The parties have targeted to finalize and sign Comprehensive Agreement on Socio-economic Reforms (CASER) by the year-end.

“The bilateral team meetings in between formal negotiations are important part of the acceleration of the peace talks and the forging of a CASER in the soonest possible time. We are hoping that both sides would iron out their differences,” Flores said.

The bilateral teams will exchange their comments on the contentious provisions on agrarian reform and rural development on the CASER drafts on April 18 before discussing it in a meeting after two days. The nine contentious provisions include coverage, confiscation, compensation, lease/leaseback and plantations, international agreements/domestic law, political power/implementation mechanisms, land use, private insurance, and terminologies.

Meanwhile the teams focused on National Industrialization and Economic Development or NIED will meet on May 4.

The next round of NDFP-GRP peace talks is scheduled on May 26 to June 2 in Noordwijk Aan Zee in The Netherlands.(

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