Communications chief lashes out at New York Times for damning article on Duterte land reforms

Photo: Jonathan Cellona/ABS-CBN News
Photo: Jonathan Cellona/ABS-CBN News

Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) Secretary Martin Andanar yesterday slammed The New York Times for publishing an article last month highlighting the failures of President Rodrigo Duterte’s land reform program, which the paper maintained benefited monopolistic landowners instead of poor farmers.

In a statement posted on the PCOO’s Facebook page, Andanar said journalist Peter Goodman’s damning Dec. 27 article was “irresponsible and unbalanced,” and presented “inaccurate information” on how the government is managing the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP), which seeks to break up wealthy families’ ownership of large swaths of land and distribute them to poor peasants.

“Had Goodman bothered to do the due diligence expected of his profession he would know that in fact the administration through the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) has strong political will and continues to uphold the welfare of our landless farmers through the implementation of CARP despite current challenges and problems inherited from previous administrations,” Andanar’s statement reads.

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Goodman’s article had said that Duterte “has not challenged the monopolistic grip” of landowners, and that many farmers are mired in poverty, illiteracy, and malnutrition because they are cultivating land they do not own. Far from benefiting poor, landless farmers, Duterte, the article said, had actually “fortified” the control of the wealthy landowners.

It also said that Duterte is “increasingly viewed as a threat” by farmers as his campaign to annihilate the communist New People’s Army bleeds over into persecution of poor farmers, a group from which the NPA has long recruited. This campaign has led to the arrests, and even killings, of numerous farmers.

Even Rafael V. Mariano, Duterte’s initial pick to oversee the land reform program, was quoted as saying that the president was “not really serious and sincere in addressing the fundamental problem of the Filipino peasant, which is landlessness.”

Mariano was booted from the position just over a year into his tenure after coming under withering attacks in a congressional confirmation hearing from Duterte allies, particularly from Davao, the president’s power base. A lawyer for one of the agro-industrial companies that took issue with Mariano’s land redistribution work at the time was the husband of Duterte’s daughter, Sara, who herself accused Mariano of abetting communist attacks.

A presidential spokesperson had declined to respond to the Times‘ request for comment.

Andanar, however, insisted that the program was a success, and accused Goodman of slapdash reporting.

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“This administration continues to secure, through certain laws and with conditions, that all agricultural lands distributed to agrarian reform beneficiaries will remain with them and as agricultural lands,” he added. “The government, through DAR, has already achieved landmark distributions of Certificate of Land Ownership Awards (CLOAs). Not stopping with just land distribution, it also provides support services that will help the beneficiaries become self-sufficient and productive landowners.”

“These are among the facts and information that Goodman could have easily accessed had he taken the proper time and channel to request for them instead of rushing the formal process, much like he rushed to conclusions with his limited knowledge,” Andanar lamented.

This is not the first time Andanar expressed his displeasure over The Gray Lady’s portrayal of the Duterte administration.

In December 2016, he said the newspaper’s unflattering depiction of Duterte’s deadly drug war in the award-winning piece “They Are Slaughtering Us Like Animals” was “farthest from the truth.” In March 2017, he accused the paper of reporting “lies” and “fake news” for publishing a profile that said Duterte is “obsessed with death” and “relishes the image of killer-savior.”


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