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Philippine Congress Approves Controversial Land Reform Bill

June 08, 1988|MARK FINEMAN | Times Staff Writer

MANILA — The Philippine Congress today approved a land-reform bill aimed at easing one of the most critical problems in the country--the disparity between rich and poor that has polarized much of society and fueled a bloody insurgency.

In a marathon session that lasted through the night, the House approved the bill 152 to 20. The Senate had already approved it.

President Corazon Aquino has indicated that she will sign the measure before leaving next week on a state visit to Europe.

Many observers had considered Congress incapable of agreeing on a land-reform bill. Powerful landowners and leftist groups were equally critical of the bill. One landowner assailed it as a "declaration of war," and a leftist leader called it "a watered-down nothing."

The bill sets a 10-year deadline for landowners to sell the greater part of their holdings to the government, which will then distribute the land among tens of millions of landless peasants. It gives the government up to 10 years to reimburse the landowners.

The Aquino administration had proposed that families be permitted to keep just 16 acres of farmland. The bill as approved by Congress limits land retention to just 12 acres, but it permits families to keep seven additional acres for each heir, a provision that leftist groups say will permit large landowning families to exempt much of their land.

The land-reform issue has become so contentious that some big planters have been organizing private armies and threatening to use force to defend their property.

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